I have had the pleasure of reading "Big Jim Exon," by Chuck Pallesen and Sam Van Pelt. A prescient quote from Senator Exon back in 1981 really caught my attention: "The intent of the Republican hierarchy in Nebraska is that being a Democrat in Nebraska is akin to having an unacceptable social disease. It is political quackery of the first order but it sells well in some quarters in Nebraska, and some politicians have turned such tactics into a successful political career. It is based, of course, on the theory of Darth Vader, that if you hate enough to send the very best to do your self-serving power goals, reason and thoughtfulness are of little importance."
The problem that Exon identified over thirty years ago, has only been amplified in the last fifteen years. We now have a very lucrative industry that is devoted to demonizing Democrats 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The Right Wing Media isn't really a legitimate source of news. Instead, it's a bunch of entertainers whose goal is drive up ratings by keeping the GOP base in a constant state of outrage.
Obviously, the right wing media is a real problem for us Democrats - especially in the rural areas. It's time that we get our message out and let the voters know about our accomplishments and what we truly stand for.
We Democrats have every reason to be proud of our party and what we have accomplished over the years. We are the party of Social Security and Medicare. These successful programs have reduced poverty among the elderly from 50% to 10% since their inception.
The conservative wing of the GOP has always hated Social Security and Medicare because these programs rebut their core ideological belief that government is always a failure. Johanns, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith are all on record in favor of privatizing Medicare and turning it into a voucher program. The extreme changes these Nebraska Republicans favor would cost senior citizens an additional $6,000.00 per year in out of pocket medical expenses.
Congressman Lee Terry has been a consistent supporter of Social Security privatization. Terry would like to turn over senior citizens' retirement money to Wall Street and have them invest it in the stock market. If Mr. Terry and then President Bush had gotten their way back in 2005, America's senior citizens would've been devastated by the stock market crash of 2008.
We are the party of Obama Care. Beginning in 2014, an additional 30 million Americans will have health insurance and access to affordable, decent health care.
Obama Care is already working. Older Americans and people with disabilities are now paying less for their prescription drugs under Medicare. According to a report issued Thursday by the Obama administration, Obama Care has saved 6.1 million people more than $5.7 billion. In addition, 6.6 million young people are now covered by health insurance since they have signed up for coverage through their parents' health insurance plans.
The Nebraska Congressional delegation would like to repeal Obama Care in it's entirety. Apparently, they would prefer to see the pharmaceutical industry keep the $5.7 billion and strip over 6 million young people of their health insurance coverage.
The Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility. President Bill Clinton's 1993 budget package converted what was then the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus. Under President Obama, the deficit has declined from the $1.4 trillion he inherited from Bush in 2009 to $845 billion in 2013. The budget deficit has declined from 10% of GDP when Obama took office, to 6% of GDP in 2013.
On the other hand, Republican icon Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt during his Presidency and George W. Bush doubled the national debt during his eight years in office. The last Republican President to balance the budget was Dwight Eisenhower during the 1950s.
We are the party of prosperity. A report last year from Bloomberg News Services shows that since John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. increased by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures. Democrats hold the edge even though they occupied the Oval Office for 23 years since Kennedy's inauguration, compared with 28 for the Republicans. Through April 2012, Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 additional private-sector paychecks per month over that period, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans.
The Democrats are the party of national security. President Obama was the President who finally brought Osama Bin Laden to justice. Shortly after he took office, President Obama directed the CIA to make the killing or capture of Bin Laden a top priority.
The entertainers in the Right Wing Media would lead you to believe that somehow former President Bush should take credit for taking out Osama Bin Laden. I would remind these entertainers that history doesn't begin when they take the podium. In December 2001, the Bush Administration's failed strategy allowed Bin Laden to escape from the battle of Tora Bora.
After the failure at Tora Bora, George W. Bush didn't make the killing of OBL a high priority. On March 13, 2002, George W. Bush said of bin Laden, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Subsequently, in July 2006, the Bush administration closed its unit that had been hunting bin Laden. In September 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes that an "emphasis on bin Laden doesn't fit with the administration's strategy for combating terrorism."
The Democratic Party is best suited to govern America and Nebraska because our ideas are superior to those of the GOP. We believe that government isn't the solution to all of our problems. We also believe that the free market isn't the solution to all of our problems. The free market does a lot of things well but it does a poor job of providing retirement and health care security. We believe in a combination of government and free market solutions to our problems.
Conservative ideology is intellectually bankrupt and doomed to fail because it's hard to craft a governing agenda when your ideology is based on hostility to government. Over the last thirty years, the GOP has embraced an ideology which sees government as wasteful, inefficient, and incapable of doing anything for ordinary Americans.
If the Republican Party has left itself any space for embracing constructive governing solutions, it's hard to find.
We need to get our message out loud and clear. The Democratic Party is ready to govern and to improve the lives of all Americans. We are the party of the people because the wealthy are already represented by the GOP and the conservative movement.
"Big Jim Exon," by Chuck Pallesen and Sam Van Pelt may be purchased at the Landmark Store at the Nebraska State Capitol at 1-800-833-6747 or 402-471-3447.
Ken Haar is a state senator from District 21, elected in both 2008 and 2012. Ken Haar has been a teacher in our community, a consultant for the National Arbor Day Foundation, and has been a part of the Natural Resources Legislative Committee. Haar is well known for his work on helping protect the Nebraska Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer by rerouting the proposed pipeline, and is also known for his passion to keep our state clean and our standard of living at a high level. This is why Ken Haar has introduced Legistlative Bill 583.
As Nebraskans, we need to be able to not only prepare for extreme weather conditions, but we also need to have a plan for assessing and handling issues if they were to arise. Senator Ken Haar has created Legislative Bill 583 in order to form a Climate Assessment Response Committee for the state of Nebraska, which would help ensure that our state does not suffer in the ways that it did last year.
In 2012, Nebraska was hit by an extreme drought that was labeled one of the worst droughts in our nations history. By August, our rivers were easily described as “sand volleyball courts” more than they could be described as sources of water. Extreme conditions led to the loss of agricultural output, the deterioration of livestock supply, and the deaths of many deer and a huge number of endangered fish that survive off Nebraska waters. In August, during the middle of our extreme crisis, congress left for a five-week break without first agreeing on aid to help Nebraska ranchers.
If another drought falls on Nebraska we need to be prepared to act, not to wait for congress to make an untimely decision for us. The Climate Assessment Response Committee will meet at least twice a year, more often if called upon by the members, or during a period of drought or other severe climate situations. The committee will collect data about drought and other severe climate conditions, and provide information relevant to requests for federal disaster declarations in order to gain faster access to federal funds in cases of emergency. It will also provide an organizational structure for the flow of information, funds, and duties of the state and its agencies to respond to such climate disasters.
To ensure that the ranchers in our state never again have to make calls for help that go unanswered, contact your representative and tell them you support LB583.
Image design courtesy of Phil Montag
The Nebraska GOP's one party rule has created a culture of incompetence, corruption & entitlement in the GOP's officeholders
The Nebraska political world was shocked by Lieutenant Governor Rick Sheehy's resignation on February 2, 2013. Up until then, Sheehy was the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2014. Instead, Sheehy was felled by a scandal in which he made about 2,000 late-night telephone calls to some women on his state-issued cell phone. Unfortunately, Sheehy's indiscretion wasn't some isolated incident. It is all part of a pattern of incompetence and corruption within today's Nebraska Republican Party.
The scandal surrounding Lt. Gov Rick Sheehy is just the tip of the iceberg. It provides more evidence that we've had one party rule in Nebraska for too long. It has created a culture of incompetence, corruption & entitlement in the Nebraska GOP's officeholders. As Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Vince Powers said about Sheehy's resignation: "This doesn't change anything, other than it really demonstrates that when you have one party in power for too long, arrogance and corruption and scandal follow it. It doesn't matter if it's Democrats in power or Republicans in power."
This culture of corruption, sense of entitlement and incompetence has manifested itself in many ways over the last ten years. Of course, we have the myriad of policy failures of the Heineman Administration. The Heineman Administration badly neglected the Beatrice State Developmental Center and allowed this once model facility to fall into disarray. Due to Heineman's incompetence, our most helpless and powerless citizens were harmed and the state lost $25 million in federal funding in 2009. Another significant failure of the Heineman Administration was its botched scheme to privatize child welfare services across the state. These are the kinds of things that happen if one party controls the Governor's Mansion and Legislature for too long.
Nebraska Attorney General and failed U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning is the poster child for the Nebraska GOP's culture of corruption.
Even though Mr. Bruning has been on a government salary nearly his entire professional life, he has somehow amassed a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars. It's pretty obvious that Bruning has exploited his office for vast private financial gain.
Because Bruning has been A.G. for around 10 years and has faced little opposition, he has developed an entitlement mentality that led him to believe that he could get away with exploiting his public office to make a lot of money for himself. In contrast to most of the Nebraska Republicans, Bruning actually faced an accountability moment in May 2012 and lost the U.S. Senate primary to Deb Fischer.
The Nebraska GOP's arrogance can also be found in Heineman's risky tax scheme that would eliminate all income and corporate taxes and replace the lost revenue by increasing sales taxes on senior citizens, the ill, college students, small business owners and farmers. Only a sense of over confidence and complacency instigated by ten years of one party rule would compel Heineman and his allies in the Legislature to come up with such an extreme and regressive tax scheme.
According to the Open Sky Policy Institute, Heineman's tax plan would result in tax increases for the lower 80 percent of wage earners.
At the same time, taxes for people in the top 20 percent would go down. For example, under the Governor's plan, taxes would go up by an average of $631 a year for people earning less than $21,000 per year. In contrast, taxes would go down by an average of $4,851 under the Heineman plan for people earning $91,000 and more.
The only real solution to the problems created by one party rule is elect a Democrat as Governor to act as a check and balance on the Republicans in the Legislature. We potentially have a field of strong and accomplished candidates who are considering entering the gubernatorial race. Former UNL Regent Chuck Hassebrook and State Senator Steve Lathrop are both considering throwing their hat in the ring. Party activists are trying to convince State Senator Annette Dubas to enter the race.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the Republicans are returned to power in Nebraska in 2014, this cycle of corruption and incompetence will only continue to the detriment of most of Nebraska's citizens.
The only way to break this cycle of abuse of power by the Nebraska Republican party is to elect a Democratic Governor and more Democratic State Senators. Our message needs to be: Vote Democratic in 2014 for a change.
Some recent statements and policy proposals indicate that the Nebraska Republican Party wants to increase taxes on the middle class and the poor in order to finance more tax cuts for the wealthy. It's evident to me that the Nebraska Republican Party hasn't learned much from the 2012 elections and has no plans of moderating anytime soon.
In a recent interview in the Lincoln Journal Star, Republican National Committeeman David Kramer lamented that the Republican Party has been defined as the party of the rich. However, in that very same interview Kramer said, "It is not good to have half of the people not paying anything in income taxes. We all need to be invested."
In making those remarks about those who don't pay federal income taxes, Kramer was referring to those 47% of Americans who were insulted last fall by Mitt Romney. Those 47% who were unfairly maligned by the Nebraska GOP and Romney are senior citizens, students, veterans and the working poor. Approximately 61% of those who don't pay federal income taxes are gainfully employed.
What Kramer didn't tell you was that the 47% pay Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, state income taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes and property taxes. In some of the southern states, the 47% pay a higher percentage of their income in state and local taxes than the wealthy pay.
Kramer isn't the only Nebraska Republican who believes that the poor and the middle class are under taxed. It is expected that Governor Heineman will soon unveil a package that would eliminate the state's corporate income tax and reduce the state income tax to a flat rate of 2.9 percent.
In order to offset the loss of revenue from these tax cuts, the Heineman Administration has discussed new taxes that would hit the middle class and the poor. Among the ideas: eliminating some sales tax exemptions for agriculture and hospitals, and imposing a flat fee on stays in hospitals and college dormitories. In other words, Heineman would finance his tax cuts for the wealthy by increasing taxes on farmers, hospitals and the parents of college students.
What this should tell the voters is that it is a fundamental belief of the Nebraska GOP that senior citizens, veterans, the working poor and the middle class are not paying their fair share and are under taxed. The upcoming fight on Heineman's tax proposals will expose a fundamental difference between the two parties. The Republicans think the rich are overtaxed and the working poor are under taxed. The Democrats think the rich are under taxed and the working poor and middle class need a tax break.
It has now become obvious that the Nebraska Republican Party really and truly does not care about working families. They care only about the rich getting richer. In contrast, Democrats have consistently supported tax relief for the middle class and the working poor. The 2009 Recovery Act contained the largest middle class tax cut in history. Last year, Democrats in the Legislature worked to pare back Heineman's proposed tax cuts for the wealthy to include more tax relief for the middle class.
For the first time in a very long time, we Democrats are now favored by the American people on the tax issue. The Republicans' unfair bashing of 47% of Americans has badly hurt their brand. As Democrats, we need to continue to make the point that we support the poor and the middle class, and the GOP only cares about the wealthy. That's the point.
Now let's drive it home.
The debate over the fiscal cliff centered on whether the Republicans were going to drive the economy into recession in order to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Fortunately, reason prevailed and a bill was passed protecting 98% of Americans from a tax increase and preventing a recession. Now the Republicans are moving on to the next manufactured crisis. Already, the Republicans are talking about refusing to raise the debt ceiling and shutting down the government unless President Obama agrees to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Unfortunately, there is some confusion about what raising the debt ceiling means and the Republicans are exacerbating the problem by misrepresenting what it's really about. As Democrats we need to get our message out about the debt ceiling and the disastrous consequences for the economy if the GOP refuses to increase it.
Just what is raising the debt ceiling? This is a much misunderstood and fairly routine (until now) procedure. Former President Bill Clinton explained it the following way: "The reason that raising the debt limit is so unpopular is that people think you're voting to keep [increasing] deficit spending, instead of voting to honor obligations that were already incurred." In other words, raising the debt ceiling isn't like we're raising the nation's credit limit. Instead, it's like the credit card bill that the nation has just received in the mail. We need to pay it in order to maintain the full faith and credit of the U.S. Failure to pay our nation's bills by raising the debt ceiling would cause the rest of the world to lose confidence in our nation's ability to meet its obligations, increase everybody's interest rates, tank the stock market and send the already fragile world economy into another recession.
What the Republicans are threatening to do is to refuse to pay the bills that the U.S.A. already owes. Refusing to increase the debt ceiling would be like telling your credit card and student loan companies that your family has reached its debt limit. According to the Republicans in Congress, that means we can quit paying our bills.
Thanks for understanding! This won't affect my credit score, will it?
Before the Obama Presidency, raising the debt ceiling used to be a fairly routine process. When Ronald Reagan was President, the debt ceiling was raised no less than 17 times. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the debt ceiling was raised 7 times. At no time did any party refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless the other party capitulated to its agenda. Over 100 current Republican members of Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts or offsets during the George W. Bush Administration.
Just what are Nebraska's elected members of Congress saying about this threat to wreck the economy unless President Obama cuts Medicare and Social Security? We don't know because they haven't said anything. We hear a lot of talk from Nebraska's representatives in Washington about the need to cut spending but they never give us any specifics.
The likes of Johanns, Fischer, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith like to keep the discussion of spending cuts very general and abstract.
Instead, they would like President Obama to read their minds and propose the spending cuts that would satisfy them. Even if President Obama was foolish enough to do that, the GOP would reject the offer and then run millions of dollars in negative ads in 2014 accusing the Democrats of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare.
The core thing it says about Nebraska's Congressional representatives is that they want to cut spending on programs that benefit senior citizens and the middle class, but they can't actually propose any plans to do these things because they know it would be politically unpopular.
As Nebraska voters, it's time that we demand some answers from Johanns, Fischer, Fort, Terry and Smith. If the deficits are a truly serious national crisis, where do you want to cut? We will not accept the usual vague generalities. We now want some specifics. We also need to ask them if they will vote to raise the debt ceiling and pay our bills. Will they vote for another recession or will they do the responsible thing and pay the country's bills?
It's time for Nebraska's Congressional delegation to act responsibly.
The economic recovery is still fragile but yet it's showing some promise of getting a lot better. The nation can't afford another unnecessary fiscal crisis manufactured by the Republicans in Washington. The last time the GOP held the debt ceiling hostage in 2011, consumer confidence collapsed and a promising economic recovery was stifled. We can't afford to allow the Republicans to sabotage the economy yet again.
In order to win the debate over the debt ceiling, we should ratchet up the pressure on the GOP by calling them deadbeats for not paying bills they owe. Because that's what they are.
That was close. We barely escaped the fiscal cliff or austerity bomb when the Republican controlled House approved the Senate passed fiscal cliff bill on New Year's night. If the House had rejected the Senate's fiscal cliff bill, the economy would've gone into a recession and there would have been no farm bill for 2013.
Most of the pundits on the right - like Sean Hannity, Charles
Krauthammer, and Newt Gingrich - scored the legislation as a victory for President Obama and the Democrats. In my opinion, that was a fair assessment because the Democrats got most of what they wanted. In return for making some concessions on the top marginal tax rate for the very wealthy, Obama and the Democrats got an extension of unemployment compensation benefits, a five year extension of tax credits from the 2009 Recovery Act and a nine month farm bill extension.
Most important of all, the eleventh hour fiscal cliff legislation shattered 22 years of Republican dogma on taxes, undercutting a core part of the party identity that had been built around giving no quarter to any tax increase - ever. The passage of the fiscal cliff bill marked the first time any Republicans have voted en masse for a tax increase since President George H.W. Bush famously reneged on his "read my lips, no new taxes" promise back in 1990.
The Nebraska Congressional delegation was split on this fiscal cliff bill. Senator Nelson and Johanns voted in favor it. So did Jeff Fortenberry. However, both Lee Terry and Adrian Smith opposed this legislation.
Terry and Smith's votes are very disturbing and deeply irresponsible. By voting against the bill, Terry and Smith voted in favor of a $500 billion tax increase on the American people. Moreover, 98% of the tax increase backed by Terry and Smith would've been paid by the middle class. This vote also means that Terry and Smith voted against an extension of the farm bill. There is no doubt that if Terry and Smith had gotten their way, the economy would've gone into a tailspin and unemployment would have climbed back to over 9%.
We must not let voters forget these reckless votes by Terry and Smith. Mr. Terry voted with the radical right because he is spooked by a primary challenge from the Tea Party. Apparently, Terry prioritized the interests of this extreme faction of the GOP over the needs of the voters of the 2nd Congressional District.
As Democrats, we must constantly remind voters that Lee Terry voted in favor of a recession and a huge tax increase. The 2012 election cycle clearly demonstrated that Terry is vulnerable to a challenge from a strong Democratic candidate. We must make sure this district is in play again in 2014.
The clock is ticking down to the fiscal cliff or austerity bomb. In just a matter of days, the American people will get hit with a $500 billion tax increase and $100 billion in spending cuts. The consensus among economists is that the austerity bomb will cause a recession.
Just where are Nebraska's House Republicans right now? Are they in Washington D.C. busily working hard to prevent a recession?
No. Nebraska's House Republicans are currently in Nebraska on vacation because their ostensible leader John Boehner has not called the House of Representatives into session until December 30 even though President Obama and the Senate are in Washington ready to act. What John Boehner has proposed as a "solution" to the fiscal cliff is for the Senate and the President to sign off on a previously passed House bill that would implement the GOP economic agenda. In other words, despite the recent election results, Boehner wants a full extension of the Bush tax cuts and spending cuts aimed largely at the poor.
Just what do Fortenberry, Terry and Smith have to say about this situation? We don't know because they're on vacation. If they wanted to, they could be part of the solution and could prevent the Republican Recession of 2013. Currently, a majority of House members support legislation already passed by the Senate that would extend the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans or those making less than $250,000.00 per year. However, John Boehner has refused to grant an up or down vote on this legislation because he would need Democratic votes to pass it.
Nebraskans should demand that Fort, Terry and Smith immediately return to Washington and sign a discharge petition requiring an up or down vote on extending the Bush era tax cuts for 98% of Americans. That would constitute genuine leadership and be a big first towards preventing the Republican Recession of 2013.
If Nebraska's House Republicans refuse to yield to the wishes of the majority, the country will go over the fiscal cliff and plunge the country into an entirely unnecessary recession. After four long years, the economy is finally showing some signs of life. The housing market is making a comeback and businesses are hiring again. If Fort, Terry and Smith fail to show the necessary leadership, they will be responsible for what could be the Republican Recession of 2013. As their constituents, let's contact them and demand they immediately do everything they can to avoid this disastrous result.
Dennis Crawford is the 2nd Associate Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Thank you to Dennis for his contribution to the NDP's blog.
President Obama: "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."
Late last week, in what is a depressingly familiar trend, 26 innocent people - including 20 children - were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. This tragedy was preceded recently by a mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado on July 20, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on August 5, and another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis on September 27. And here closer to home, a troubled young man killed eight people at the Westroads Mall on December 5, 2007. This is all part of a horrific epidemic of gun violence over the last three decades in the U.S.
This is obviously a complex and multi-factoral problem but that doesn't take away from the fact the U.S. is the only country in the industrialized world that has suffered from an epidemic of mass killings. This rash of mass shootings stems from the fact that the U.S. has notoriously liberal gun control laws, and has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. The second highest gun ownership rate in the world is Yemen - a country torn by political unrest, an insurgency and an Al-Qaeda branch. As a matter of fact, Americans have nearly twice as many guns per person as do Yemenis. And it should be noted that the U.S. is way, way ahead in the gun ownership per capita rate for the 1st world, developed countries.
If hundreds of Americans were being killed by terrorists in the U.S. every year, there would be a call to action and some kind of legislation would've been swiftly passed to deal with the situation. Instead, for years, our elected representatives have been held back by the extreme National Rifle Association, representatives of gun manufacturers, gun dealers and their very well-compensated defenders in the Right Wing Media.
President Obama's moving words at the memorial service in Newtown should act as a spur to action for our elected officials:
"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.
We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.
If there's even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that's visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine.
Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?
Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
And here in Nebraska, the elected Republican officials are once again pandering to the most extreme elements of the GOP and making more excuses for inaction. When contacted by the media, the members of
Nebraska's Congressional delegation contended that this was was not the time for "political debate" on gun law reform. Governor Heineman showed his usual lack of leadership when he issued a statement contending that the issue is complex and "after an appropriate time of reflection I think we ought to have a conversation."
This request by the Nebraska Republicans to put off a "political debate" is just an attempt to shut down a meaningful conversation and reforms in the area of gun law reform. They know that their views on guns are
outside of the mainstream, and they're kow towing to the radical fringe of the GOP and the entertainers in the Right Wing Media.
If we don't act now, who will act? Just when we will act? If not us, who? If not now, when? The time for excuses and inaction is over. These calls by Nebraska's elected Republican officials to put off a debate on gun law reform is simply an excuse to perpetuate an unacceptable status quo.
There are several common sense solutions that could garner bi-partisan support and reduce the mass killings: bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons; requiring background checks for all gun purchases; stricter laws to make sure that gun owners follow safety procedures; new steps to make it easier to trace guns used in crimes; and vastly ramped-up data collection and research on what works to prevent gun violence, both of which are regularly blocked by the gun lobby. We also need to improve our mental health system. We need to reverse a status quo where it's easier to buy a gun than it is to obtain decent medical treatment for mental illness.
Recent history demonstrates that gun law reform improves public safety and saves lives. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law a measure that banned assault weapons and gun magazines that could shoot more than 10 bullets at one time. (This law would've banned the AK-47 and the 100 round magazine used by the perpetrator in the recent Aurora, Colorado theater massacre.)
A study conducted by the Brady Campaign To Prevent Violence compared the five year period before the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban took effect and the ten year period that followed it. This study found a 66% drop in the number of assault weapons used in crimes and estimated that over 60,000 fewer assault weapons were sold between 1994-2004 than would have been sold in the absence of the law. Unfortunately, in 2004, George W. Bush and the GOP Congress failed to renew this life-saving law and allowed it to expire. As a result of that failure, killers like the Aurora, Colorado shooter could go into any gun store and buy assault weapons and magazines that can shoot 100 bullets without reloading.
I would recommend to my friends in the Democratic Party that we begin to contact our elected officials and demand that they take steps to reduce this epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. There are several areas of bi-partisan agreement that could become law. We Democrats believe - like most Americans - in responsible gun ownership and it is becoming increasingly evident that our point of view reflects the majority opinion in the U.S. Now let's get to work!
It's just a matter of weeks until the fiscal cliff commences unless the Republicans in the Congress can compromise on a tax increase on the wealthy and on spending. If there is no agreement, the American people will be hit with a $500 billion tax increase and $100 billion in automatic spending cuts. The consensus among economists is that if the fiscal cliff occurs, the economy will go back into recession.
Some commentators have more accurately labeled the fiscal cliff the "austerity bomb."
We are in this predicament right now due to the convergence of two laws passed within the last two years. The Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year unless they are extended. If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, the average middle class family of four will be slapped with a $2,200.00 tax increase. In addition, the 2011 debt ceiling legislation mandates $100 billion in annual spending cuts beginning on January 1, 2013.
The solution to this problem seems fairly simple on the surface. The first thing that could be done is that the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans could be extended and the automatic spending cuts for 2013 could be canceled. There simply isn't enough time to negotiate and pass a complex and far reaching grand bargain on the deficit.
This solution seems to make perfect sense since the economy seems to finally be on the verge of a vigorous recovery and failure to do so would cause another recession. The economy has created around 150,000 new jobs per month this year and the housing market is making a strong comeback.
The obstacle to this common sense solution is the extreme Tea Party faction in the Congress. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill extending the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans - those who make less than $250,000 per year. (Senator Ben Nelson supported this legislation and Senator Mike Johanns voted against it.) The House could take a middle class tax increase off the table by simply passing the Senate bill.
The problem in the House is that Speaker John Boehner won't allow an up or down vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class because the Tea Party faction would rebel and install another Speaker who reflected their views. Some more moderate House Republicans have come out in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans and say that a majority of the House would pass this legislation.
However, the Tea Party would prefer to raise taxes on all Americans rather than slightly raise taxes on the wealthy.
Senator Ben Nelson said it best: the chief roadblocks to a fiscal agreement in Washington are "the extremists to the right" in the House of Representatives. "They are ideologically driven people who would rather bring this country to its knees than accept a balanced compromise that combines revenue increases with spending decreases. Obstructionism is a pathway to destruction."
What we need to do is contact our elected Representatives in Washington and demand that they oppose dropping the "austerity bomb" on the middle class next year. In recent days, Johanns and Representative Jeff Fortenberry have made some statements that indicate they would support tax increases on the wealthy if there are some spending cuts. I think it's time that we inundate Johanns and Fortenberry (and our other representatives) with telephone calls, letters and emails demanding that they do the right thing and support the immediate extension of the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans.
Our Republican elected representatives need to tell us whether they stand with the Tea Party or with their constituents. The middle class can't afford another recession when the economy is finally showing some signs of life. We can't allow the Tea Party to continue to sabotage the economy.
Dennis Crawford is the 2nd Associate Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Thank you to Dennis for his contribution to the NDP's blog.
Recently, there have been some developments on the health care front that once again expose the incompetence and hyper-partisanship of Governor Dave Heineman and his administration. Heineman decided that the State of Nebraska wouldn't operate the health insurance exchange that is part of Obama Care and passed the buck to the federal government. On the Medicaid expansion front, Heineman refused to allow key members of the Department of Health and Human Services to attend an interim study hearing on Obama Care's Medicaid expansion.
On the issue of the health insurance exchange, Heineman decided to let the federal government operate it alleging that a state exchange would cost Nebraska taxpayers $470 million more over eight years than a federal exchange. I discussed this decision with some experienced health insurance agents and they told me that the relevant stakeholders in Nebraska were ready and willing to run the exchange. They also scoffed at the cost figure cited by Heineman. State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who has worked extensively on the issue, expressed disappointment at the decision. He said the governor had "ceded power to federal bureaucrats."
Heineman's lack of leadership was also laid bare when he refused to allow the state's Medicaid director, Vivianne Chaumont, and Thomas Pristow, director of the Division of Children and Family Services to attend a hearing which which examined the costs and the benefits of Obama Care's Medicaid expansion. If Heineman had allowed members of his Administration to attend this hearing, they would've learned that the Medicaid expansion will save both money and lives.
Legislative staffers provided estimates at this hearing that pegged the cost of the expansion at $123.3 million over the next seven years.
But these estimates tell only part of the story. Numerous witnesses testified that the Medicaid expansion would allow states to cut spending on some programs and reap other economic benefits, including boosting economic activity in health care and improving the health of the workforce.
For example, the Medicaid expansion could pay for hospital stays by state prison inmates, many of whom are not currently eligible for coverage because they are single and have no dependent children. County governments could virtually eliminate their general assistance programs, which are required by state law to pay for the medical care of some very low-income people. Another expert testified that without Medicaid expansion, more than $1 billion in uncompensated care could be provided in Nebraska from 2014 to 2019. Medicaid expansion could reduce that amount to $419 million.
The Medicaid expansion would not only save money - it would improve the quality of life for thousands of Nebraskans. Jim Stimpson, director of the Health Policy Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said that a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that for every 176 adults covered under expanded Medicaid, one death per year could be prevented. That would mean about 500 prevented deaths per year in Nebraska.
Another study found that a 10 percent expansion of Medicaid eligibility has been shown to reduce bankruptcies by 8 percent -- about 1,200 fewer bankruptcies per year in Nebraska.
What this tells us is that Heineman and his Administration could've learned a lot if Chaumont and Pristow had been allowed to attend this hearing. How can Heineman competently serve the people of Nebraska if he willfully refuses to learn all of the facts before he makes an important decision? It's obvious that Heineman is following the troubling trend we've seen from the Radical Right where they rely primarily upon blind ideology and faith - rather than empirical evidence - in making public policy decisions.
It's evident that Heineman is once again playing partisan politics with health care decisions and pandering to the worst instincts of the extreme elements of his party. The Governor has never been serious about policy and he is more comfortable simply playing partisan political games. Perhaps Heineman should return to his former job as executive director of the Nebraska GOP once his term as Governor ends in two years.
Heineman's lack of leadership and lame duck status presents a real opportunity for the Democrats in the Legislature to take the lead and improve the lives of the citizens of our state. Thanks to the favorable results of the legislative elections this fall, our Senators are in a better position now to override Heineman's veto of a Medicaid expansion bill so that we can save both money and lives. We need to work with our Senators and provide them with the support they need to provide much needed leadership for our state and its citizens.