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.
Fox News is a fascinating (and disturbing) phenomenon in contemporary U.S. politics because it has millions of devoted followers and has created a powerful alternative reality for one of America's major political parties. Fox's alternative reality was so powerful this year that it even convinced the Romney campaign and just about every Republican pollster that Romney was sure to win the Presidential election. As we all now know, President Obama rather handily defeated the GOP nominee.
One thing that Fox claims to be is "fair and balanced." This theme is constantly repeated during Fox's programming. Conservative friends of mine who watch Fox have conceded that the opinion shows are slanted but they claim that the straight news segments are truly fair and balanced. I took it up on myself as your Second Associate Chair to determine if Fox is truly fair and balanced. As a result, I watched Fox for nearly three hours on a weekend afternoon to test this proposition.
The first thing I discovered in reviewing Fox's programming schedule is that a majority of shows are indeed of the opinion variety. During the roughly three hours that I watched Fox (I chose the time at random), fully two hours of the shows I watched were opinion shows.
Even the one hour of so-called "straight" news was slanted towards the right.
The first hour of programming I watched was Fox News Sunday and the center piece of the show was an "exclusive interview" with Senator John McCain. Needless to say, McCain was very critical of the Obama Administration. He spent a lot of time talking about the Benghazi attacks and contended that President Obama was the "real problem."
McCain spent a considerable amount of time scare mongering about Iran's alleged threat to the Israel and the U.S. There was scary talk about "spinning centrifuges" that was reminiscent of the Bush Administration's rhetoric about Iraq in 2002-03. McCain also called for establishing so-called "redlines" on Iran.
McCain also towed the conservative party line on the fiscal cliff.
McCain (incorrectly contended) that higher tax rates on the wealthy would hurt the economy and said that entitlement cuts were the only way to control spending.
The McCain interview was followed by a discussion on the fiscal cliff from representatives of the National Retail Federation and Fidelity Investments. These guests contended that spending on entitlements drives the deficit and called for a cut in the corporate tax rate.
(There was no mention of the fact that the biggest drivers of the deficit are the Bush tax cuts and defense spending.)
A panel discussion consisting of three conservatives and Juan Williams (the lone Democrat) concluded the show. Obviously, the conservatives got most of the floor time since they outnumbered Williams 3-1. One of the so-called "highlights" of this discussion was when Liz Cheney contended that Susan Rice wasn't qualified to be Secretary of State and that the Republicans should filibuster her nomination. The conservative panelists also said that this wasn't a good time to raise taxes on the wealthy since it would hurt the economy.
The next show was "The Wall Street Journal Editorial Report," which was another opinion show. All of the guests - with the exception of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker - were from the Wall Street Journal.
The longest segment concerned the alleged "army of regulators" from the Obama Administration who were going to stifle the economy with a blizzard of new regulations. The three panelists during this segment ridiculed the EPA and even questioned the constitutionality of the Dodd Frank Act. An uninformed viewer would come away from this segment convinced that the economy was heading straight into a recession due to all of the alleged impending regulations from the Obama Administration.
The next show was yet another opinion show entitled: "Fox News Watch."
This show is devoted to alleged liberal media bias. I watched very little of this show because I was getting burned out on Fox and the Big Ten Network was showing the second half of the Nebraska-Iowa game.
(A man has to have some priorities outside of politics.) I returned to the tail end of the show and they presented a day in history segment which marked the beginning of the Clinton impeachment proceedings. The Fox News host contended that coverage of this debate was plagued by so-called "liberal media bias."
After two hours of programming opinion shows, Fox finally came on with a straight news segment they called "America's News Headquarters." One of my takeaways was that the even the so-called straight news stories were interspersed with right wing talking points. For example, a short segment on the unclaimed $425 million power ball jackpot contained a snide remark from the female blonde host that this sum of money would finance the federal government for one hour and would only retire a tiny fraction of the national debt.
Some of the news stories during America's News Headquarters were designed to drive the neo-conservative foreign policy agenda. There was a segment discussing how the Gaza cease fire was in jeopardy because Iranian ships loaded with rockets were sailing for Gaza.
During the discussion of this story, the screen was filled with all kinds of scary shots of military rockets being launched. There was also mention of a church that was blown up in Nigeria by a car bomb. The hosts speculated that the bomb may have been planted by a radical Muslim sect.
The end of the one hour "news show" was marked by a debate on rising labor unrest since the election with a focus on Walmart. There were two guests with opposing viewpoints on union organizing efforts regarding Walmart. Interestingly enough, the moderator of this discussion took it upon himself to defend Walmart's labor practices and benefit packages. Needless to say, the anti-labor point of view got most of the air time.
My reaction to watching nearly three hours of Fox News on a quiet Sunday afternoon certainly confirmed that Fox's programming is heavily slanted in favor of the conservative Republican agenda. For example, there was no discussion of the fact that taxes in the U.S. are currently at their lowest level since the 1950s and that some level of government regulation can prevent kind of economic meltdown we experienced in 2008-09. Instead, all of the discussions on economic issues focused on cutting entitlements, avoiding tax increases on the wealthy and deregulation.
My takeaway from these three hours of Fox programming was that if I were a conservative who truly believed in all of this nonsense, I would be very afraid and pessimistic. Conservatives who watch a lot of Fox would be convinced that a recession is imminent that Iran (a country with a GDP the size of Peru's) is especially scary.
What is great about being a Democrat is that we are part of what has been called the "reality based community." We don't rely heavily upon propaganda masquerading as heavily slanted news to get our world view.
One thing I always like to say is that reality has a Progressive bias. That would account for the Democratic victories at the polls this fall.
Dennis Crawford is our newly elected 2nd Associate Chair. He will begin serving his term on the NDP's executive board at the first State Central Committee meeting following November's election. Thank you to Dennis for his contribution to the NDP's blog.
The most recent legislative session didn't end well for Governor Dave Heineman. The Unicameral significantly trimmed a large tax cut that favored the wealthy proposed by Heineman and overrode his vetoes of bills allowing the state to resume paying for prenatal care for pregnant women who are illegal immigrants, and allowing cities to increase their sales tax rates by a half-cent. It's not going to be any easier for Heineman in next year's session thanks to the fact that the Democrats picked up three seats in the 2012 elections and Ernie Chambers will be returning to the Unicameral.
Just what is Heineman's record as Governor? What are his accomplishments? What about his failures? I say it's time we explore that record and determine what successes - if any - Heineman has had during his seven years as Governor.
The Governor likes to claim credit for the reasonably good economy in Nebraska since he's been in office. It's true that Nebraska has been largely insulated from the economic malaise in other parts of the country and that our state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. However, Heineman really has had nothing to do with the current state of Nebraska's economy. The major reason for Nebraska's economic success has been the rise in commodity prices and the increase in farm land values over the last four years. The major factors behind that are international economic trends that have nothing to do with the Heineman Administration.
What about the Nebraska Advantage Act? Heineman likes to tell us that Nebraska's tax environment has a lot to do with the state's economic success. What Heineman doesn't mention is that is that a recent report from the Nebraska Department of Revenue says that three of every four jobs subsidized by the Act would have been created without incentives that cost the state $42 million in revenue in 2010-2011. The previous year, only one out of 10 jobs were identified as truly new jobs created by the subsidies, which cost the state $42 million in revenue, according to the report.
Governor Heineman also likes to to take credit for the fact that the budget has been balanced every year he has been Governor - even during the dark days of 2009-2010 when the national economy nearly went into an economic depression. However, Heineman never says that in 2009 and 2010, Nebraska's budget was balanced with hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funds. This federal money prevented the layoff of Nebraska state employees and even more severe program cuts. The federal stimulus money tided Nebraska over until the economy began to improve in 2011-12. Despite that success, Heineman hypocritically claimed that he was opposed to the 2009 stimulus bill. However, the fact remains that Heineman took the stimulus money and ran - making the State's balanced budget the centerpiece of his 2010 re-election campaign. I would say to Governor Dave that actions speaker louder than words.
I would contend here that Heineman's chimerical "successes" have been outweighed (and should be overshadowed) by his miserable failures. The Heineman Administration badly neglected the Beatrice State Developmental Center and allowed this once model facility to fall into disarray. Some of our most helpless and powerless citizens were harmed by Heineman's gross incompetence. In addition, the state lost $25 million in federal funding in 2009 when the state institution lost its federal Medicaid certification. Finally, earlier this year, BSDC regained it's Medicaid certification and the federal funding was restored. We can largely thank State Senator Steve Lathrop for saving BSDC since he has been serving as the chairman of the special legislative committee created in 2008 to investigate issues at BSDC.
Another significant failure of the Heineman Administration was it's botched scheme to privatize child welfare services across the state. This failure was marked by 77 days of payments without any services provided, tens of millions of dollars spent for which DHHS could not provide a proper accounting of how it was spent or why, for-profit companies hiring unqualified workers from Taco Bell and Wal-Mart that they pay $10 an hour then bill the state almost five times as much, and no-bid contracts. Once again, some of our state's most vulnerable citizens were hurt and the Legislature had to step in to clean up Heineman's mess.
It is now growing increasingly evident that Heineman wants to double down on these failures in the next session of the Unicameral. He has begun talking about abolishing income taxes and inheritance taxes. The revenues lost from these tax cuts - that would largely favor the wealthy - would mainly come from increased sales taxes on necessities like food and increased property taxes. The passage of this risky tax scheme would redistribute income upward and further burden our already strapped middle class and the poor people of Nebraska.
I believe as Democrats that we have a real opportunity in the next legislative session. The reinforcements we received in the 2012 election cycle probably makes it likely that the Legislature will reject Heineman's regressive tax cuts. In addition, the override of the prenatal care bill bodes well for passing Obama Care's Medicaid expansion over Heineman's veto. It's evident that Senators in both parties have lost confidence in Heineman and are willing to stand up to him again. As Democrats, we need to stay in contact with our State
Senators and urge them to support an agenda for the middle class and our most vulnerable citizens. As it says on our beautiful State Capitol Building: "The salvation of the state is watchfullness in the citizen."
Shortly after the election, Senator Nelson was kind enough to grant me an interview to go over his eight years as Governor and twelve years as U.S. Senator. I was originally promised 15 minutes and Senator Nelson ended up spending 45 minutes answering my questions. We both enjoyed the interview. I want to thank Senator Nelson for his 20 years of distinguished public service and I wish him and his family all of the best in the future.
Q: What about your experience in McCook inspired you to run for Governor?
A: When I was 17, my high school superintendent - Ralph Brooks - was elected Governor in 1958. That same year, I was elected Governor of the Model Legislature at the State Capitol Building in Lincoln. As a result of that election, I was able to spend at day at the Governor's office. At that time, I pledged I would come back in the future and run for Governor. That was always in my future plans. I even told Diane at the time we got married that I eventually planned to run for Governor.
Q: Who are your political heroes:
A: My heroes are George W. Norris and Frank Morrison. Both of them were populists.
Q: What was the key to your victory in 1990?
A: Governor Kay Orr got in a situation where she had increased taxes but she denied it after the fact - perhaps unwittingly. When Orr ran for Governor in 1986, she promised she wouldn't raise taxes. Orr also said that if Helen Boosalis was elected Governor, the peoples' taxes would go up. What I said in 1990 was that I voted for Boosalis and my taxes went up even though Orr was Governor. The people of Nebraska were pretty disappointed that Governor Orr raised taxes and then subsequently denied it.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of as Governor:
A: I pushed hard for bi-partisanship. My theme was One Nebraska. I worked with both Republicans and Democrats. I felt an obligation to represent all Nebraskans. As Governor, I got spending under control.
I reversed the Orr tax increases. People were satisfied with the progress we made as a state. When I ran for re-election as Governor in 1994, I got more Republican votes than Gene Spence.
Q: What was the key to your victory over Don Stenberg in 2000?
A: Don Stenberg was clearly running as a partisan lap dog. He said he was a member of the Bush-Hagel-Stenberg team. My response was that I wanted to be a member of America's team, Nebraska's team and the people's team. I promised to be an independent minded Senator. Don Stenberg couldn't sell himself as being able to work across party lines. On the issue of the nuclear waste site, I said that we didn't make one move without the concurrence of the Attorney General when I was Governor. We kept the nuclear waste site out of Nebraska and Don Stenberg was the one who lost the lawsuit.
Q: What were the highlights of your time when George W. Bush was President?
A: George Bush was Governor during the time of my second term as Governor of Nebraska. I had a good personal relationship with George Bush. However, when he was President, he always pressured me to support his legislation. I always said I would support the President when he was right and oppose when he wasn't right. And I always look for alternatives. One thing I didn't want to do was obstruct. The U.S. can't succeed if the President fails. There is a need for bi-partisanship to pass legislation. I genuinely believe that Bush wanted to put partisanship aside for the good of the country.
However, Karl Rove and company had other plans. If the President is a lone wolf, or Congress goes rogue, the country can't progress. That's where we are now.
Q: Let's talk about the time Barack Obama was President. Why did you support the 2009 Recovery Act?
A: In early 2009, we were facing a depression cliff. If we didn't do something, it would have been worse than the Great Depression. I consulted with business leaders and they told me we had to do something. I worked with Senators Collins, Snowe and Specter to put together a Senate version of the bill. We originally had about 15 Republicans working with us. However, 12 of them dropped their support when they were threatened by the right wing of the Republican Party. They were threatened by people who later became the Tea Party.
Dave Heineman balanced the Nebraska budget with stimulus money.
Only Texas depended more upon stimulus money to balance it's budget.
When the stimulus bill came up for a vote, I was faced with two evils.
As Mae West once said, when I'm faced with two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before. One evil was a depression and the other evil was increasing the deficit. I believe that the alternative was a deep depression and that was the greater evil and so I came out in favor of the stimulus bill.
Q: Let's talk about your Obama Care vote. Why did you vote for the bill?
A: In 2009 and 2010, I received emails from a constituent who expressed passionate opposition to Obama Care. This person objected to the spending and mistakenly claimed that the bill was full of pork.
There wasn't any pork in the bill. Subsequently, that same person in 2012 contacted me and told me he was now disabled. He said he couldn't afford any medications and couldn't afford his oxygen. He asked me if there was any help available.
By the time I voted for Obama Care in 2009, $8 million had been spent in negative ads in Nebraska attacking it. They basically poisoned the water. When it came up for a vote, I faced the choice of doing what was right or being political. I believe I needed to vote to move the legislation forward.
One thing I did was save all of the states from all Medicaid mandates.
I have already been vindicated on the issue. The legislation required that the federal government pay for all of the Medicaid expansions for all 50 states. The Supreme Court has subsequently ruled that the states will not lose federal funding if they do decline the Medicaid expansion.
Q: What do you believe to be your most significant accomplishments as U.S. Senator?
A: It was the tone I set. I set the tone of One Nebraska. I wanted to reach out to all people and represent all people. I never wanted to ignore the rights of the minority. I wanted to try to get people to work together. Ed Zorinsky used to say that the biggest problem in Washington, D.C. is there are too many Democratic Senators and there are too many Republican Senators. There are not enough U.S. Senators.
Q: What do you make of election 2012?
A: It was positive for Democrats on a national level. I was glad to see the results in the U.S. Senate races in Indiana and Missouri. Two Tea Party party members lost those elections. I was also glad to see that some Tea Party members in the House lost their elections. The Tea Party will continue to be a problem for the Republican Senators in the primaries. However, that will help us because the Tea Party will nominate people who are too extreme to win the general election.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I don't have any specific plans. Generally, I plan to keep on working. I think I'll do some work in D.C. with a firm. I will probably work in Nebraska but I don't have anything specific lined up.
I'm working on my bucket list. I have gone on some vacations with my family and I've been pheasant hunting. I plan to write a 100 page legacy book on my 12 years in the U.S. Senate.