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Who Is The Real Jeff Fortenberry?

The Lincoln Journal Star editorial board recently alleged that Jeff Fortenberry is a "compassionate conservative" and found his alleged independence from the more extreme elements of the GOP to be "inspiring." The Lincoln Journal Star waxed almost poetic about Fortenberry because he was one of the few Republicans who voted against a bill that would cut food stamp spending by $40 billion. Is Fortenberry really independent and a compassionate conservative? Does compassionate conservatism even exist?

Fortenberry has shown no independence and compassion in connection with the GOP government shutdown and default threat. Even though the incumbent 1st District Congressman said that he "did not think coupling [proposed repeal or delay of Obama Care] to a government shutdown was a good idea," he still voted for a bill that did that very same thing. This entirely unnecessary and harmful government shutdown began last month when Fortenberry voted with just about every House Republican for a continuing resolution that defunded the ACA and locked in spending at sequester levels. Moreover, Fortenberry isn't on the list of House Republicans who favor a clean continuing resolution and hasn't called for an up or down vote on this legislation that would re-open the government.

This government shutdown began as a deeply misguided effort by Fortenberry and his fellow radical Republicans to defund Obama Care and deprive 30 million Americans of health insurance coverage. What makes this entire effort so hypocritical is that Fortenberry is currently provided with taxpayer financed health care as one of the perks of his job as Congressman. As Fortenberry recently said: "I'm thankful that as a federal worker I have had access to good health care and a subsidy, and I pay a certain amount for it. Those have been very beneficial to me. I recognize that not everybody has that out there." However, Fortenberry initiated the shutdown to deprive millions of poor and sick Americans of the health care that he admits has been "very beneficial" to him.

Congressional District 1's representative in the U.S. House of Representatives is also on board with the House Republican's threat to default on U.S. obligations unless the Obama Administration agrees to cut Social Security and Medicare. While Senator Johanns has spoken out against the reckless actions of the House Republicans and has warned that default would be catastrophic, Fortenberry has been silent. Needless to say, Fortenberry's silence has been deafening.

Fortenberry's government shutdown and default threat has already been very bad for the economy. Small business owners in fields as diverse as law, auto sales and real estate have said that their phones stopped ringing about three weeks ago. The threat to the economy posed by Fortenberry and his fellow extreme House Republicans is strangling small businesses and destroying consumer confidence.

Those aren't the only negative consequences of the government shutdown. The Capitol Police who are protecting Fortenberry are currently going without pay. The shutdown has impaired food, product and air safety. The shutdown is also causing havoc for farmers at harvest time. Daily reports from the Department of Agriculture, which help farmers read the markets for corn and livestock prices, have been suspended. One farmer said, "We don't know the value of a hog in the market place. It starts out as an annoyance. It goes to frustration. Then a headache. And then it becomes a big deal because just because the government's shut down doesn't mean agriculture stops."

Similarly, Nebraska's representative from CD1 has blindly followed the party line on the Ryan budget plan which privatizes Medicare and turns it into a voucher. Fortenberry has voted for this regressive bill on at least three occasions. As I've discussed here before, the Fortenberry/Ryan budget requires senior citizens to purchase private health insurance. What is seldom mentioned is that the Fortenberry/Ryan plan repeals the ACA and brings back pre-existing condition clauses. Mr. Fortenberry has yet to explain how senior citizens will be able to purchase affordable and comprehensive insurance once the health insurance industry is put back in charge of the insurance market for senior citizens.

Fortenberry has demonstrated a similar lack of compassion and independence in connection with his 2011 vote for the sequester budget cuts and his continuing support for this harmful policy. In CD 1, meat inspectors and air traffic controllers have been furloughed. Some Saturday mail deliveries in rural areas have been canceled. Some of his constituents have been deprived access to homeless shelters and Head Start.

In the area of immigration, Fortenberry has also shown no independence and compassion. Earlier this year, Fortenberry voted with Steve King and every other House Republican to deport the DREAM Act children. This vote could potentially impact children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents and have built up a life in our country. Fortunately, the chances are good that the Fortenberry/King amendment will be rejected in the U.S. Senate.

The reality is that Fortenberry-with certain rare exceptions-is a party line House Republican who can be counted on by the leadership in that body to vote with the Tea Party and the other extreme members of the GOP. Fortenberry's votes and actions have already done harm to his constituents in CD1 and things could get a lot worse if Fortenberry and his colleagues continue the shutdown and allow the U.S. to default on our obligations for the first time in our country's history.

Fortenberry is no "compassionate conservative." In reality, compassionate conservatism never really existed. It was just a clever marketing slogan from the 2000 Bush campaign to differentiate himself from the group of unpopular House Republicans who shut down the government in 1995-96 in a failed attempt to finance tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting Medicare. Mr. Fortenberry would fit in very well with that bunch. 

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Does Adrian Smith Share the Values of Nebraska CD3?

Representative Adrian Smith has now served in the House of Representatives since 2007 and we are in a good position to evaluate his record and determine if he is worthy of re-election.  Any objective and careful review of his record indicates that he has consistently voted with the most extreme members of his party in ways that are contrary to the interests of the residents of Nebraska CD3.

Smith is fully behind the Tea Party government shutdown and phony debt-ceiling crisis.  While Senator Mike Johanns has spoken out against refusing to fund the government and threatening a default on our nation's debts, Smith has voted several times in favor of the shutdown.  In addition, Smith has been complicit in the GOP's strategy to cause harm to the American people by threatening to default on America's obligations.  According to most economists and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,  a refusal to raise the debt ceiling and a default would cause world wide economic chaos.    

What that means is that Smith (and most of his Republican Congressional colleagues) will cause a recession unless the Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act, cut Social Security and cut Medicare.  It isn't a Nebraska value to threaten harm in order to get your demands met.   We Nebraskans believe in honesty and fair play in our dealings with others.  

Already, the Smith/GOP shutdown and default threat has hurt the American people.   The Dow Jones average has already tumbled around 500 points and consumer confidence is now 14 points lower than it was the week before the shutdown. This means consumers haven’t been this pessimistic since December of 2011.  Approximately 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed without pay. Children are unable to participate in programs like Head Start. Cancer patients have been forced to delay treatments. Apparently, Smith believes that if he and his allies in the Tea Party can inflict enough damage, the Democrats will cave and give him what he wants. 

Smith's actions in connection with the farm bill have also hurt the people of his district.  In the past, the farm bill consisted of both the payments of subsidies to farmers and the extension of the food stamp program.  For decades, this combining of issues created a bi-partisan, rural/urban coalition to pass the farm bill.

The Third District Congressman and his cohorts broke up this long time tradition and coalition when they voted to separate the two parts of the bill and voted for a food stamp bill that cut benefits by $40 billion.  This food stamp bill was so extreme that even Jeff Fortenberry voted against it.  (Fortenberry is no moderate.)  These actions have now made it much harder to pass a farm bill and as a result, we still don't have one.

Smith's votes on Social Security and Medicare could hurt senior citizens as well.  In 2011, Smith voted to cut Social Security benefits when he voted to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70.  Smith has also voted for the Ryan budget, which privatizes Medicare and turns it into a voucher program.  The Smith/Ryan Medicare plan would cost the average senior citizen an additional $6,000.00 to $8,000.00 in annual out of pocket medical expenses.

On the other hand, Smith has been an ardent supporter of the nation's wealthiest citizens and largest corporations.  The Smith/Ryan budget would reduce the top marginal rate from 39.6% to 25% and cut the top corporate rate from 35% to 25%.   What this means is that Smith has voted to cut taxes for oil companies, banks and insurance companies.  

Fortunately, Smith has a strong challenger in Mark Sullivan who shares the values of Nebraska CD3.  Sullivan is a life long farmer and cattle feeder.  Sullivan is a good, common sense Nebraskan who is willing to reach across party lines and come up with solutions that will help the residents of CD3 and the country.

Sullivan's common sense solutions include improving infrastructure to create jobs, and developing an energy program involving sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal.  Unlike his opponent, Sullivan has pledged to fight to preserve Social Security, Medicare and the family farm.

It is obvious that Smith has been in Washington for too long and has grown out of touch with his constituents. Evidently, Smith has adopted the values of his D.C. political contributors.  It's time that we elect a true Nebraskan in Mark Sullivan.  We all need to work hard for Mark Sullivan because he is one of us.


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The Nebraska Democratic Party is Keeping Busy

Last weekend was very eventful for Democrats in Nebraska. On Saturday we had our State Central Committee (SCC) meeting in Fremont that was hosted by the Dodge County Democrats. We had more than 100 folks turnout to attend different caucus meetings and also to go to trainings dealing with Votebuilder and Social Media. One of our gubernatorial candidates, Senator Annette Dubas, also attended the SCC meeting and attended several different caucuses including the Veteran's and Women's Caucses respectively.

After the SCC event, many of the delegates attended an event with our other gubernatorial candidate, Chuck Hasselbrook, which had a great turnout in Fremont. Thanks for hosting, Dodge County Democrats, and we'll see all of you SCC folks in December!

On Sunday, several of our NDP staffers gave trainings for the Lancaster County Democrats about Votebuilder, fundraising, and volunteer coordination. We had a good showing of Democrats that were very enthusiastic about the material and are getting very excited about the upcoming election cycle.

After the training, the Lancaster County Democrats also hosted their annual spaghetti feed. The event had a great turnout with more than 80 people in attendance including many state and local elected officials and many candidates for the upcoming election. Also, the spaghetti was delicious. This was a great way for Democrats to not only get together to get a training refresher for the upcoming election cycle, but also to get together and have some fun in the process. Way to go, Lancaster County Democrats!

If you're interested in hosting a training with the Nebraska Democratic Party prior to a county party social event, let us know!
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Just Who Is Responsible For These Insurance Rate Hikes?

Nebraska Watchdog recently posted an article in which they indicated that Blue Cross/Blue Shield will raise insurance premiums for numerous Nebraskans who are required to purchase coverage in the health insurance exchanges beginning on October 1. Moreover, the piece quoted a so-called "expert" from the extremely conservative Manhattan Institute who linked those increases to ObamaCare.  (The article did indicate that several thousand Nebraskans will see a rate decrease.)  Just what is causing the rate increases? Is the new federal health law really to blame?  Just how widespread is the problem?  

One of the flaws in Nebraska Watchdog's piece was that it largely relied upon an "expert" from the Manhattan Institute in an attempt to connect these rate increases to ObamaCare.  The article didn't consult any experts from any consumer friendly or Progressive think tanks.  Moreover, the Nebraska Watchdog piece neglected to mention that the Manhattan Institute is very conservative and has received funding from some of the most bitter opponents of the Obama Administration.  For example, this right wing think tank has received financial assistance from the Koch Brothers, Cigna Insurance, Lincoln Financial Group (an insurance holding company), and Merrill Lynch.  The Koch Brothers, the insurance industry and Wall Street have all contributed millions of dollars to finance deceptive advertising blitzes opposing the landmark 2010 health care reform law.  

In light of Nebraska Watchdog's reliance upon a vitriolic opponent of Obama Care, it is speculative - at best  - to blame Obama Care for Blue Cross/Blue Shield's recent rate increases.  It is Blue Cross/Blue Shield - not the federal government - that established those rates.  Moreover, Blue Cross has quoted lower rates in many other states.  It is evident here in Nebraska that Blue Cross has decided to take advantage of a situation to jack up their rates and are now trying to deflect criticism for a decision they were probably planning to make anyway.  

Another factor behind the rate increases is the refusal of Governor Dave Heineman and his supporters in the Unicameral to adopt the Medicaid expansion.   According to a study by the non-partisan RAND corporation, Governor Rick Perry's rejection of the Medicaid expansion will cause private health insurance premiums to rise by an average of 9.3% for Texans purchasing coverage on their own in the health care exchanges.  Over 300,000 Texan residents just above the poverty line will take advantage of ObamaCare’s subsidies and purchase coverage in the individual insurance market, the researchers found. Those are people who would have been enrolled in Medicaid, if the Medicaid expansion had not been rejected by Perry and the Texas Legislature.  The RAND experts said that because lower income people generally are not as healthy as people with higher incomes, their inclusion in the private health insurance exchange will change the claims experience of insurance companies selling coverage in the individual market.  “When exchange subsidies become available to lower-income individuals, the average health of the exchange population declines slightly, and premiums increase,” they wrote.  There is no reason to think Nebraska's experience isn't any different than that of Texas.  

The number of Nebraskans experiencing insurance rate increases is far less widespread than the Nebraska Watchdog article would lead you to believe.  This is because only 15% of Nebraskans will be required to purchase insurance in the health care exchanges.  The other 85% don't have to do anything because they are already insured by their employer, Medicare, Medicaid or through the Veterans Administration.  For 85% of Nebraskans, the much hyped launch of the ObamaCare exchanges will mean very little. In any event, those Nebraskans insured by their employers will have better insurance policies beginning on January 1, 2014. As of that date, pre-existing conditions clauses will be abolished, there will be no more lifetime limits on policies and an insurance company will no longer be able to cancel your policy after you get sick or injured.

We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party are very confident that ObamaCare will be a success. The same people who said that the Clinton economic program would fail, Iraq had lots of WMDs, and that the Bush tax cuts would create an economic boom are now predicting that ObamaCare will be a catastrophic failure. (I would be very concerned if these conservatives were predicting that ObamaCare would be a success!) The predecessors of today's conservatives also predicted that Social Security and Medicare would fail, and these programs would mean the end of our freedom. That is why we Democrats are confident that it is only a matter of time until ObamaCare is as popular and successful as Social Security and Medicare.

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Will The GOP Cause Another Recession?

At the present time, we're in another phony economic crisis manufactured by the extremists in the Republican Party.  The government runs out of money at the end of September and the debt ceiling must be raised no later than mid-October.  Already, the Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed a continuing resolution that would defund Obama Care and shut down the government.  Fortenberry, Terry, and Smith all voted for this irresponsible legislation. Deb Fischer also supports a government shutdown.  Mike Johanns is the only member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation who is opposed.  

The costs of a government shutdown would be high.  At the time of the last GOP shutdown of the government during the Clinton Administration, the Office of Management and Budget estimated the costs of those shutdowns to be approximately $1.4 billion. Adjusting for inflation would bring that total to more than $2 billion in current dollars.

A prolonged government shutdown would also do great damage to overall economic performance.  During the period in early 2011 when the GOP threatened a government shutdown, Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index declined 24 points.   The consumer confidence figures tallied by Reuters and the University of Michigan also plummeted.

The GOP government shutdowns in 1995-96–when the economy was much stronger—cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth.  A shutdown this year would do much greater damage to the economy than those earlier shutdowns.  According to Mark Zandi –an economic adviser to John McCain in 2008—a 3 to 4 week government shutdown “would do significant economic damage, reducing real GDP growth by 1.4 percentage points, and a two-month shutdown would likely precipitate another recession.” 

The GOP isn't only threatening to close down the government, they're also threatening to default on America's economic obligations if President Obama doesn't agree to scrap Obama Care and prevent millions of Americans from getting health insurance.  Before the Tea Party takeover of the House in 2010, raising the debt ceiling was a fairly routine event. For example, Congress raised the debt ceiling 17 times during the Reagan Administration and raised it 8 times during the George W. Bush Administration.
Increasing the debt ceiling doesn't increase the deficit by one dime.  Instead, raising the debt ceiling is paying for spending that the Congress has already approved.  It's like getting a bill for your house mortgage or car payment in the mailbox.  

Unfortunately, a refusal by the GOP to raise the debt ceiling next month would cause much greater damage to the economy than a government shutdown.  As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post said:  "Trading a government shutdown for a debt-ceiling breach is like trading the flu for septic shock." Failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause a financial crisis and a stock market crash similar to the one we experienced after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. It would cause the U.S. to lose its status as the world's economic save haven, cause a permanent downgrade in U.S. debt and end the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency.

Defaulting on the financial obligations of the U.S. is so radical that even the GOP aligned U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out against it. U.S. Chamber President Thomas Donohue said: “It is insane not to raise the debt ceiling. I know there are a lot of people, new people in the House and some of the guys in Heritage and other places talking about how we should burn down the House to build a new one. Well that is just fine if you knew what you were talking about, but you don’t.” 

Mike Johanns also shares the concerns of the Chamber of Commerce on the debt ceiling. In a recent interview in the Lincoln Journal Star, Johanns said: "If there is a government shutdown at some point it would move from inconvenience to immeasurable suffering if senior citizens who are living check to check find their vital Social Security support delayed. And the stability that has been such a feature of our system would evaporate if Congress failed to increase the debt ceiling a few weeks from now,” Nebraska's senior Senator said. "That would be very, very dangerous," he said, "rattling the markets, threatening the economy and risking the nation's credit rating in a way that could increase its debt service costs. It would shake confidence in the U.S. government," Johanns contended.

What's happening now is that the GOP is threatening to hurt the economy and the American people unless President Obama agrees to strip health insurance coverage from approximately 30 million people.  Before 2011, this kind of sabotage threat to the economy was unheard of.  No party was willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States.  What the Republicans have been doing since 2010 is risky and deeply irresponsible.

The GOP should know is that Obama Care was one of the central issues of the 2012 election cycle.  Last year, every Republican on the ballot promised to repeal Obama Care.  As it turned out, President Obama handily defeated Mitt Romney, the Democrats gained seats in the U.S. Senate and received more votes than the Republicans did in the races for the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Republicans are acting as if they had won the 2012 elections and had a mandate to strip health insurance coverage from millions of Americans.  That is revisionist history at its worst.

What we need to do as Nebraska Democrats is to get on the phone to our elected representatives in Washington and demand that they follow the lead of Senator Johanns and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and vote to raise the debt ceiling.  We also need to work to elect Democratic candidates to the Congress who will act responsibly and who won't threaten to hurt the American people if they lose an election.
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Understanding the ACA Marketplace

Fellow Nebraska Democrat,


When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, it carried with it a promise of expanding access to quality, affordable health coverage for millions of American families and small businesses.   In less than 10 days, we have a historic opportunity to make private health insurance more accessible and affordable for hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, turning the ACA's promise into a reality.


As a result of the ACA, important pro-consumer changes have already been made to our health care system: children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage; young adults can stay on their parents' private insurance until age 26; insurers are now required to spend at least 80 percent of our premium dollars on medical care and are required to rebate funds to consumers if they don’t; health insurance companies can no longer arbitrarily cancel your coverage just because you get sick; and lifetime limits are a thing of the past, with annual limits going away in 2014.  The most significant change is that discrimination based on pre-existing conditions will be banned starting Jan. 1. 


Beginning Oct. 1, Nebraskans will have a new way to shop for private health insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace.  For the first time in the history of the private insurance market, consumers will be able to go to one place to check out their coverage options, get accurate information and make apples-to-apples comparisons of plans before they make their decisions.


All plans in the Marketplace will be required to cover a comprehensive set of benefits, including physician visits, preventive care, hospital stays, and prescriptions.  Most Nebraska families will qualify for financial help with their monthly premiums.  The Nebraska Department of Insurance estimates that over 90 percent of people who enroll in coverage in the Marketplace will receive some sort of financial assistance to make their coverage more affordable.


The promise of the ACA is within our grasp.  To make this promise a reality, we need everyone who cares about getting more people covered to do their part.  Elected officials at all levels, community organizations, churches, human service providers, neighborhood associations, friends, family and neighbors can all play a role in sharing information about the Marketplace. will be the online source for information about the Marketplace and where plans will be sold starting Oct. 1.  You can reach the toll-free Marketplace Call Center 24/7 by calling 1-800-318-2596 and local support is also available through Community Action agencies (402-471-3714) and the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska (402-738-3158).


As Washington continues to divide along partisan lines, we need to come together in our communities across Nebraska to ensure that no one who is eligible for coverage is left on the sidelines.


Let’s get to work!


Senator Jeremy Nordquist

District 7



P.S. Here is a handout with more information about the Marketplace that I encourage you to share with your family, friends, and neighbors:

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Who Are The Real Welfare Queens?

For decades, the GOP has been demonizing people who are on welfare and have attempted to tie them to the Democratic Party. This is all part of the GOP's fealty to Ayn Rand's nihilistic philosophy of the makers v. takers. This effort to demonize poor people reached its apogee when Ronald Reagan went after a fictitious welfare queen who allegedly had "eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards" and was collecting government benefits in excess of $150,000.00 per year. Closer to home, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning compared poor people to "raccoons" and Auditor Mike Foley was forced to apologize when he claimed poor people lacked proper money management skills. Just who are the real welfare queens? How much money are they taking from the taxpayers?

Many voters would be surprised to learn that the government spends much more money on corporate welfare subsidies than on social welfare programs. According to a 2006 study by a Progressive think tank, about $59 billion was spent on welfare programs for the poor while $92 billion was spent on corporate subsidies. In other words, the government was spending 50% more on corporate welfare than it did on programs like food stamps in 2006. For example, $4 billion of the taxpayer's money is spent every year on subsidies for the already incredibly lucrative oil industry. In addition, a study by Good Jobs First revealed that various Wal-Mart stores around the U.S. have received over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars.

Here in Nebraska, the taxpayers are providing lavish subsidies to corporations that don't need the money. According to the New York Times, Nebraska spends $1.4 billion per year on business incentives - making it the third largest spender in the country. A special report from Nebraska Watchdog found that most of the jobs being subsidized by the Nebraska Advantage Act would have been created in the absence of the taxpayer money doled out to already very profitable corporations.

Nebraska's corporations aren't the only ones here in our state who are on the government payroll. U.S. Senator Deb Fischer has been receiving a lucrative grazing subsidy for over 30 years that the Libertarian Cato Institute has labeled "cowboy socialism." Fischer is among a handful of Nebraska ranchers whose cattle graze on federal land at prices that amount to a significant federal give away. Deb Fischer and her husband lease 11,724 acres of federal land in Nebraska for about $4,700 for seven months - paying about $110,000 less than the market rate for private land in Cherry County. The Fischers have benefited from this federal program for nearly 30 years and only around 2% of the cattle raised in this country feed on federal lands. When Fischer was asked about this hand out two years ago, she said she would "have to research the matter." We haven't heard from her about this subsidy ever since.

New GOP gubernatorial hopeful and Ameritrade Executive Pete Ricketts is no stranger to government handouts. Even though Ricketts claims that he is for limited government and less spending, his family's various businesses have lobbied for and received lucrative taxpayer handouts. Last year, the Ricketts family lobbied for a $150 million subsidy from the taxpayers of Chicago & Cook County Illinois to aide a business his family owns in Chicago. The Ricketts family also asked for a chunk of tax revenue from the city of Chicago in perpetuity. (The city of Chicago wisely denied the request when Joe Ricketts considered funding $10 million in ads last year linking President Obama to Reverend Jeremiah Wright.) It also hasn't gone unnoticed that Ricketts received a large tax subsidy from the city of Omaha to build a new, gleaming 12 story headquarters building for Ameritrade.

The Republicans always like to tell us that they don't believe in government and that they hate spending. The reality is that so-called "conservatives" believe in government so long as the government helps themselves and their wealthy friends. They also believe in spending so long as they are ones who are pocketing the checks. All of this so-called "concern" about the deficit we hear from Republicans is only a political weapon they are using in an attempt to cut spending they don't agree with like Social Security and Medicare.

The debate in America today isn't about the size of government - it's really about who government is for - the middle class and the least fortunate among us or the wealthy and the corporations. We Democrats must constantly remind the voters that we are the party of middle class and that we are the party of those with modest economic means. 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 well represented by the GOP and the conservative movement.


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The GOP Is The Party of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand was a fiction writer who admired laissez faire capitalism. Rand believed in a Darwinian view of the world and in a supremely selfish notion of citizenship in which we are not our brother's keeper. The core of Ayn Rand's view is that the poor are poor because they are inferior, and that workers are jobless because they are lazy.  In her novels, Rand described recipients of government benefits as "parasites," "looters" and "moochers" using the levers of government to steal the fruits of the job creators' labors.  This fiction writer preached that altruism and concern for one's fellow man is misguided and should be replaced by the principle that one must only pursue one's own self interest.  

Ms. Rand's views on religion were even more radical.  Rand was an atheist who contended that religious people have a psychological weakness and that they cannot accept reality. She also said that faith is the worst curse of mankind, as the exact antithesis and enemy of thought.  

Aside from its immorality, the practical limits of Rand's philosophy can be found in her own life story.  As it turned out, the government program-hating Ayn Rand went on Social Security and Medicare under an assumed name after she contracted lung cancer late in life.  By 1974, the two-pack-a-day smoker, then 69, required surgery for lung cancer. (Interestingly enough, Rand also believed that the scientific consensus on the dangers of tobacco was a hoax.)  

Unfortunately, this fiction writer has a profound and growing influence on the Republican Party and the conservative movement.   Until the election of President Obama, the sale of her novels lagged and she was largely forgotten outside of extreme right wing circles.  Beginning in 2009 with the Tea Party movement, her novels became popular again and a movie was made that was based upon "Atlas Shrugged."  (The movie was a box office bomb.)

Rand has a large and devoted following among the leaders of the GOP.  Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) says Ayn Rand is the reason he entered politics and he requires all staff and interns to read her books. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas requires his law clerks to watch The Fountainhead, and has said, "I tend really to be partial to Ayn Rand." Rush Limbaugh calls Ayn Rand "the brilliant writer and novelist."

Ayn Rand's status as the intellectual Godfather of the Republican Party can be seen in the remarks GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney made last year about the 47% of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes: "There are 47%...who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement.  And the government should give it to them. These are people who pay no income tax. ... and so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."  Obviously, Romney's intemperate remarks, insulting nearly half of all Americans, came straight out of Rand's makers v. takers philosophy.   

Closer to home, Ayn Rand's beliefs have a devoted following in the Nebraska Republican Party. Very few people probably know that Senator Mike Johanns is a great admirer of Rand.  In 2011, Johanns was asked about his favorite summer reading books.  He didn't mention the Bible or a biography of one of the Founding Fathers.  Instead, one of the two books he mentioned was Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged."

Rand's elitist and nihilistic philosophy can also be found in the policy choices of the Nebraska Republican Party.  Governor Dave Heineman's failed tax scheme - which would have eliminated all income and corporate taxes and replaced the lost revenue by increasing sales taxes on senior citizens, the ill, college students, and farmers - was certainly a product of Rand's philosophy.   Heineman's tax plan would have financed a tax cut for the top 20% of income earners by raising taxes on the lower 80% of wage earners.

Heineman isn't the only prominent elected Republican in Nebraska who believes in Rand's teachings.   Earlier this year, in an 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."  Apparently, Kramer believes that we should increase taxes on senior citizens, students, veterans and the working poor.

It's not only on the state level that Nebraska Republicans are in thrall to Ayn Rand but our elected Congressional Republicans have also voted in ways consistent with her writings.  For example, all five Nebraska Republican members of Congress have voted for the Paul Ryan budget plan which finances tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting Medicare, Medicaid and other programs that benefit the middle class and the poor.  Both Lee Terry and Adrian Smith have voted to cut Social Security benefits when they supported legislation that would raise the eligibility age of this program to 70.  

The GOP's fealty to Ayn Rand (and the entertainers in right wing media) is an indicator that the Republican Party is not a reality-based party.  The biggest change in American politics in the last twenty years is the radicalization of the GOP.  As a proud Democrat, I take a certain amount of satisfaction in this development since it makes it unlikely that the Republicans will win a Presidential election or gain control of the Senate.  As an American, I see it as a negative development.  In our constitutional system with its checks and balances, we need the GOP to be a responsible governing party.  Unfortunately, the GOP's radicalism makes them unwilling to compromise and engage in the usual give and take of governance.  

Unfortunately, one of America's major political parties has now adopted the philosophy of a fiction writer as it main guiding set of values on domestic policy.  The values of Ayn Rand are not Nebraska values.  We Nebraskans are a sensible and compassionate people who believe in helping others who need assistance and believe in a dignified retirement for our senior citizens.  What we need to do as Democrats is better inform our fellow Nebraskans that we are the only party that reflects our values.  I'm convinced that once our fellow Nebraskans learn more about what the parties genuinely stand for, a majority of them will side with us. 

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Obama Care: Myth And Reality

There have been numerous right wing lies about Obama Care since it was originally introduced by President Obama four years ago and those lies are now escalating in light of the fact that enrollment in the health care exchanges begins on October 1.  The Republicans in the Congress are so desperate to stop Obama Care that they are seriously considering damaging the economy by shutting down the government and defaulting on the full faith and credit of the U.S.  As a result of their increasing desperation, the lies from the GOP are reaching a crescendo.  Just what are those lies?  And what is the truth?

Myth:  Obama Care is a government takeover.

Reality:  This lie originated with long time GOP message meister, Frank Luntz.  This is probably the most common lie you hear from the right wing.  Obama Care isn't a government takeover because most doctors will remain private sector employees, and the hospital and insurance industries aren't being nationalized.  As a matter of fact, most of the new insurance coverage is being provided by private health insurance companies.  

Myth:  Obama Care has death panels.

Reality: This is probably the most shameless lie of all and has been repeatedly debunked by non-partisan fact checking sources.  This lie began when right wing entertainer and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said: “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”   

The provision of Obama Care that Palin and her allies lied about was a section of the bill that would have paid physicians for providing voluntary counseling to Medicare patients about living wills and other end of life care options.  Laws providing for counseling patients on end of life decisions had been on the books for years, however, the laws did not provide for physicians to be reimbursed for giving such counseling during routine physical exams of senior citizens.   As it turned out, this part of the bill was withdrawn as a result of the furor caused by this fabrication. 

Myth: Obama Care will cause "Armageddon."

Reality:  During the closing phases of the debate in the House over Obama Care in 2010, then GOP Minority Leader John Boehner predicted that Obama Care would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country."  Since the passage of Obama Care, the economy has added private sector jobs for the last 41 months and created 7.3 million private sector jobs. In addition, the economy has created approximately 175,000 new jobs per month in 2013. (In contrast, only 31,000 jobs per month were created during the Bush Administration.)

Myth: Obama Care is a job killer.

Reality: The Right Wing has been falsely claiming that Obama Care has slowed down job creation and caused employers to hire part time workers in order to evade Obama Care's employer mandate. As it turns out, job creation at small businesses has almost doubled in the past six months, reaching 82,000 jobs at firms with 49 or fewer employees in July, payroll processor ADP says. As more information comes in, the health care law's impact can't be seen in hiring statistics, says Mark Zandi, former McCain economic adviser and chief economist of Moody's Analytics: "I was looking for it, and it's not there."  Moreover, new research from Moody's and other economists debunks the right's allegation that small employers are hiring only part-time workers to avoid the health care law's mandate.

Myth: Obama Care is causing insurance premiums and health care costs to soar.

Reality: Those people who aren't insured through their employers or a government program will be purchasing insurance through the health insurance exchanges. (Approximately 15% of the population will go on the exchanges - the other 85% are already insured.) At the present time, many states are in the process of setting up their health insurance exchanges and the news on health insurance premiums is good. For example, in New York State, premiums on the individual market will decline around 50% as a result of Obama Care. New York joins Oregon, California, Colorado, Maryland, Montana, Louisiana, Nevada, and Connecticut in reporting lower than expected rates in the law’s new health care marketplaces.

The news on health insurance premiums for those who get their insurance from their employer is also good. The Department of Health and Human Services has recently reported that for Americans who receive health insurance through their employers, premiums rose 3% from 2011 to 2012, the lowest increase since 1996.

Since the passage of Obama Care in 2010, there have also been positive developments regarding the rate of growth in health care spending. Personal health care costs rose in the twelve months ending in May 2012 at the slowest rate in the last 50 years. In May, a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report demonstrated a $618 billion drop in projected Medicare and Medicaid spending over the next decade. "Data from across the economy — covering consumers, government and private employers — point to the same conclusion," Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers said. "Health care cost growth has slowed."

Myth: The implementation of Obama Care is a train wreck.

Reality: As I've discussed here in an earlier post, the GOP is actively trying to sabotage the implementation of the 2010 health care reform law. Apparently, the GOP would like to see millions of Americans to go without insurance and access to medical care in order to win a political "victory" over President Obama.

Perhaps the most cynical sabotage attempt of all is an advertising campaign by the billionaire front group Freedom Works to persuade the uninsured not to go on the exchanges and sign up for health insurance. Does anybody think these billionaires are advising their own children to go without health insurance? Will any of these billionaires cover the health care costs of those who foolishly follow their advice and then get sick or injured?

As it turns out, very few people are following this absurd advice from these billionaires. Recent estimates from nineteen states operating health insurance exchanges to help the uninsured find coverage show that at least 8.5 million will use the exchanges to buy insurance, a USA Today survey shows. That would far exceed the federal government's estimate of 7 million new customers for all fifty states under the 2010 health care law. This surge in insurance enrollment bodes well for Obama Care since the private insurance companies providing coverage under the new law need healthy people to enroll to round out the costs of those with chronic health conditions.

Myth: The one year delay of the employer mandate indicates that Obama Care is imploding and the law will self-destruct.

Reality. The GOP reacted with glee when the Obama Administration decided to delay the employer mandate for one year. This delay was requested by the Chamber of Commerce - a long time GOP ally. Moreover, this one-year delay won't really change things very much since it only really applies to the employer mandate's reporting requirements and effects 1% of all businesses in the U.S.

Myth:  Obama Care isn't helping anybody.

Reality:  Obama Care has already delivered benefits to millions of people since the law's passage over three years ago:

  • Up to 17 million children with pre-existing health conditions can no longer be denied coverage by private health insurance companies.
  • 6.6 million young adults have taken advantage of Obama Care to obtain insurance coverage through their parents' plans.
  • 105 million Americans no longer have an arbitrary lifetime limit on their health insurance coverage.
  • 6.1 million seniors have saved nearly $6 billion on their prescription drug costs.
  • Consumers have received $1.1 billion in rebates from their health insurance companies.
  • The small business tax credit has already been used by 360,000 businesses to insure 2 million people.

The immediate path ahead:

When Congress returns from yet another vacation next month, there will be two significant pieces of business they will have to take care of.  The funding for the government runs out on October 1 and the debt ceiling will have to be raised sometime in November.  Failure to do so will result in serious damage to the economy and a double dip recession.  Most economists have said that defaulting on the full faith and credit of the U.S. could cause a stock market collapse like the one we had in 2008-2009.

Unfortunately, many Republican members of Congress are threatening to shutdown the government and default on our country's debts unless President Obama agrees to defund Obama Care.  In other words, the GOP is threatening to crash the economy in a reckless, last ditch effort to stop Obama Care. As Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said: “Threatening to shut down the government is like playing with fire. Threatening to default on our debt obligations is the economic equivalent of playing with nuclear weapons." 

Currently, there is a split in the Nebraska Congressional delegation on a government shutdown.  This idea is so extreme that Johanns and Fortenberry have come out against it.  (These guys aren't exactly liberal.)

On the other hand, Fischer, Terry and Smith have all come out in favor of a government shutdown.  What that means then is that these three irresponsible members of Congress have threatened to cause intentional harm to the constituents that they represent. What they're trying to do is instigate a phony budget crisis, and threatening to cause an economic meltdown, on purpose, unless millions of Americans are stripped of their health insurance coverage.

What explains this Republican desperation to stop Obama Care at all costs is their deep-seated fear that this new program might actually work.  Already in Massachusetts, Romney Care has been a big success.  Approximately 98% of Massachusetts residents are insured, the number of employers offering health insurance has increased, and approval for the program outweighs disapproval by almost a 2-1 margin.  The Massachusetts experience is relevant because a former Romney health care adviser has said that Obama Care and Romney Care are the "same bill."  

The impending success of Obama Care is the GOP's ultimate nightmare because it will prove that the government can do things that help the American people.  I predict that in about 10 to 20 years, the GOP will claim they were for Obama Care all along - they just had some minor technical objections to the bill in 2010 but overall they were for it.  After all, Obama Care was hatched in the Heritage Foundation and was first implemented by the GOP's 2012 Presidential nominee.  We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party believe that "Obama Cares" will ultimately become the appropriate term for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).


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Why We Don't Want To Be Kansas

Last month, Nebraska State Democratic Party Chairman Vince Powers caused a bit of a stir when he told Nebraska Watchdog that: “We don’t want to be Kansas.”  Powers said: "Kansas is now espousing one radical view of government where conservative Republicans get primaried by Tea Party candidates.”  Nebraska GOP State Party Chairman J.L. Spray responded by lecturing the Nebraska Democratic Party to "Be nice" and maintained  that: “There is no evidence of that here.”  What Spray apparently doesn't know is that Kansas is now wrestling with a $700 million budget hole created by the passage of a radical tax cut scheme by the GOP controlled legislature.  Moreover, Spray appears to be unconcerned about well financed special interest groups that want to make Nebraska more like Kansas.

The origin of Kansas' severe budget woes can be found in a big tax cut passed in 2012 that will gradually cut personal income tax rates over several years and eventually eliminate the state income tax entirely.  In addition, the Kansas legislature abolished state taxes on income from some investments for around 200,000 small businesses.  It was hoped that this tax cut that (largely favored the wealthy) would put more money in the hands of small-business owners, who would then invest that money into new jobs and new equipment, improving Kansas' standing as tax-friendly for business. When the bill passed, Governor Sam Brownback boasted: "“Look out, Texas. Here comes Kansas!"

Unfortunately for Kansas, the hoped for supply side miracle hasn't happened. Instead, Kansas is now stuck with a huge $700 million budget deficit and no realistic plan to eliminate it. Thus far, no new businesses have re-located to Kansas to take advantage of this tax cut and all they have to show for this tax cut are rumors about companies considering moves to Kansas.  In a desperate effort to solve this self inflicted budget crisis, the GOP controlled legislature has made a series of regressive moves like increasing sales taxes, cutting back on a state tax deduction for mortgage interest, and increasing tuition rates at Kansas state universities.

Despite the abject failure of Kansas' tax cut scheme, there are well heeled special interests that would like to make Nebraska more like Kansas. The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry has proposed that Nebraska reduce its top state income rate from 6.84% to 5.5%. In addition, the Chamber would like to see the top state corporate rate reduced from 7.81% to 5.56%.

The Chamber would offset the revenue losses by limiting state budget increases to .5 percent below the expected increase in state tax revenues. That kind of strait jacket on spending isn't realistic and would likely increase taxes for the majority of Nebraska residents while reducing the funding base for vital services in our communities like universities, schools, hospitals, law enforcement, and maintaining our roads and bridges.

The non-partisan Open Sky Policy Institute said that the Chamber's proposed tax cuts would cost the state $339 million in revenue and approximately 40% of that revenue would leave the state. OpenSky Executive Director Renee Fry said that the $134 million that would depart the state is now used to fund education and other state services.  In addition, Fry said the Chamber's plan might require an increase in sales and property taxes, which hit low- and middle-income earners the hardest.  

There isn't a need for the kinds of extreme tax changes in Nebraska like the one we saw in Kansas or the one being proposed by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  Nebraska currently enjoys a budget surplus, one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and a healthy agricultural sector.  The pro-business CNBC network recently ranked Nebraska number 4 out of all 50 states in its environment for doing business.  CNBC stated that: "A big part of the Nebraska points total comes courtesy of Business Friendliness, a category in which it ranks third overall. Nebraska finished fourth in Economy and Best Quality of Life also."

It's obvious that Nebraska isn't like Kansas for all of the right reasons.  The 2014 election cycle will may very well determine whether or not we preserve the good life here in Nebraska or whether we adopt the kinds of regressive and radical tax schemes that were passed in Kansas with disastrous results.   Next year, we will have a competitive governor's race and 17 open seats in the Unicameral.  We have preserved the good life here in Nebraska due to our recent successes in legislative elections.  Democratic State Senators have led the way in the Unicameral and have been instrumental in passing responsible budgets and property tax cuts aimed at helping a majority of Nebraskans.   

We simply can't take any of our recent electoral and legislative success for granted. All will be at stake next year. Due to the wide open governor's race and the many open legislative seats, 2014 will be the most important election cycle in a very long time. If we are to defeat the special interest groups, we will need to work hard to elect a Democratic governor and more Democratic state senators. We should expect the Republicans and their corporate allies to spend an immense amount of money in the hopes of making Nebraska more like Kansas. We may be outspent by the right wing but they can't out work us. That's what it will take to preserve the good life here in Nebraska.

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