One of the most disturbing trends in our country over the last three decades has been the eroding economic standing of the middle class and the soaring income gains of the wealthiest Americans. This trend has caused the biggest gap between the wealthy and everybody else since 1928. The middle class's share of the national income has declined from 53% of the nation's income in 1968 to 46% in 2010.
At the same time, the minimum wage - adjusted for inflation - has been steadily shrinking. In 1968, the federal minimum wage was $1.60 per hour but adjusted for inflation would be $10.34 in today's dollars. As we all know, the federal minimum wage is currently stuck at $7.25 per hour.
Due to this erosion in the value of the minimum wage, it is imperative that it be boosted. It also needs to be increased to $10.10 per hour because it would lift nearly 5 million people out of poverty and save taxpayers billions of dollars. For example, a boost in the minimum wage would significantly reduce the amount of money we spend on the SNAP program. If large corporations such as McDonald's and WalMart were required to pay higher wages, taxpayers on the national level would save approximately $4.6 billion on an annual basis, or $46 billion over ten years, in SNAP expenses.
Last year, Nebraska voters took action and voted by a 59% to 40% margin to increase the minimum wage to $8 per hour as of January 1, 2015 and to $9 per hour by January 1, 2016. This victory for working families was the result of a true grass roots effort. Volunteers literally went all over the state to gather the necessary signatures to put this measure on the ballot.
The opponents of this successful ballot initiative predicted that increasing the minimum wage would cause an increase in unemployment. As usual, the conservative doom and gloomers have been proven wrong. The unemployment rate in Nebraska has steadily declined since the higher minimum wage took effect. It was recently announced that the unemployment rate for March has declined all the way to 2.6 % - which is currently the lowest in the U.S.A. for the second month in a row and the lowest for the state since 1998.
Despite the necessity for an increased minimum wage and the resounding success of this ballot initiative, the special interests haven't given up. They have already commenced efforts to reverse the will of the voters expressed last year. Senator Laura Ebke has introduced LB599 which would allow corporations to maintain the minimum wage at $8 per hour for student workers under age 19 when the Nebraska's minimum wage is increased to $9 an hour in 2016.
Unfortunately, LB599 received first round approval by a 32-11 margin. In order to become law, this regressive legislation will need 33 votes because the Nebraska Constitution requires a 2/3 majority of the Unicameral to change any law passed by public vote.
Senator Jeremy Nordquist - who spearheaded last year's effort to increase the minimum wage - correctly pointed out that LB599 would "unwind the will of the voters" and was an "affront to democracy." Nordquist also contended that that gutting the new minimum wage law would give corporations an incentive to discriminate against older workers and may even cause high school students to drop out because employers would be allowed to pay the reduced minimum wage to those attending school.
This is an atrocious piece of legislation because it treats the voters with contempt and cuts the pay of poor people and students. The biggest problem with the economy is a lack of consumer spending power and demand. This pernicious legislation only perpetuates this negative trend. The Unicameral shouldn't be voting to cut people's pay and take money out of the economy.
LB599 will soon come up for another vote. All we have to do is flip two Senators to kill this bill. Well informed sources in the legislature have told me that the Senators only heard from the special interests before the first round vote. It's now time for the Senators to hear from the people. Please contact your State Senator as soon as possible and urge them to vote against LB599.
We have all learned an important lesson here. No victory over the radical right and the special interests is ever final in nature. Even if we win a victory, the forces of reaction never give up and will do everything they can to reverse the will of the people. We need to be every bit as relentless as they are. We must never give up. Now, please call your State Senator as soon as possible and tell them to stand up for working families by voting no on LB599.
In recent blog posts, I've discussed the high stakes surrounding the 2016 Presidential election. As we know, the last time the GOP controlled the White House and the Congress, they cratered the economy and got the U.S. involved in two mismanaged and costly wars. If they win the 2016 elections, they will do it all over again since they have largely promised to bring back the disastrous policies that failed during the most recent Bush Administration.
Another factor that raises the stakes for the 2016 cycle is that the composition and future direction of the U.S. Supreme Court will be set by the next President. The current Roberts Court has proven to be a big disappointment as we've seen the five Republican appointees make significant changes to long existing precedents in important areas like voting rights and campaign finance. Well informed observers have contended that the Roberts court is the most conservative and pro-business Supreme Court in decades.
Just how did we get here in the first place? What Justices are most likely to retire? What would be the consequences of additional Republican appointees to the high court?
The genesis of the current conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court was the appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito in 2005. Those appointments changed the balance of power on the Court and moved it much further to the right. The replacement of the centrist Justice Sandra O'Connor by the staunchly conservative Samuel Alito has had profound effects on the law.
A big shift to the right on the Court was neither expected from nor promised by then D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts in 2005. At his confirmation hearings, Roberts promised to be a moderate and honor existing precedent. As he told the Senators: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire... I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”
As it turned out, Roberts broke that promise and has since made several decisions that have tilted the playing field heavily in favor of the GOP and the wealthy. In the 2010 Citizens United decision, Roberts skillfully engineered a 5-4 straight party line majority that threw out decades of settled law on campaign finance. The Citizens United decision has made it possible for the wealthy to donate unlimited funds to so-called Super PACs and keep those donations secret.
There is nothing in the First Amendment to the Constitution that equates money with speech. Roberts and his four fellow Republican appointees on the Court simply invented this doctrine out of whole cloth. It is hard to imagine that the Founding Fathers ever intended for the wealthiest Americans to be able to put unlimited and secret funds into dishonest political advertising.
We all saw the effects of this infamous decision during the Nebraska Republican primaries in May 2014. A series of dishonest and secretly funded television advertisements poisoned the primary process and unfairly trashed some of the Republican contenders for the U.S. Senate and Governor. As Don Walton of the Journal Star aptly stated: "It seems increasingly clear that the old problem of the uninformed voter has transformed into the new problem of the misinformed voter, who has been manipulated and misled by a deluge of half-truths and mis-truths not only during this campaign, but has been subjected to a lot of that every day."
Another pernicious decision in 2013 by the five GOP appointees gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. This decision gave the green light to numerous states to pass voter ID laws and to scrub their voter rolls of poor and minority voters. Obviously, this decision makes it harder for poor people and Democrats to vote and has further tilted the playing field in favor of the wealthy and the GOP.
The Roberts Court's favoritism to the GOP and the wealthy hasn't gone unnoticed. As Jeffrey Toobin said: "In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party." In 2014, Atlantic magazine went so far as to label Roberts the "most accomplished Republican strategist of the day."
Given his obvious partisan leanings, Roberts would like to have some reinforcements to his majority after the 2016 election cycle. This is an older Supreme Court and it's composition will likely undergo a radical change during the next Presidency. The Justices most likely to retire are Anthony Kennedy - age 79, Antonin Scalia - age 79, Ruth Bader Ginsburg - age 82 and Stephen Breyer - age 77.
The consequences of a Republican President shaping the Supreme Court beginning in 2017 would be nothing short of disastrous. If Chief Justice Roberts gets a larger majority on the Court, it is most likely that the long standing precedent in Roe v. Wade would be overruled. Once again, politicians, unelected judges and bureaucrats would be in charge of womens' most intimate health care decisions.
We could also expect an enhanced conservative Republican majority on the Supreme Court to shred the last few remaining campaign finance limitations and even throw out the Affordable Care Act. As Senator Edward Kennedy forecast back in 1987, an extreme Supreme Court majority could bring back a country where: "women would be forced into back-alley abortions, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens."
As Democrats we simply can't let that happen. We must educate the voters about the consequences of a radical right wing majority on the Supreme Court. For most people, the Supreme Court isn't on their radar screen and they have no idea what a run away Supreme Court could do. I would submit that most fair minded voters who don't regard themselves as staunch conservative Republicans would be absolutely appalled at the prospect of the appointment of additional justices like Roberts and Alito.
The stakes couldn't be any higher in 2016. The Republicans already have control of the Congress and they will do everything they can to win the White House and once again dominate Washington like they did during the last Bush Administration. We can't outspend the GOP and their billionaire allies but we can outwork them. Now let's get out there and do it before it is too late.
There has been a raging debate in the country for decades between the Democratic and Republican parties about what economic approach works best to bring about prosperity for all Americans. On the one hand, the GOP and the conservative movement have been telling us that if we just give the wealthy and corporations more money and power, that wealth will somehow trickle down and benefit all Americans. We Democrats have taken the position that the path to prosperity for all lies in investing in the middle class. We believe that all Americans will benefit and prosper if we make it easier and less expensive for middle class Americans to obtain health care, a good education, fair wages and family leave.
We have had several real world experiences in what economic approach is superior since 1993. That year, President Clinton proposed to raise taxes on the wealthy and cut spending in order to reduce the huge budget deficits he inherited from the two previous Republican Administrations. Ronald Reagan increased the national debt by 186% and the national debt grew an additional 54% during the Administration of George H.W. Bush.
Every Republican in 1993 fearlessly predicted that President Clinton's economic plan would be a failure. Then House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich predicted: "I believe this will lead to a recession next year. This is the Democrat machine's recession. And each one of them will be held personally accountable." John Kasich (then a Republican congressman from Ohio, now that state's governor) contended that: "I feel bad for the people who really are the working people in this country, people in my family, who are going to get the penalties from people who don't want to invest more, take any more risks. They're going to lose their jobs, and that's the tragedy of this program. The proof will be in the pudding. We're going to come back here next year, there will be higher deficits, there will be more spending, we'll continue to have a very slow economy, people aren't going to go to work."
As Steve Kornacki wrote in 2011: "It’s important to note that this was not an isolated event — that Newt and his friends simply fell victim to some heat-of-the-moment hyperbole. This was the Republican Party’s line for all of 1993, one repeated by senators, congressmen, talk shows hosts, activists, and state and local officials at every level of the ballot."
Just how did those Republican predictions of doom and gloom play out? As we know, they were dead wrong. What followed the passage of the 1993 Clinton budget package was the greatest peacetime economic boom in U.S. history. During the Clinton Presidency, 22 million new jobs were created, unemployment declined from 7% to 3%, median family income rose, and poverty declined to its lowest rate in 20 years. The Clinton budget also converted what was then the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus.
After President Clinton left office in 2001, we got yet another real world experiment in the effectiveness of the two major, competing economic theories. In 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush muscled through the GOP dominated Congress huge tax cuts that largely benefited the wealthiest Americans. Something like 40% of the Bush tax cuts went to the the top 1% of income earners. The GOP predicted that those tax cuts would create 250,000 jobs per month and pay for themselves.
Unfortunately for our country, those GOP predictions turned out to be wildly off the mark. According to the January 9, 2009, Wall Street Journal, Bush had the worst jobs creation record since Herbert Hoover. Only 3 million jobs were created during the Bush Presidency or around 31,000 jobs per month. By the end of 2008, the economy had collapsed and the U.S. was facing the prospect of another Great Depression. At the same time, the hard earned $238 billion surplus created by President Clinton had exploded into a $1.3 trillion deficit by the time President Obama took office in 2009.
At the time he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, President Obama inherited the worst economic situation since Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933. The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month, GDP had shrunk nearly 9% in the last quarter of 2008, and the Dow Jones had slumped to around 6,500.
In response to this economic crisis, President Obama proposed and passed the 2009 American Recovery Act. This landmark legislation consisted of the biggest middle class tax cut in history, invested in infrastructure projects and kicked off a revolution in renewable energy. Then Senator Ben Nelson played a crucial role in helping this vital legislation overcome a GOP filibuster and getting it passed into law.
Contrary to what you will hear on Fox News and AM radio, the Recovery Act was a big success. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, this unfairly maligned stimulus bill: "added as many as 3.3 million jobs to the economy during the second quarter of 2010, and may have prevented the nation from lapsing back into recession."
The next (and most recent) chapter in this long running debate occurred in late 2012 and early 2013. Due to some budget gimmicks used by the GOP to hide the costs of the Bush tax cuts, these tax cuts were all due to expire by operation of law on December 31, 2012. As a consequence, there was a raging debate in 2012 on whether to extend or repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
As usual, the GOP predicted that raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt the economy. For example, then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor predicted that the repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would result in the loss of over 700,000 jobs. Closer to home, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss prognosticated that the elimination of these tax breaks for the wealthy would "adversely affect small-business owners, who, as a result, might hire fewer workers or lay off current employees." Goss further contended that the wealthy would "respond by investing less in their enterprises. That means fewer jobs and spreads the misery to everyone."
As it turned out, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were repealed by the Fiscal Cliff bill that passed on January 1, 2013. After this tax increase went into effect, all of the conservative prognostications of doom and gloom once again turned out to be wrong. In 2013, the economy created 183,000 jobs per month. That job growth accelerated in 2014 when the economy created 224,000 jobs per month - which was the best year for jobs gain since 1999. That robust jobs growth has continued into 2015. Thus far, the economy has created 200,000 jobs per month this year.
We have now had the last 22 years to evaluate what is the best approach to job creation and economic prosperity. The evidence is in and middle class economics is the clear winner. It isn't even close. Yet the Republicans steadfastly adhere to their failed economic theories.
Once again, this approach to economic policy making will be on the ballot in 2016. If the Republicans win the elections and gain control of the White House and the Congress, they will bring back the failed economic policies of George W. Bush. The last time the GOP passed it's economic agenda during that Administration, they ruined the economy and exploded the deficit. We simply can't let them do that again.
Since it's passage in 2010, the conventional wisdom has been that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unpopular or controversial despite it's successes. It's no wonder that the ACA is perceived as unpopular when you take into account that ACA opponents have out spent supporters of the health care law by a 5-1 ratio on the airwaves. As we all know, many of the contentions made by the opponents of the ACA are simply lies - we've heard allegations about imaginary "death panels" and a mythical "government takeover" of the health care system. Is the ACA really that controversial? Has the mainstream media and the GOP really given us the full story on the popularity of the ACA? The answers may surprise you.
The top line numbers for the popularity of the ACA have rarely budged from around a 40% approval rating. For example, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that the approval rating for the ACA was 41% and the disapproval rating was 43%. Nevertheless, this kind of poll that simply measures approval and disapproval doesn't come anywhere close to telling the whole story. One should disregard any poll that only offers this kind of facile analysis.
A poll on Obama Care isn't completely accurate if the voters aren't asked why they disapprove of this landmark health care reform law. A CNN poll in 2014 asked voters why they disapproved of the ACA. Something like 12% of those who responded disapproved because they didn't think the ACA was "liberal enough." Apparently those voters support a government option (also known as "Medicare Plus") or even a single payer system. When you combine that figure with the 39% who approve of the ACA, you get a finding that 51% of the public favors the concept of universal health coverage. In this same poll, only 39% were of the opinion that the ACA was "too liberal."
The kind of result found in this more sophisticated poll on approval and disapproval is mirrored by polling where voters are asked if they want to keep and fix the ACA or if they want to completely repeal the law. A 2014 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that 10% want to keep the ACA as it is and an additional 49% want to keep the law in place but work to improve it. Only 29% of those polled agreed with the GOP position that Obama Care should be 100% repealed and replaced with a GOP sponsored alternative.
Not only is the ACA more popular than the conventional wisdom would lead you to believe but a 2013 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that the component parts of the ACA are actually very popular. (Unfortunately, the same polling indicates the public is largely unaware of the many of the benefits in the law. ) Ending pre-existing conditions clauses has a 66% approval rating. The health insurance exchanges are at 80% approval. Ending the Medicare doughnut hole for senior citizens registers at 81% approval. Allowing young adults to stay on their parents' policies clocks in at 76% approval. Providing subsidies to help people purchase coverage enjoys a 76% approval rating and the Medicaid expansion has a 71% approval rating.
The only provision in the ACA that comes in at less than at less than 57% approval is the individual mandate - which had a 40% approval rating in this 2013 poll. Unfortunately, the only unpopular provision of the ACA seems to have gotten most of the attention from the mainstream media and the GOP.
What makes this disproportionate focus on the individual mandate so frustrating is that only 6% of the U.S. population is required to go out and purchase health insurance because of the individual mandate or face a penalty. If you already have insurance through your employer, Medicare, Medicaid, a government retirement program or the Veterans Administration, this requirement won't affect you.
What has also gotten almost no coverage or attention is that those people who have actually purchased ACA policies on the exchanges are largely satisfied with those policies. According to a 2014 Commonwealth Fund poll, 78% of those who purchased policies on the exchanges are very or somewhat satisfied with their new coverage. Even 74% of Republicans polled were satisfied with their ACA insurance policies. What this means is that the overwhelming majority of the people who actually had to deal with the controversial individual mandate approved of the end result.
I predict that the continuing successes of the ACA will cause the popularity of the law to move from being hidden - as it is now - to being actually noticed and visible. Recently, it was announced by the Obama Administration that 16 million people who used to be uninsured are now covered. The rate of the uninsured has dropped by 35% since the implementation of the ACA in 2013. That is the biggest decline in the number of the uninsured since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid during the 1960s.
The ACA isn't only improving the quality of life for millions of Americans, it's costing a lot less than was originally expected when the law passed in 2010. According to a recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the ACA will cost 20% less than was originally projected. The reason for this new cost estimate is the recent and unprecedented decline in healthcare inflation.
What this means going forward is that we Democrats must defend the ACA and message the benefits. If we run away from the ACA, voters will draw the conclusion that the Republicans are correct and the ACA is bad for the country. My experience as a candidate for Congress last year is that the voters were largely ignorant of the many benefits in the ACA. Once they learned about the benefits, they became much more supportive of the law.
I predict a day will come when the GOP will claim that they were actually for the ACA all along - they just had a few, minor technical objections to portions of the law when it was debated in 2009-10. They will point to the Heritage Foundation's former support of the individual mandate and the successful implementation of Romney Care in Massachusetts.
We Democrats must constantly point out that if the GOP gets it's way and the ACA is completely repealed, 16 million people will be kicked off their insurance policies and that the insurance industry once again will be in charge of people's health care. Nobody wants to see the return of pre-existing condition clauses or allow the insurance companies to cancel people's policies after they get sick or injured. We can win this debate over the ACA and health care if we create this contrast. The GOP position is simply untenable - they support the pre-ACA status quo. The voters won't know that unless we tell them again and again. Now let's do it!
Last week, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith all voted for the Republican budget plan. Their party bosses bragged that the GOP had produced a consensus budget and the mainstream press even went so far as to proclaim it to be a "good week" for beleaguered House Speaker John Boehner.
Just what is in the GOP budget? What does it say about the values of the Nebraska Congressional Republicans? As Representative Bob Woodall (R-GA) said: “A budget is a moral document. It talks about where your values are."
The values of the Nebraska Republicans who voted for this budget are troubling to say the least when you take a close look into what is actually in this taxing and spending blueprint. The GOP budget makes deep cuts in Medicaid, student aid and food stamps. Approximately 69 percent of the cuts to non-defense spending in both the House and Senate budget blueprints come out of programs that benefit the poor.
The GOP budget plan not only makes savage cuts in programs that benefit the most vulnerable members of our society, it also deregulates Wall Street. Allowing the big banks to write their own rules again makes it possible we could face another economic collapse and bailout. Moreover, this budget completely abolishes the estate tax - which would cut taxes for the wealthiest 0.12% of Americans.
The GOP claims it will balance the budget in 10 years but it only balances because it relies upon the kinds of accounting tricks and gimmicks the GOP has used since the Reagan Administration. The GOP budget claims it will cut $1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years but it provides no details where those cuts come from. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times asked House Budget Chairman Representative Tom Price (R-GA) if he would identify the $1 trillion in cuts that the budget doesn’t spell out. In response, Price told Weisman to look at the budget and Weisman said: “I’m looking at it. It doesn’t specify.”
The most profound changes in the GOP budget come in the area of health care. The GOP budget ends Medicare as we know it and turns it into a voucher program. Senior citizens will no longer enjoy the promise and guarantee of Medicare. Instead, they will be forced to purchase health insurance from private insurance companies with a voucher that doesn't keep pace with medical inflation. The extreme GOP Medicare plan will cost the average senior citizen an additional $6,000.00 per year in out of pocket medical expenses.
The GOP budget doesn't only privatize Medicare, it also repeals - but doesn't replace - the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The repeal of the ACA will have a significant and very negative effect on seniors. They will be required to purchase private health insurance policies that bring back the old pre-existing condition clauses. Nebraska's Republican members of Congress have supported this plan for years and they still haven't explained to our senior citizens how they will be able to find affordable and comprehensive insurance once the insurance industry is put back in charge.
The complete repeal of the ACA would not only allow the private health insurance industry to discriminate against the sick again, it would also cancel 16 million insurance policies for people who used to be uninsured. The chaos caused by the sudden cancellation of millions of insurance policies would be unimaginable and could very well push the private health insurance industry into a death spiral.
Brad Ashford was the only member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation who voted against this regressive GOP budget plan. Unlike his GOP colleagues, Congressman Ashford shares our values. Most Nebraskans believe in a dignified retirement for our senior citizens. In addition, we also believe the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes and that we should protect the least fortunate members of our society. Like just about every Nebraskan, Ashford is more concerned about keeping our promises to senior citizens than he is Paris Hilton's inheritance.
We can count on President Obama to veto the GOP budget plan when it arrives on his desk. At that point, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith will have to decide whether they want to pass a responsible budget that reflects Nebraska values or shutdown the government again. The last government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs. Another irresponsible government shutdown could very well kill the recovery and send the economy back into recession.
The GOP budget tells all of us that the stakes in next year's elections will be very high. If the Republicans should gain control of the White House and the Congress, this budget will be at the top of their priority list. The last time the GOP controlled Washington, they got the U.S. involved in two wars and destroyed the economy. If they get back in power, they will do it again.
We must tell the voters again and again that the choice next year is between middle class economics that works and the GOP's failed trickle down theory. The country is now enjoying the best jobs growth and stock market since the Clinton Administration during the late 1990s. We can continue that progress or we can go back to where we were 8 years ago. Why would we ever want to return to the dark days of 2008 when the economy collapsed? That must be our message going forward in 2016.
For several years before the 2014 election cycle, an informal coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans held the balance of power in the officially non-partisan Unicameral. That informal coalition was able to stop bad legislation such as then Governor Dave Heineman's effort to finance the elimination of the state income tax by raising taxes on farmers, students, senior citizens, the ill and small businesses. On the other hand, that same coalition - over Heineman's veto - was able to pass good legislation such as providing Medicaid benefits to pregnant mothers who happened to be aspiring citizens.
There were concerns after the Republicans picked up five legislative seats in the 2014 election cycle, that this moderate coalition would be fractured and that a more conservative legislative majority would be successfully pursue a partisan and fiscally irresponsible agenda that most voters didn't vote for and wouldn't approve. Fortunately, those concerns (thus far) appear to be misplaced. The Democratic Senators in the Unicameral have played a key role in maintaining that chamber's long standing moderate, non-partisan tradition. (In addition, some of the Republicans who were elected last fall have also turned out to be more moderate than expected.)
The first effort by the Unicameral's most conservative members to impose a narrow, partisan agenda was an attempt to end secret ballots on the election of committee chairs. Thanks in part to the leadership of Senators Sue Crawford and Patty Pansing Brooks, this misguided idea was rejected by a margin of 33-12.
The next attempt by right wing Senators to blow up the Unicameral was a bill to require voters in Nebraska to show a government I.D. card when they vote - even though proponents of the bill failed to provide a single example of fraud that would have been prevented by the proposed law. As it turned out, a filibuster led by Adam Morfeld stopped this expensive and unnecessary legislation. A coalition of 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted to successfully kill the bill.
After killing the voter I.D. bill, a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans successfully filibustered a change to the state's fairly unique electoral vote law. The extreme Republicans in the legislature wanted the state to return to the winner take all system of the past which made Nebraska irrelevant and merely fly over country in many past Presidential elections. Thanks to this successful filibuster, it is very likely that the electoral vote in CD2 will be in play in 2016 and Nebraska will receive visits from Presidential candidates and their surrogates in next year's election cycle.
On the fiscal front, the Revenue Committee rejected by a 5-2 vote, a bill to reduce property taxes on agricultural land. This was a stinging defeat for Governor Ricketts since this was his top legislative priority for the session. The bill failed largely due to concerns that it would result in deep cuts to school funding and higher property taxes for many Nebraskans.
Nebraska Democrats didn't only achieve defensive victories in this year's session. They have also been instrumental in advancing positive legislation out of committee that would help thousands of Nebraskans.
Senator Morfeld introduced LB 586 which would would ban job discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender Nebraskans, and is modeled after an ordinance that has been on the books in Omaha for around three years. Interestingly enough, this bill was endorsed by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. The bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a 5-2 vote where it faces a possible right wing filibuster on the floor and a veto by Governor Ricketts.
Another positive piece of legislation that recently advanced out of committee was the Medicaid expansion. The Health and Human Services Committee voted by a 5-2 margin to advance the Medicaid expansion to the floor of the legislature for a full debate. This vital piece of legislation was supported in committee by Senators Howard, Cook and Crawford. The Medicaid expansion would insure 54,000 additional Nebraskans and save taxpayers millions of dollars. As in the past, this bill will most likely face a filibuster from the most conservative Senators and opposition from the Governor.
There are no guarantees that this moderate coalition led by the Democratic Senators will continue in the future. This is because Ricketts and his wealthy allies plan to recruit right wing candidates and sink a lot of money into the 2016 legislative races. Well informed sources in the legislature have advised me that if Ricketts succeeds in electing a Tea Party legislative majority, he will swing for the fences in 2017 and 2018 and try to pass the kind tax and spending legislation that has killed the Kansas economy.
What this means is that once again the stakes will be very high in the 2016 election cycle. Nebraska's term limits laws have turned every election cycle into a potential turning point where Nebraska's future is on the line. As Democrats, we need to do everything we can to help elect more Democrats to the legislature next year. Please go door to door for you local candidate or if you can afford it, make a financial contribution.
Nebraska's economy and budget has been the envy of the country for years because our legislature has pursued a moderate, common sense course. We need to stay active and vigilant lest the forces of privilege and reaction take power and destroy all of this progress.
The new GOP led Congress is off to an awful start. There is no other way to describe it. The continuing gridlock and dysfunction I predicted last year as a candidate for Congress has materialized in ways that nobody anticipated. One of the most disturbing trends has been the seeming indifference to national security on the part of the new GOP majority.
Earlier this month, all of the Nebraska Republican members of Congress voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security during a time when terrorists were threatening to attack the U.S. Experts contended that a shutdown of DHS would result in a slower and weaker response to a terrorist attack - if one were to occur.
Fischer and Sasse doubled down on jeopardizing national security for the sake of partisan politics when they signed on to a letter along with 45 other Senate Republicans that was sent to the depots who rule Iran with an iron fist. The purpose of that "mutinous" letter was to sabotage international negotiations with Iran aimed at ending it's nuclear program. This letter was unprecedented and sent the signal to the international community that the U.S. is no longer a reliable negotiating partner that can keep it's word or maintain agreements that it has signed.
Fischer and Sasse's letter to Iran makes war with that country more likely. If they succeed in sabotaging an agreement with Iran, the pressure to go to war with that country will be relentless. Already, the war drums are beating in neo-conservative circles. In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Joshua Muravchik of John Hopkins University argued that: "War with Iran is probably our best option." Moreover, such prominent and influential Republicans as Dick Cheney, John McCain and Mitt Romney at one or time or another in the recent past have come out in favor of launching airstrikes on Iran.
The response to Fischer and Sasse's letter was (justifiably) harsh. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that: "Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letter's signatories." Harry Reid stated: "The Republicans are undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs.” Maine Senator Angus King probably said it best: “I cannot imagine the Congress of the United States writing a letter to Khrushchev in the midst of those discussions (during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis) and saying, ‘Don’t worry about this guy Kennedy, he doesn’t speak for our country. And yet that essentially is what took place (Monday).”
The Nebraska Senators and their GOP colleagues were visibly surprised by the firestorm they created. At first they told us the letter was a bit of a joke - calling it "cheeky" - and contended that the "Administration has no sense of humor." McCain confessed that the letter to the Mullahs was drafted in haste because:"Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm.”
Fischer and Sasse's attempted explanations for this reckless letter were equally unsatisfying and disingenuous. Fischer claimed that: "And it in no way was trying to get into the negotiations.” Sasse's response was even worse and insulted Nebraskans. The normally GOP friendly Omaha World reported: "Pressed as to his reason for signing the letter, Sasse said that shouldn’t be the issue."
The letter sent to Iran by Nebraska's GOP Senators may not have only been stupid - it may have been illegal. A very good argument could be made that this letter was in violation of the Logan Act - which forbids interference with U.S. foreign policy. The relevant portion of the Logan Act reads as follows: "Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."
All of these antics by Fischer, Sasse (and the rest of the Republicans in the Nebraska Congressional delegation) send the signal that the Republican majority in Congress is simply incapable of governing. This is a disturbing development because the Congress must soon get to work and meet a number of deadlines to keep the government funded and avoid sending the country into another recession. Before this fall, the Highway Trust Fund must be replenished and the debt ceiling must be raised. A failure to pass what used to be routine legislation could sabotage what is turning out to be a strengthening economic recovery and send the country back into a recession.
Earlier this year, Mitch McConnell set a very modest goal for his new majority: “I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome." Unfortunately, the Congressional GOP has failed to meet that goal and as it turns out, just having a Republican majority in Congress is a "scary outcome." The biggest obstacle to the safety of the country and a promising economic recovery is the incompetence and dysfunction of the Republicans in Congress.
All of us Nebraska Democrats must do everything we can next year to prevent the scary combination of a Republican President and Congress. The last time the country had an all GOP government, they destroyed the economy and involved the country in two losing wars. We can't let that happen again.
Disenfranchisement has residuals: Hopelessness, crime, violence and reduced tax contribution. North Omaha is a community of vast disenfranchised poverty. If you reduce poverty in north Omaha you will increase the hopes of many, reduce crime and violence, reduce the cost related to policing the community and increase the flow of taxes among many other positive effects to north Omaha stakeholders.
For over two decades now, deep storage tunnels, and what the tunneling industry calls combined sewer overflow (CSO) interceptor systems have formed the backbone of an industry with projects that many of the largest cities in America and sewer districts have been obliged to adopt as part of a nationwide program to reduce overflows of foul and polluted water into the rivers, creeks and harbors of the nation.
Since 1990s, a total of 772 cities and districts have been identified by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as needing urgent action to tackle problems associated with operating outdated combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems incapable of dealing with modern demand requirements. Omaha, Nebraska is one of those cities.This Project offers a unique and significant opportunity to be inclusive and create a sustainable middle class founded on business ownership(and the employees of these businesses) in the poverty stricken area of North Omaha.
The number of high-profile tunnels designed in the 1990s and 2000s, now under construction in Indianapolis (Deep Rock Connector Tunnel in 2012), Washington DC (first launched on 4.5 mile Blue Plains Tunnel in July 2013), North East Ohio (Cleveland Euclid Creek Tunnel in 2012) and Columbus ( 2011 Tunnel). The much-lauded and ongoing TARP deep tunnel system for Chicago as an early blueprint, CSO tunnels have also been completed in Seattle for King County (2005, US$165 million), Portland (2005 to 2010, US$650 million), and a long program of construction industry of all large-scale deep storage and CSO tunnel projects that are either completed, in construction, or cost estimated since 1998, is in the region of US$4 billion.
Within the industry as well as municipalities, there is wavering on the construction time commitment as well as expense of these projects. For example, the DC Water Authority is one of several water authorities looking at green infrastructure as a natural way to manage stormwater by absorbing rain before it enters the sewer or stormwater system. DC Water awarded US$1 million in prize money to seven local design teams at its specially-convened Green Infrastructure Summit.
This technology phase shift is viewed as an opportunity. In spite of these potential phase shifts, the investment amounts are significant, the need is clear. The development commitment remains clear in the face of the move to green technologies. What is consistently especially here in Omaha is the need for the increased involvement of the Omaha small business community in both the technology change, as well as the implementation.
The language of the Long Term Control Plan(LTCP) states; “To foster an understanding of the CSO Program within minority and emerging community groups and develop a collaborative relationship with neighborhoods.”
“It will be necessary to make sure that the public is aware of how its fees are being spent, the benefits of the Program, details on the ratepayer assistance program, local job creation, what construction impacts will occur and when.....”
These words, issued in potentially 772 city project cannot be allowed to ring hollow in the face of an ever widening economic divide, and herein Omaha, the outright destruction of established, working solutions to train, certify, and ensure the success of local minority construction businesses. This destruction took place without thought for an alternative working solution. This malicious intent cannot be tolerated.
With that said the Nebraska Democratic Party supports efforts by north Omaha contractors, clergy, neighborhood associations and other stakeholders challenging the City of Omaha to clearly define a working solution for north Omaha contractor inclusion,associated with the 3.2 Billion CSO Project. Without this program, the city has clearly defined its plan to ignore north Omaha contractors and businesses, and in turn destroy a viable mechanism for business ownership, local business growth, wage growth, and sustainable economic growth for this local community.
The State Central Committee of the Nebraska Democratic Party (NDP) has voted to hold Presidential nominating caucuses on March 5, 2016. This decision will once again make Nebraska Democrats relevant in the Presidential nominating process. The caucus date that was selected was the earliest possible date that could've been selected by the NDP. Our caucuses will follow on the heels of the first four nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Nebraska Democrats made history when they held caucuses for the first time in February 2008. As we all know, there was a highly spirited contest for the nomination that year between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Due to that contest and the early caucus date, Nebraska got some needed attention that year. Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton all campaigned in our state before the balloting in the caucuses began.
Obama's decisive victory in the 2008 caucuses here set the stage for his campaign contesting Nebraska CD-02 that fall. For the first time in decades, Nebraska was relevant in the general election and both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin campaigned in Omaha. As it turned out, those efforts paid off and Obama carried CD-02 in November. It was the first time a Democrat had picked up an electoral vote in Nebraska since the LBJ sweep in 1964 when he carried the state.
The Presidential caucus next year once again gives Nebraska Democrats an opportunity to make a difference in a Presidential election. At the present time, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite but a series of mistakes and gaffes have given some Democrats pause and have caused some to wonder whether Clinton is ready for the heat of a Presidential campaign. Clinton's early stumbles certainly could set the stage for a contested nominating contest.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has already made it clear that he will throw his hat in the ring. O'Malley compiled an impressive string of accomplishments in Maryland: the minimum wage was increased, gay couples can get married, the death penalty was abolished, and aspiring Americans now qualify for in-state college tuition rates. (O'Malley delivered a very impressive speech last year in Omaha at the Morrison-Exon dinner.) O'Malley has already taken a jab at Clinton by criticizing the politics of “triangulation” that have been associated with the Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Pressure is growing for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to make a run. The Progressive wing of the Democratic Party is (justifiably) impressed by Warren's criticism of excessive corporate power in American politics, Wall Street and growing inequality. Like O'Malley, Warren has been critical of Clinton's centrism and caution as a potential candidate. A Warren run - even if she didn't win - could toughen up Clinton and get her better prepared to take on the GOP nominee in what will be a brutal general election campaign.
There is a potentially very good candidate has been largely overlooked. Joe Biden has loyally served as Vice President in a very successful Presidency that has turned around the economy, insured 10 million more Americans and significantly scaled back U.S. involvement in two wars. Biden is a very good speaker and a strong campaigner. The Vice President has been of great assistance to President Obama in negotiating several budget deals with the recalcitrant Republicans on Capitol Hill. Historically, sitting Vice Presidents in successful Administrations have been serious contenders for the Presidency.
None of this discussion is meant to minimize Hillary Clinton's accomplishments and political skills. Mrs. Clinton was the chief adviser to Bill Clinton's successful Presidency that gave the U.S. eight years of peace and prosperity. That is a rare accomplishment in U.S. history. Clinton followed up her admirable service as First Lady with successful stints as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. She brings to the table one of the most impressive resumes of any Presidential contender in American history.
What all of this means is that the Democratic Party is likely to have a contested nominating contest next year that won't be resolved before we hold our caucuses. Once again, we can expect visits from the leading candidates and their supporters. Like we did in 2008, Nebraska Democrats will have a significant say in who will be the next President of the U.S. Once again, we will make history.
When the Republicans asked voters for control of the Congress in the 2014 campaign, they claimed they would keep America safe and end the gridlock in Washington. Mitch McConnell told the voters that if the GOP were to obtain control of Congress: “There is no possibility of a government shutdown.” Shortly after the election the incoming Senate Majority Leader laid out the prime goal of the new GOP led Congress: “I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome."
Unfortunately, recent events clearly indicate that the new GOP controlled Congress is a failure and has fallen far short of its promises and goals. Last week, the American people were treated to a spectacle where the GOP majority in the U.S. House of Representatives simply refused to finance the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when the U.S. is being threatened by terrorists hell bent on killing Americans. Finally, after several days of chaos and dysfunction in the House, the Democrats bailed out House Speaker John Boehner and voted with some of the Republicans to extend the funding of DHS until March 6.
The failure of the GOP House to fund DHS for more than seven days sets up another showdown in the House this week that could leave the U.S. more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. In the event of shutdown, experts have indicated that if a terrorist attack or natural disaster occurred, the effect would be magnified and the government’s response would be slowed.
If the Congressional Republicans fail in their primary duty of keeping the country safe and shutdown DHS, 80% of that department's employees would still have to go to work but they would be working without a paycheck. Moreover, a DHS shutdown would have no effect on President Obama's executive order granting deportation relief to 5 million aspiring Americans.
The only Nebraska Congressional member who wasn't part of the risky dysfunction that endangered the lives of their constituents was Representative Brad Ashford. He took the position that it was "critically important that we pass a clean Homeland Security Funding bill." Ashford stated: "The safety of our citizens is our first priority." Congressman Ashford was only member of the Nebraska delegation who consistently supported funding DHS during last week's drama.
In addition to prioritizing the safety of the American people, Ashford introduced a bill that would would withhold Congressional members' pay if DHS is shut down. The Omaha lawmaker said: "All across the country, folks live by the idea that if you don't do your job, you shouldn't get paid. The same should hold true for members of Congress, and this bill simply codifies that belief."
In sharp contrast to Ashford's leadership, Senators Fischer and Sasse caved to the extreme Tea Party faction of the GOP and voted to deny funding to DHS. They took this reckless and irresponsible action even though Bush Administration DHS head Tom Ridge recently said that the U.S. currently faces a greater threat to its national security today than when he served as the first Director of DHS in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The actions of Fischer and Sasse are simply unacceptable since a DHS shutdown would make the country less safe at a time where terrorists - among other things - have recently released a video threatening to attack The Mall of America in Minneapolis. This reckless vote by Nebraska's Republican Senators follows on the heels of Fischer's promise in 2012 that: "In the Senate, I will not play politics with our security. " There is simply no excuse for this risky vote that hurts the country.
The actions of the GOP led Congress doesn't bode well for the immediate future. Congress faces several crucial deadlines before the end of the year. Funding for DHS runs out on March 6 and the nation's debt ceiling must be raised sometime this summer. A failure to act on these crucial deadlines could literally have catastrophic consequences for this country.
It is obvious that the House Republican majority can't govern and keep the country safe. As Harry Reid said: "Two months into the Republican Congress, we are already staring a Homeland Security shutdown square in the face, even as terrorists around the world threaten to strike America." The cold, hard reality is that the GOP controlled Congress is bad for the country and must be replaced.
We can begin working on our goal of replacing the dangerous and dysfunctional Republican majority in Congress by re-electing Representative Brad Ashford in Nebraska CD-2. Alone among Nebraska's Congressional representatives, Ashford has shown independence and leadership. His thoughtful and mature approach to legislating is just what the country need right now.