Once again, last week, we saw the same depressingly familiar scenario play out. We had mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Colorado and San Bernardino, California in which scores of innocent people were killed and wounded by maniacs wielding military style assault weapons. As usual, the Republicans called for thoughts and prayers for the victims but didn't want to take any action to prevent these kinds of massacres.
Overall, there have been 334 days and 351 mass shootings so far this year in the U.S. We are the only first world industrialized country in the world that has this kind of problem.
Other first world countries have implemented common sense gun safety reforms and have substantially reduced the incidence of mass shootings. For example, in Australia, after a mass shooting in 1996, laws were passed banning semi-automatic weapons and requiring a waiting period before somebody can guy a gun. After the implementation of those reforms in that country in 1996, total intentional gun deaths fell by 50% by 2006, even as Australia’s population increased approximately 14%.
President Obama and the Democrats have proposed legislation similar to what was done in Australia which would save lives by making it harder for unfit people to get guns. After the mass shootings at a Connecticut elementary school in late 2012, President Obama introduced legislation which contained an expanded background check system, a ban on military style assault weapons and a waiting period period on purchases of guns.
The reforms proposed by the Democrats are well within the mainstream and enjoy bi-partisan support. Back in 1991, conservative icon Ronald Reagan came out in favor these very same measures. Moreover, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter both joined Reagan in his support of the Brady Bill that year. What's more, recent polling indicates that something like 85% of the American people support an improved and expanded background check system.
Unlike most issues such as health care, the GOP actually has an alternative to the Democratic plans to reform our nation's badly flawed gun laws. The GOP "solution" is for more people to own more guns. As GOP Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz recently said: "We don't stop the bad guys by taking away our guns. We stop the bad guys by using our guns."
Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a popular stop for Republican presidential candidates, urged Liberty students to obtain their permits to carry concealed weapons. In remarks to the students shortly after the San Bernadino shootings, Falwell said: "If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …I've always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.”
People like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump who advocate that we buy even more guns should consider the following. Do we really want gun battles in the streets? When the firefight breaks out, how will you know who to shoot? What if the first person you see with a gun is another armed citizen returning fire and you shoot him? What if he sees you and shoots you? What about returning fire in a dark theater? What happens when you shoot an innocent bystander?
The GOP's so-called "solution" to gun violence went well beyond the bounds of common sense and reason this last week when Sasse and Fischer voted with all of the other Senate Republican (but Mark Kirk) to block an amendment that would have barred those on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This was a deeply irresponsible and reckless vote that was yet another indicator that Fischer and Sasse are soft on terrorism.
In his weekly address last Saturday, President Obama responded to this vote by correctly stating: “Right now, people on the no-fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun,” Obama said. “That is insane. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun. And so I’m calling on Congress to close this loophole, now.”
The biggest obstacle to closing this loophole and common sense gun safety reform is the National Rifle Association (NRA). In reality, the NRA is simply the lobbying and pressure group for the lucrative gun manufacturing industry - which makes a lot of money on our country's dysfunctional gun laws. It is not in dispute that the lion's share of the NRA's funds come from gun industry coffers. Just last week after the shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernadino, the NRA urged their followers to call their member of Congress and urge them to vote no on any gun safety reform legislation.
Unfortunately, the Republican members of Nebraska's Congressional delegation have aligned themselves with the out of state gun manufacturing industry. Fischer, Fortenberry and Smith have all received "A" ratings from the NRA. It's too early for Sasse to be rated by the NRA but he did receive that group's endorsement in the 2014 election. Without a doubt, Sasse will soon receive an "A" rating from the gun manufacturers as well in light of his recent vote to allow terrorist suspects to purchase military style assault weapons.
Like many Americans, I find it frustrating and discouraging that a lucrative industry that benefits financially from the mass shootings in America has managed to block reform legislation that has the overwhelming support of the voters and would actually save lives. In addition, it is obvious that Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith rejected the views of their constituents and have chosen to prioritize the agenda of an extreme, out of state special interest group.
The only way we as a country can stop this senseless slaughter of innocent people is to elect new members of Congress. We Democrats must let the voters know that we're supporting gun safety measures with a proven track record of success in other countries that won't impinge upon anybody's ability to hunt or defend themselves. I believe that once the voters realize just how extreme and uncompromising the NRA is, they will reconsider their support for the members of Congress who carry their water. Now let's get that message out and get it done!
The conventional wisdom in the mainstream press is that it will be difficult for the Democrats to win the White House for the third consecutive time in 2016 since that has rarely occurred in the modern era. Leading political analysts like Nate Silver and Charlie Cook are of the opinion that next year's Presidential election is basically a toss up or a jump ball. Despite their expertise, I would submit that our Democratic nominee can defy history next year and win the White House again.
The last time the Democrats won the Presidential election in three consecutive cycles was back in 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt defeated utilities executive Wendell Wilkie by a margin of 55% to 45% in the popular vote and by 449 to 82 in the electoral college. This victory can be attributed to FDR's overall popularity and Democratic dominance in the electoral college during that era.
Other factors in FDR's victory over Wilkie were the war clouds gathering overseas and fresh memories of the Great Depression. The voters preferred FDR's experience over Wilkie's - who had never served in public office. Moreover, FDR and the Democrats made reminding the voters about the economic catastrophe during the Hoover Administration a high priority. The electorate was not allowed to forget what had occurred the last time the GOP controlled the White House and the Congress.
The next attempt by a party to maintain control of the White House for a third consecutive term was when John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960. JFK's victory over Nixon was one of the great upsets in American political history since Eisenhower was popular and the country was at peace.
JFK's excruciatingly close win can be chalked up to the fact he ran a superior campaign and the GOP's mistakes. Nixon foolishly made and kept a promise to campaign in all 50 states. As a result of that promise, Nixon spent too much time in heavily GOP states. Moreover, JFK performed better in the first televised Presidential debates in history. There was nothing pre-ordained about JFK's victory in 1960. But for some mistakes by Nixon, the GOP could've won the White House three times in a row.
After JFK's victory in 1960 and LBJ's landslide in 1964, Vice President Hubert Humphrey attempted to hold the executive branch for a third term in a row in 1968. Despite assassinations, race riots and the Vietnam War, Humphrey came very close to defeating Nixon. The GOP nominee in 1968 won the popular vote by one half of one percentage point. It was one of the closest Presidential elections in history.
The Democrats could've won the White House for the third time in a row in the absence of a key mistake by Humphrey and some chicanery from Nixon. Humphrey only separated himself from LBJ's unpopular Vietnam policies late in the campaign when he called for an end to the bombing and a cease fire at the end of September 1968.
In the closing days of the very close 1968 election, LBJ announced a unilateral U.S. bombing halt in Vietnam and made a serious attempt to get the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. Nixon sabotaged those negotiations by sending a signal through intermediaries to the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal from a Nixon Administration.
Nixon's outright sabotage of the negotiations was treasonous and may have made the difference in the 1968 elections. LBJ knew what Nixon was doing but he didn't expose it because he learned of it from illegal wiretaps of the Nixon campaign.
Nixon's Presidency began with scandal and ended with the infamous Watergate scandal in 1974. Nixon's illegal acts as President made it very difficult for Ford to be elected in his own right in 1976 and win a third consecutive term for the GOP.
Despite the Nixon scandals, the 1976 Presidential election turned out to be very close. Ford had the advantage of the country being at peace and a reasonably good economy. As it turned out, Jimmy Carter won a close election by a 51% to 49% margin in the popular vote and by a 297 to 241 margin in the electoral college. But for the Nixon pardon, Ford very well could've won the 1976 election.
The next quest for a three-peat in the Presidential elections was in 1988 when George H.W. Bush easily defeated Michael Dukakis. Bush had the advantages of a country at peace, a reasonably decent economy and a popular incumbent President.
Bush also ran one of the nastiest campaigns in modern history by trashing Dukakis' patriotism and playing the race card over the Massachusetts prison furlough program. Dukakis played into Bush's hands by refusing to fight back and allowing Bush's scurrilous charges to go unanswered. In an interview years after the 1988 campaign, Dukakis candidly admitted that the main reason he lost was his decision "not to respond to the Bush attack campaign, and in retrospect it was a pretty dumb decision."
The George H.W. Bush Presidency was followed by the very successful Clinton Administration. While he was President, Bill Clinton created 22 million jobs, erased what were then record deficits and passed on a $5 trillion surplus to his successor. During his last year in office, President Clinton enjoyed an enviable approval rating anywhere from 60% to 65%.
That impressive record of accomplishment should've given Al Gore a big head start in his 2000 Presidential campaign. Instead, Gore ran a very poor campaign in which he made the mistake of running away from Clinton and his accomplishments. This probably caused many potential Gore supporters to vote for George W. Bush or Ralph Nader. If a Democrat runs away from the party's achievements, many voters are inclined to believe the party hasn't really accomplished anything.
As it turned out, the 2000 election was the closest Presidential election in American history. Gore beat Bush in the popular vote by a 48.5% to 48% margin. (Ralph Nader tallied 2.7% of the popular vote which means that Progressive votes totalled 51%.)
The 2000 election came down to Florida's 27 electoral votes and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Republicans in Florida - led by Jeb Bush - did everything they could to tilt the playing field in favor of George W. Bush. After all of the GOP machinations in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin stopped the recount in Florida and awarded the Presidency to Bush.
Al Gore's loss at the hands of five Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court turned out to be disastrous for the country. George W. Bush was one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history. By the time, Bush left office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month and the deficit was a record $1.3 trillion.
By the time campaign 2008 got underway, the GOP really had no chance of winning a third consecutive Presidential term. Barack Obama easily defeated John McCain in the general election and took office with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.
President Obama's Presidency has been very successful. At the present time, the economy has been creating over 200,000 jobs per month for the last two years. This is the best jobs growth since President Clinton's second term. What's more, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has insured 17 million additional Americans and reduced the rate of the uninsured from 18% to an all time low of 9%. During his first term, President Obama took out Osama Bin Laden and brought him to justice.
Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom, the Democratic nominee stands an excellent chance of winning the Presidency next year due to President Obama's significant record of accomplishment. Our nominee can honestly say that the country is much better off now than it was in 2008. In addition, that nominee can remind the voters that the country was in shambles the last time the GOP occupied the White House.
The Democratic nominee for President should also be the favorite next year because we are now in an era of Democratic dominance in the electoral college. We have won the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 Presidential elections. Moreover, we can also expect the GOP nominee to be wounded by a bruising primary fight and who will be too far to the right to win the battleground states.
Despite these advantages, we Democrats can take nothing for granted next year. The GOP and their billionaire allies will have access to unlimited campaign cash in 2016. They will run a blizzard of dishonest and negative ads in an attempt to return the GOP to power.
Our mission next year is to constantly remind the voters of President Obama's achievements. We can't repeat the mistakes of the Gore campaign of 2000 and run away from those accomplishments. What's more, we need to take a leaf from FDR's campaigns and remind the voters of how the GOP wrecked the country the last time they held power.
The GOP is counting on mass amnesia to win next year's election. As Democrats, we must constantly refresh the voters' memories of recent history. Let's get it done! I'm confident we will have an outstanding election cycle in 2016.
The GOP has long been perceived by the mainstream media and a large percentage of the public as the best party for national security because they are "tough." The cold, hard reality is that the GOP is tough but stupid. That GOP stupidity masks an underlying weakness on terror that has unwittingly helped our enemies for many years. As we've discussed here before, the incompetence of the George W. Bush Administration cost the country dearly in Iraq and allowed Osama Bin Laden to successfully escape after the attacks of 9/11.
The Republican party's tough but stupid anti-terrorism policies persist until the present day and has once again come into sharper focus in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris. That recent incompetence has focused on the hysteria surrounding refugees of the Syrian Civil War.
What the Republicans don't seem to realize is that no Syrians or refugees were among the perpetrators of the Paris attacks. Instead, all of the terrorists were E.U. nationals. The Syrian passport found at the scene of the one of the attacks was forged and according to the German intelligence service, was a "false flag" designed to whip up hostility towards Syrian refugees.
Unfortunately, as part of his ongoing reign of error, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts took the bait from ISIS and came out in opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Nebraska. Ricketts has a pattern and practice of latching onto every faux outrage generated by the right wing media and the GOP. As one Republican insider once told me on background: "Ricketts is a true believer conservative."
Despite Ricketts' irrational fear of people who had absolutely nothing to do with the Paris attacks, two resettlement agencies here in Nebraska said that they would be willing to settle Syrian refugees provided they gain clearance and choose to live in Nebraska. Both the Refugee Empowerment Center in Omaha and Lincoln-based Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska showed great courage and patriotism in rejecting this irrational hysteria in their willingness to help out helpless victims of ISIS terrorism.
Ricketts' unfounded fear of Syrian refugees makes no sense since it is very difficult for these refugees to get into the U.S. in the first place. Before they can be settled in the U.S., Syrian refugees must go through a rigorous vetting process conducted by the United Nations Commission for Refugees and no less than five federal agencies. This screening process can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months.
This probing and lengthy vetting process works. According to the Economist, 750,000 refugees have settled in U.S. since 9/11. Not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.
Ricketts' (and 30 other governors') hostility to the victims of terrorism plays into the hands of ISIS. The enemy wants the U.S. and it's allies to isolate and stigmatize Muslims, in order to radicalize them. This tough but stupid policy of barring Syrian refugees will be good for ISIS recruiting. It's simply not smart for Ricketts and the other Republican governors to reinforce the false narrative from ISIS that the U.S. and the West are hostile to Muslims.
The Republicans aren't only displaying a weakness on terror at the state level, they have also been craven on the federal level. There is currently pending in Congress a bill with bi-partisan support that would bar those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing pistols, powerful military style assault rifles and other firearms. This legislation was originally introduced by the Bush Administration in 2007.
Unfortunately, the GOP and the NRA are blocking the passage of this common sense legislation in the Congress. As bill co-sponsor Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said: ""I think this is a no-brainer. If you're too dangerous to board a plane, you're too dangerous to buy a gun." Nevertheless, when asked about whether he supported this bill, new House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn't say that he backed it. Apparently, the GOP is more interested in pandering to the gun manufacturers than defending the U.S.
The GOP's stance on terrorism is simply disgraceful and weak. They are not tough on terrorism. As President Obama aptly said: ""These are the same folks often times that say they're so tough that just talking to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or staring down ISIL (ISIS) or using some additional rhetoric will solve the problem — and they're scared of widows and three-year-old orphans."
The reality here is that we Democrats are the true party of national security. This is a winning issue for us in 2016. It is the Republican Party - in the words of former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson - that is: "materially undermining the war against terrorism and making a challenging situation worse." We need to take the offensive and point out to the voters that it was President Obama who brought Osama Bin Laden to justice. We need to let the voters know that it is the Democratic Party that is best suited to keeping America safe.
Returning The GOP To Power To Keep The Country Safe Would Be Like Bringing Back Bill Callahan To Run The Nebraska Football Program
Tragedy struck recently in Paris in which a series of ISIS attacks resulted in the deaths of over 150 people. Unfortunately, the GOP chose to play politics with the deaths of innocent people and and were quick to blame President Obama for the attacks. This stands in sharp contrast to the days immediately after the 9/11/01 attacks when the Democrats rallied around then President Bush during an international crisis.
GOP Presidential candidate and failed CEO Carly Fiorina alleged: “The murder, mayhem, danger and tragedy we see unfolding in Paris, throughout the Middle East and too often in our own homeland, are the direct consequence of this administration’s policies.” GOP rising star and establishment darling Marco Rubio went on social media to use the Paris attacks as a fundraising opportunity. Ben Sasse ally Ted Cruz went so far as to challenge the patriotism of the commander-in-chief during a crisis by saying: "“I recognize Barack Obama does not wish to defend this country.”
The unspoken assumption behind these irresponsible and dishonest GOP attacks on the President of the U.S. after our oldest ally was attacked was that they could do a better job protecting our country if the GOP is returned to power in the 2016 elections. Is there anything in recent history that would lead anybody to believe that the GOP is up to the job of keeping the U.S. safe?
The record of the most recent Republican President certainly calls into question the ability of the GOP to protect the American people. Beginning in the spring of 2001, then President Bush received (and ignored) several warnings that Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were planning a series of spectacular attacks on America. Most memorably, on August 6, 2001, Bush received a memo from the CIA with the title: " “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Just five weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.
Shortly after these terrorist attacks, Bush publicly boasted that he wanted Bin Laden "dead or alive." Unfortunately, the next seven and half years demonstrated that there was a huge gap between Bush's cowboy like bluster and his Administration's actual performance.
The Bush Administration got off on the wrong foot when its incompetence allowed OBL to escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. After that blunder, Bush no longer made the killing or capture of OBL a high priority. Instead, on March 13, 2002, George W. Bush said of bin Laden, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Subsequently, in July 2006, the Bush administration closed its unit that had been hunting bin Laden. In September 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes of Fox News that an "emphasis on bin Laden doesn't fit with the administration's strategy for combating terrorism."
Another factor that contributed to the Bush's Administration's failed search to find Bin Laden was it's disastrous decision to invade Iraq and conduct a multi-year nation building project in that country. In the run up to the Iraq war in 2002-03, the Bush Administration assured the American people that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators, the war would only last a few weeks, Iraqi oil would finance the reconstruction of that country and U.S. forces would find a vast weapons of mass destruction arsenal.
As it turned out, just about every pre-war prediction made by the Bush Administration turned out to be very wrong. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. In addition the war ground on for over eight years and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.
After his inauguration on January 20, 2009, President Obama took a very different and much more effective approach to national security issues. As a starting point, in early 2009, Obama directed the CIA to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority. It was, in other words, a major shift from the previous administration. Thanks to that change in priorities, Obama did in two and a half years what George W. Bush, despite all of his "dead or alive" big talk and swagger, couldn't do in over seven years.
Bringing Bin Laden to justice isn't the only success of President Obama's national security and foreign policies. What is seldom mentioned by Democrats and the mainstream press is that President Obama is quietly compiling a list of significant achievements that will make the U.S. more safe.
According to Matthew Ygelsias, President Obama can justifiably claim credit for these accomplishments:
- A broad multilateral agreement to disarm Iran's nuclear program.
- The New Start arms control treaty with Russia.
- The historic diplomatic opening to Cuba.
- New Pacific military basing agreements with Australia and the Phillippines.
- Bilateral agreements on climate change with China and India.
- An increase in positive perceptions of the U.S. in almost every region of the world.
The Republicans would like the voters to overlook President Obama's achievements and focus on the chaos in the Middle East. However, what the GOP doesn't like to mention is that this troubled region of the world has been a mess for decades. For example, President Reagan's intervention in the Lebanese Civil War in 1983-84 resulted in 243 Marines being killed by a suicide truck bomber in Beirut in 1983. After the conclusion of the Desert Storm campaign in 1991, President George H.W. Bush stood by and allowed U.S. forces to literally watch Saddam Hussein's forces brutally suppress a Shiite revolt in southern Iraq.
If a Republican were to be elected President in 2016, they would move national security policy in a much different direction by bringing back George W. Bush's failed policies. At one time or another, Trump, Bush, and Rubio have all come out in favor of sending U.S. ground troops back to the Middle East to fight ISIS.
Any Republican President would have strong support from the Republicans in Congress for another ground war in that unstable region. Just last weekend, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham demanded that President Obama send ground troops to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq. They called for what they termed a "Syria surge" and cited the 2007-08 troop surge in Iraq as an example of what to do. Lest we forget, a grand total of 170,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq during the 2007-08 surge.
The so-called "conventional wisdom" from the mainstream press is that somehow the Republicans will have an edge on national security during the 2016 election cycle. The only way that the GOP can have that kind of edge is if there is mass amnesia among the voters about the GOP record on national security and foreign policy. We Democrats have the duty to refresh memories and constantly remind the voters that the GOP would bring back the failed policies of George W. Bush.
We have come a long way since the dark days of early 2009 when President Obama took office. Together we have worked hard to improve the country and make it a better place for our fellow Americans. The choice in 2016 is stark and simple. Are we going to hand over our country once again to the people and policies that crashed our economy before and that will destroy the progress that we've made? I say the answer is no. I'm confident that we will get our message out in 2016 and have a successful election cycle.
Last week, Senator Ben Sasse received gushing praise for his maiden Senate speech from both the national and local media. In that speech, Sasse decried the fact that the Senate doesn't work anymore to solve the problems of the U.S. He criticized what he termed: "bare knuckled politics, "radical tactics," and the use of Senate rules for "shirts and skins exercises." Sasse said the Senate should be "reducing polarization" and reformed to solve what he termed "generational problems."
It's pretty easy for somebody who is unfamiliar with Sasse's record to praise this speech. He is certainly correct when he told us that the Senate isn't solving the long terms problems that the U.S. faces. However, history didn't begin when Senator Sasse took the microphone last week on the floor of the Senate.
Sasse's own record as a candidate and a U.S. Senator directly contradicts the eloquent rhetoric in his speech. As a candidate, Sasse prognosticated that the Affordable Care Act would cause America to "cease to exist." This was an important statement because the extreme right of the Republican party is consumed with the belief that Obama and his policies will ruin America. This apocalyptic vision causes conservatives in the Congress - like Sasse - to adopt scorched earth tactics that have harmed the country.
Conservatives who genuinely believe that America is doomed are willing to adopt any tactic - regardless of how toxic and harmful - in what they believe to be a last ditch effort to save the country. That's why right wingers like Sasse have repeatedly supported government shutdowns and threats to default on the obligations of the U.S.
As a candidate, Sasse supported the 2013 government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs. Moreover, as a Senator, Sasse voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security when terrorists were threatening the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Sasse also recently voted against a bill that funded the government and raised the debt ceiling. If Sasse had gotten his way, we would be going through another shutdown right now and the U.S. would have stiffed it's creditors.
Sasse's repeated support for government shutdowns isn't the only dysfunction he has supported. Nebraska's junior Senator recently put a hold on all nominees to the Department of Health and Human Services until he gets answers on why CoOpportunity Insurance collapsed earlier this year. As I discussed in another piece, it would be much more productive for Sasse to partner with the likes of Representative Brad Ashford to find bi-partisan solutions to improve Obama Care.
Senator Sasse's support of obstructive tactics stems from his refusal to compromise and seek out bi-partisan solutions. As a candidate, Sasse signalled his lack of interest in compromise by soliciting and receiving the endorsement of Ted Cruz - one of the most extreme members of the U.S. Cruz is known for saying: "I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise."
Since he has been elected, Sasse has voted with Cruz and other radicals in opposition to must pass legislation that had overwhelming bi-partisan support. In April, Sasse voted against the Medicare doctor fix - which passed the Senate by a 92-8 margin. This bill passed less than three hours before federal officials would have reduced payments to health-care providers by 21%. If that had occurred, many doctors and health care providers would've refused to treat senior citizens. Moreover, the passage of this legislation was hailed by members of Congress in both parties as a bi-partisan triumph.
Sasse hasn't only opposed health care for senior citizens, he has even voted against health care for our veterans. Just last month, Sasse voted with 3 other extreme Senators against a bill that would have kept Veterans' hospitals open. The bill to provide health care to our veterans passed by a 91-4 margin. Even Senator Fischer voted for it. The Veterans Administration had indicated that it might have to start closing hospitals if Congress had refused to pass this bill. Despite the high stakes involved in this legislation, Sasse voted to close down Veterans' hospitals. The Omaha World Herald reported that a "Sasse spokesman declined comment on what the senator would have preferred Congress to do."
So far in his brief Senate career, Sasse hasn't really demonstrated any desire to reform the Senate or make it work - outside of his rhetoric. I always like to say that actions speak louder than words. In any event, giving Sasse the benefit of the doubt, what so-called "generational problems" does he want to solve if the Senate were to work again?
In his much ballyhooed maiden speech, Sasse said that our "entitlement budgeting is entirely fake" and called for "telling the truth" about what he termed "entitlement over promising." These kind of statements have to be read in context with Sasse's earlier claim - shared by many right wingers - that the U.S. is going broke and will soon be like Greece.
What that means is that Sasse supports privatizing Social Security and turning it over to Wall Street. Moreover, Sasse supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age and instituting means testing.
Sasse's plans for Medicare are equally extreme. Sasse - along with the other members of Nebraska's Republican Congressional delegation - has voted to end Medicare as we know it and turn it over to the private health insurance industry. His plan would break our promises to senior citizens and turn Medicare into a voucher system.
The Fremont Senator's support for gutting Social Security and Medicare is based upon his so-called concern for "fiscal responsibility." That so-called "concern" didn't stop Sasse from voting for a repeal of the estate tax earlier this year. This tax cut would only benefit the top 0.2% of Americans and add $269 billion to the deficit. There has yet to be any evidence that any farm has ever been sold off to pay the estate tax in recent history.
The bottom line here is that there is a significant disconnect between Sasse's pretty rhetoric and his actual record. Moreover, if he gets his way and the Senate works in the way he wants it to work, Nebraska's senior citizens will pay a huge price in order to finance yet another tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.
It is obvious that Sasse doesn't share our values - Nebraska values. We Nebraskans believe in a secure and dignified retirement for our senior citizens. Most Nebraskans don't want to go back to the days where senior citizens were sent to poor houses and poor farms after they went broke.
It is our duty as Nebraska Democrats to point out to the media and other opinion leaders that Sasse's rhetoric about fixing the Senate is directly contradicted by his actual record. One cannot reconcile the two. We must also inform our fellow citizens about Sasse's radical vision for the country - a vision not shared by most Nebraskans.
As we've discussed here before, Pete Ricketts is off to a very poor start as Governor. He has made a series of mistakes that call into question his competence and ability to function successfully as Governor of Nebraska. Rickett's stumbling start has not gone unnoticed on the national level. Governing Magazine indicated that he is off to possibly the worst start of any new governor in 2015 and said that he is "struggling." Paul Landow - a UNO political science professor - said the following about Ricketts' many setbacks in the Unicameral: "It was a very bad start for a first-year governor. A savvy politician would have picked the battles more carefully."
Ricketts has continued to struggle mightily since the end of the legislative session earlier this year. Since the Unicameral adjourned, Ricketts has spent most of his political capital trying to reverse his defeat on the death penalty. Ricketts has been so desperate to win a "victory" on this issue that he has spent approximately $54,000.00 of the taxpayers' money to purchase illegal execution drugs from Chris Harris - a shady middleman based in India.
Harris has passed himself off to Ricketts as a manufacturer and distributor of medications. Instead, investigative reporting has revealed that Harris has no pharmaceutical background and that his "factory" was an apartment that he hasn't lived in for two years.
Despite Harris' obvious lack of legitimate credentials, Ricketts sent him a state check for $54,000.00 to purchase enough execution drugs for 300 executions even though only 10 people are on death row and Nebraska hasn't executed anybody for 18 years. Moreover, Ricketts paid seven times more than what these illegal drugs usually cost.
Rickett's dealings with Harris has caused a firestorm of criticism in Nebraska. A spokesman for Nebraskans For Public Safety blasted Ricketts' claim that he can legally purchase the execution drug from Harris and demanded that Ricketts stop “misleading” the voters about the prospect of obtaining this execution drug. Senator Adam Morfeld labeled Ricketts' attempted purchase as: “Illegal drugs from a black-market source with no pharmaceutical background." Morfeld also said. “Twice now Nebraska has given Harris tens of thousands of dollars, and we have nothing to show for it.”
Rickett's attempted purchase of these illegal drugs calls into question his so-called business acumen and private sector experience that he claimed would benefit Nebraska. Instead, Ricketts failed to properly investigate Harris' background and paid way too much for too many drugs. Any CEO who did something like this would be fired. Moreover, Ricketts should reimburse the Nebraska taxpayers from his own vast personal fortune the $54,000.00 he squandered on the purchase of clearly illegal drugs from a sleazy con man in India.
Ricketts hasn't only embarrassed himself in his dealings with Mr. Harris, he has even managed to alienate former Governor Dave Heineman and started speculation that Heineman may mount a primary challenge against him in 2018.
Ricketts' squabble with Heineman began when it turned out that the State Patrol's overtime is costing the state about $50,000 more per month than the average monthly cost in 2014 and all years dating all the way back to 2002. Reporting by Deena Winter at Nebraska Watchdog has revealed that Ricketts frequently travels out of state and that his State Patrol security detail is racking up some of the largest overtime expenses in recent history.
Taylor Gage - Ricketts's spokesman - set off the dispute between the two GOP governors when he tried to defend Ricketts by claiming that Heineman traveled extensively in 2007-08. Heineman shot back and was able to prove that Ricketts' office provided information that was "inaccurate and misleading.”
This dispute between Ricketts and Heineman set off speculation in Republican circles that Heineman may challenge the current Governor in the 2018 GOP primary. In an interview, Heineman didn't rule out a future run for governor saying that: "I don’t think you ever say never. I enjoy it. I like it."
A Ricketts versus Heineman primary battle would be the political equivalent of thermo-nuclear war. Both candidates would be lavishly funded and would relentlessly attack each other. Whatever candidate emerged as the winner of the GOP primary would be wounded and the leader of a badly divided party.
This kind of primary fight could open the door to a Democratic governor in 2018. Both Jim Exon and Bob Kerrey defeated incumbent GOP governors after the incumbent Republican governor fought off a tough primary challenge. The Nebraska Democratic Party has several potential candidates who could run a strong campaign for governor.
All of this speculation about 2018 is interesting but we need to stay focused on 2016. The first step to ending Ricketts' ongoing reign of error is to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral in 2016. We are well positioned to have a good election cycle next year because we've recruited a strong slate of candidates and there should be a strong Democratic turnout in a Presidential election year. Now let's get it done! No excuses! We can do it!
One of the biggest issues of the race for the Democratic nomination is a candidates’ stance on environmental policy. This is not only because Americans have recently made it clear that they would like their next president to have a strong stance on the environment, but also because much of the money in Democratic politics is tied to environmental policy. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has even come out with a list of minimum acceptable standards for his chosen candidate. Due to the fact that Steyer spent around $74 million in the 2014 elections, many candidates are scrambling to put forward environmental plans that meet Steyer’s high standards.
Hillary Clinton has come out stronger than she has in the past on environmental issues. Her current plan would have at least 33% of the nation’s electricity produced by renewable resources by 2027. This is more aggressive than Obama’s plan to have 20% of electricity produced by renewables by 2030. Clinton’s plan also calls for the installation of half a billion solar panels by 2020. Overall, Clinton’s plan would cost $60 billion over ten years. She plans to offset this cost by putting an end to tax breaks for gas and oil producers. In addition to this formal plan, Clinton has made statements that show her opinions on a range of other issues. Clinton has come out in favor for pipeline and rail safety and tax breaks for renewables while coming out in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. The plan that Clinton has put forward meets Steyer’s standards and he has thrown her a campaign event at his home. Even though the plan meets Steyer’s standards and has been applauded by voters, some analysts are saying that Clinton’s plan won’t be achievable if and when she makes it into office.
In contrast to Clinton, Bernie Sanders does not currently have a proposed environmental plan. Even without a specific plan Sanders has proven himself to be a strong defender of the environment. He has publically declared his support for range of environmental proposals including increased use of renewables, carbon emissions taxes, tax breaks for renewables, and pipeline and rail safety. The list of things Sander opposes includes issues like offshore drilling, artic drilling, tax breaks for fossil fuels, and the Keystone pipeline. Sanders can also rely on his work in the House and the Senate to demonstrate his commitment to the environment. Bills that Sanders has introduced include the Residential Energy Saving Act, the Low Income Solar Act and the Green Jobs Act. In addition to helping introduce bills on environmental policy, Sanders has a very strong record of voting in favor of environmental issues. Steyer has not commented on Sanders eligibility to win his support, although it is doubtful that Sanders will be considered until he releases a formal environmental plan. Voters, on the other hand, seem satisfied with Sanders past achievements in environmental policy as proof that he will be a strong defender of the environment if he were to become president.
Martin O’Malley is currently the candidate with the strongest stated stance on environmental policy. He encompasses all of the stated views of Clinton and Sanders and takes many of them a step further. The environmental plan O’Malley has put forward has some very lofty goals and defines environmental protection as a moral obligation. His plan states he would have the entire nation powered by renewable energy by 2050 and would create a Clean Energy Jobs Corps. The Clean Energy Jobs Corps would do things like retrofit buildings with more energy efficient technology, restore and expand forests, and create green spaces. Other goals of the plan are strengthening the EPA, ending subsidies to fossil fuels, and investing heavily in clean energy research and infrastructure. Although O’Malley’s plan is the strongest in terms of the environment and certainly puts him in the running for Steyer’s attention, it may not be feasible. Much like with Clinton’s plan, analysts doubt that O’Malley could actually follow this plan once in office.
In conclusion, the field for this year’s democratic nomination has quite a few strong supporters of the environment. Both Clinton and O’Malley have released specific plans for how they would handle environmental policy while Sanders has shown his policy ideas through his statements and voting record. Although Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley all have strong stances on the environment, it is likely that Clinton will be taking home donations for environmental policy. This is because she has a stated plan and it is the most feasible.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the most significant piece of social legislation to be enacted into law since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Since the implementation of the ACA in October 2013, 17 million formerly uninsured Americans have obtained insurance coverage and the uninsured rate has dropped from 18% of the population to an all time low of just 9%. A poll conducted by the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund in June 2015 found that 81 percent those enrolled in ObamaCare plans are satisfied with their health insurance.
Despite the success of the ACA (or maybe because of it), the GOP has continued it's efforts to sabotage the implementation of this landmark health care plan. These sabotage efforts have been ongoing since the law began to more fully implemented in the latter half of 2013.
One of the most blatant and shameless attempts to wreck the ACA occurred shortly before the insurance exchanges went up in the fall of 2013. This Republican attempt to sabotage Obama Care involved the the intimidation of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR by Senate Republican leaders. The Obama Administration contacted these sports leagues and asked them to help spread the word about the new law so that people would sign up for the health insurance exchanges.
In contacting these sports leagues, the Obama Administration was following the precedent set by then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who partnered up with the Boston Red Sox to inform Massachusetts residents about the benefits of Romney Care. (In 2005, the Bush Administration ran a similar campaign to let seniors know about the Medicare drug benefit.) However, the Senate Republican leaders thwarted a similar campaign from the Obama Administration and bullied the sports leagues into not cooperating with HHS in informing people about Obama Care.
Another attempt to damage the ACA and hurt the American people occurred when the GOP filed a lawsuit in King v. Burwell that challenged the subsidy system. If this lawsuit had "succeeded,"approximately 6.4 million people would have lost their tax credits and experienced an average increase of 255% in their health insurance premiums. What's more, a "victory" by the Republicans in the King case would have resulted in 57,000 Nebraskans seeing their premiums soar and most likely would have forced these people to drop their coverage.
Another Republican attack on the ACA caused 113,000 Nebraskans and Iowans this year to lose health insurance coverage through CoOpportunity Health Insurance Company. This company was liquidated earlier this year because the Congress voted in December 2014 to to cut special risk-adjusting payments that CoOportunity was counting on receiving in 2015.
This cut in funding for CoOpportunity (and other health co-ops) occurred when House Republicans - at the eleventh hour - inserted an amendment aimed at cutting government funding for health co-ops into the must pass CRomnibus bill. (Passage of the CRomnibus prevented another government shutdown.) Senator Deb Fischer, and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith voted for the December 2014 CRomnibus bill that killed CoOpportunity and canceled insurance policies for thousands of their constituents.
Ben Sasse recently noticed that many of his constituents lost health insurance polices that they liked and he told the Omaha World Herald he was looking for answers regarding the collapse of CoOpportunity and health insurance co-ops in nine states. Nebraska's junior U.S. Senator announced that he was going to block all of President Obama's nominees to the Department of Health and Human Service until he receives answers. (Incidentally, at about the same time, Sasse said he was interested in reforming Congress and reducing the gridlock in D.C.)
If Senator Sasse wants answers regarding the cancellations of these insurance policies, all he has to do is meet with Fischer, Fortenberry and Smith - who voted to destroy the insurance co-ops. If Mr. Sasse is genuinely serious about reforming Congress, he shouldn't be blocking qualified nominees who will be helping Nebraskans get better health care. Instead, he should form up a bi-partisan coalition to recommend improvements to the ACA. Sasse could easily find a willing partner by contacting Representative Brad Ashford.
The GOP is also sabotaging the ACA by blocking the Medicaid expansion in 20 states. This refusal to adopt the Medicaid expansion has caused an additional 5 million Americans to be uninsured and has caused insurance premiums in those states to be higher than those states that have adopted the Medicaid expansion.
Governor Pete Ricketts and a band of right wingers in the Unicameral have stopped a bi-partisan effort to adopt the Medicaid expansion here in Nebraska. This has prevented over 50,000 Nebraskans from obtaining insurance and has cost the state millions of dollars in federal revenues. Instead, our tax dollars are going to other states to finance their Medicaid expansions.
The Republicans will continue to sabotage the ACA and push for it's repeal. Just last week, Fortenberry and Smith voted with their fellow Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for something like the 56th time to repeal - but not replace - the ACA. The GOP wants to destroy the ACA because it has proven that government can actually help people and improve the quality of their lives.
As Democrats, we need to message the benefits and successes of the ACA. Many Americans are still ignorant of the law's benefits and have only heard the negative propaganda about the ACA from the GOP and it's allies in the right wing media. We need to be proud of the ACA and how it has helped millions of Americans. If we run away from it, the voters will agree with the GOP and conclude that the ACA is a failure. I'm confident that once the voters become more familiar with the ACA, they will support it.
Next year's election will very important for the cause of health care reform. If the Democratic nominee is elected President, the ACA will probably be safe for the indefinite future. It will be almost impossible for any future GOP President and Congress to take away health care from millions of Americans.
On the state level, we need to elect more Democratic State Senators so we can break the right wing filibuster of the Medicaid expansion. The Nebraska Democratic Party has already recruited an outstanding group of candidates for the legislature. All of us need to contribute to these find candidates and canvas for them. Now let's get it done!
Representative Jeff Fortenberry has successfully marketed himself as a moderate since he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004. For example, when I ran for Congress last year, I frequently heard from voters that Fortenberry wasn't as extreme as the rest of the Nebraska Republican Congressional delegation.
The Lincoln Journal Star has also echoed Fortenberry's talking point that he is some kind of a thoughtful moderate. In a 2013 Lincoln Journal Star opinion piece, the Lincoln paper's editor alleged that Fortenberry was a "compassionate conservative" and found his alleged independence from the more extreme elements of the GOP to be "inspiring."
Fortenberry's voting record in the House of Representatives clearly indicates that he is no moderate and that he usually votes with the most extreme members of the House.
A good example of Fortenberry's philosophy can be found in his support of the 2011 default threat and his numerous votes for government shutdowns. I've singled out this portion of his record because this is the Congressional GOP's most reckless and destructive tactic. Fortenberry and his fellow Republicans have taken the position that they will hurt the American people unless President Obama gives in to their demands to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Representative Fortenberry was a staunch backer of the phony debt ceiling crisis that was ginned up by his party bosses and the Tea Party in 2011. In a press release dated May 31, 2011, Fortenberry stated he would vote against refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless the Congress adopted what he called "budgetary controls to get America's fiscal house in order." In other words, Fortenberry was prepared to crash the world economy unless the Democrats agreed to cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other middle class programs.
Fortenberry's threat in and of itself did serious harm to the American people in 2011. Due to the GOP's irresponsibility, the economy went from creating 200,000 jobs per month to creating only 100,000 jobs per month. The economy only began creating 200,000 jobs per month (or more) in 2013. Moreover, consumer confidence in 2011 fell to depths not seen since the economic crisis of 2008-09.
The next time Fortenberry and the Congressional Republicans threatened to hurt the American economy was the government shutdown of 2013. This shutdown - which cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs - is a perfect example of how Fortenberry pretends to be a thoughtful moderate while he votes with the Tea Party.
At a town hall meeting held during the run up to the government shutdown in August 2013, Fortenberry stated that he was opposed to a government shutdown. The First District Congressman said that a shutdown would lead to "very significant consequences for the country without accomplishing its goal. "
Mr. Fortenberry broke his word to his constituents and voted on September 20, 2013 to shutdown the government. This shutdown was aimed at defunding the Affordable Care Act and taking away health insurance from millions of Americans. Moreover, during this 16 day government shutdown, Fortenberry was never on the list of House Republicans who favored a clean continuing resolution and he never called for an up or down vote on this legislation that would have re-opened the government.
Once this deeply misguided government shutdown came to a conclusion, Fortenberry pretended that he had opposed it all along. As a matter of fact, he issued a statement claiming after that he "did not favor shutting down the government." Subsequently, about a year later during the 2014 campaign, Fortenberry told the Omaha World Herald that: “The consequence of shutting down the government was not healthy." What that means is that Fortenberry was for the shutdown before he was against it!
Despite the harm inflicted by the 2013 government shutdown, Fortenberry has continued to support government shutdowns in the current session of Congress. On both January 14 and March 3, 2015, Fortenberry voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over an unrelated immigration issue even though the U.S. was being threatened with terrorist attacks.
Fortenberry's two votes to shutdown DHS over a partisan dispute with President Obama were especially reckless since a shutdown of that agency could slow down or weaken a U.S. response to a terrorist attack. The second vote to shutdown DHS came at a time when the Mall of America in Minneapolis was threatened with an attack by a radical Islamist group. Despite that threat to the Midwest, Fortenberry defended his votes by saying that: "The House of Representatives has done the right thing here. We've stood on principle."
Fortenberry followed up his two dangerous votes to shutdown DHS with a vote on September 30, 2015 against a bill funding the government through December 11, 2015. This time Fortenberry voted to shutdown the government over a dispute regarding federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
What we have here in Nebraska CD-01 is a representative who says one thing and does another. When Mr. Fortenberry is in Nebraska, he generally positions himself to be some kind of a thoughtful moderate who is willing to buck the party line if necessary. On the other hand, when Fortenberry is in Washington, he can be counted on by the radicals in the GOP to vote with them.
Fortenberry's numerous votes for government shutdowns proves that he is one of the more extreme members of the GOP House caucus. A thoughtful moderate wouldn't vote to harm the people in his district with a government shutdown or vote to shutter DHS when the country is threatened with an attack.
What we need to do as Nebraska Democrats is submit letters to the editor that reveal Mr. Fortenberry's true record. We should also email reporters who cover Nebraska's First District Representative and provide them with the evidence that Mr. Fortenberry is an extremist despite his soothing rhetoric. It's time that we let the people of Nebraska CD-01 know the truth about Representative Fortenberry. He is no moderate!
When Pete Ricketts ran for Governor last year, he promised to "Grow Nebraska." That was the central theme of his election campaign. Ricketts proposed the usual tired conservative platform of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and fewer regulations for big business as the magic elixir that would make our state more prosperous. (What he didn't mention was that a similar platform has been implemented with disastrous results in states like Kansas and Wisconsin.) Since Ricketts has been inaugurated as Governor, his economic development program has hit a series of road blocks and setbacks.
One of Ricketts' most embarrassing setbacks has to be the sudden and unexpected termination of Brenda-Hicks Sorenson as the Director of the Department of Economic Development. Hicks-Sorenson was selected by the search firm Ricketts hired with special interest money provided by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. As it turns out, Hicks-Sorenson turned out to be grossly incompetent and was ousted at the instigation of the State, Omaha and Lincoln Chambers of Commerce. The Omaha Chamber should demand a refund of the money they paid to the private search firm!
What was little discussed by the Nebraska press was that Hicks-Sorenson was under fire in Wisconsin, where as deputy director of that state's economic development department, she authorized a loan without the proper vetting process to a prominent Scott Walker supporter. That loan has since gone in default - costing the Wisconsin taxpayers $500,000.00. There has been speculation that there may be legal repercussions for this failed loan.
Nebraska's Governor suffered yet another setback last week when Conagra announced it was moving it's headquarters from Omaha to Chicago and laying off over 1,000 employees. This was a serious blow to Omaha and Nebraska since Conagra had stationed it's headquarters in Omaha since 1922. Moreover, the State's taxpayers have spent $160 million on economic and tax incentives on Conagra since that company demanded tax breaks back in 1987 as the price to stay in Omaha. Yet we heard nothing from Ricketts about the brewing crisis in Omaha and he spent most of his time this last summer on foreign junkets and trying to bring back a death penalty law that hasn't been used in this century. Nebraskans would be much better off with a governor who fought for jobs rather than a largely symbolic law that has proven to be a failure.
Even though Conagra has announced it will soon be leaving Omaha, the overall Nebraska economy is still doing well. Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and there is approximately $700 million in the State's rainy day fund. Our state has experienced this success in spite of Heineman and Ricketts - not due to their actions.
In his last two years as Governor, Heineman proposed large, budget busting tax cuts that would have drained the State's hard earned surplus. Moreover, Heineman proposed a radical tax scheme that would have abolished state income taxes and financed a tax cut that largely benefited the wealthy by raising taxes on farmers, students, senior citizens and the sick. Fortunately, both of these radical tax schemes never were even voted out of committee.
Ricketts followed the path that Heineman blazed and proposed a large property tax cut that - like Heineman's tax cut bills - didn't even get out of the Revenue Committee. This regressive tax cut would've caused cuts in school funding and increases in other taxes.
Nebraska has prospered since the end of the 2008-09 recession - in part due - to a moderate majority in the Unicameral that has prevented the last two Governors from blowing up the State's budget with ill considered tax schemes that favor the wealthy. Nebraska Democratic Senators have led the way in this effort. For example, Heath Mello has shown outstanding leadership as Chair of the Appropriations Committee in crafting responsible budgets that drew nearly unanimous support from the Unicameral.
There were never any guarantees that Nebraska would avoid the fates suffered by Kansas and Wisconsin. In both of those states, right wing governors passed huge tax cuts for the wealthy and hoped (against historical experience) that they would pay for themselves. What occurred was that Kansas and Wisconsin had to cut funding for universities, schools and roads to balance their budgets. Moreover, both of those states have experienced sub-par economic growth due to these wrong headed policies.
Nebraska has avoided the kind of terrible outcome experienced by Kansas and Wisconsin thanks to our great State Senators and the hard work of Nebraska Democrats. Once again in 2016, we will have to go back to work to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral and preserve the moderate majority that has protected the state from the radical right.
We can take nothing for granted. Ricketts and some of his aides are already hard at work recruiting Tea Party Republicans to run for the legislature. Furthermore, we can expect these Tea Party candidates to be lavishly financed by Ricketts and his billionaire friends and allies.
It is up to us to prevent Nebraska from going the way of Kansas and Wisconsin. We Nebraska Democrats will have to be every bit as relentless as the right wing Republicans and the billionaires who finance them. We must never give up and never get discouraged. I'm confident that we will have a good election cycle in 2016 if everybody does their job. Thank you for all that you do!