Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts got off to a poor start last year and it appears as though 2016 won't be any better. Ricketts kicked off the new year by initially refusing to meet with President Obama when he visited Omaha in January. This was an obvious snub since then Governor Johanns met with President Clinton when he came to Nebraska in the closing days of his Presidency in late 2000.
The disrespect Ricketts demonstrated caused a firestorm of criticism. The press demanded that he meet with the President and the Governor's office was inundated with critical emails. Initially, Ricketts claimed he was too busy to meet with President Obama but he relented and rearranged his schedule. Ricketts thanked his staff for working hard to shake up his allegedly busy schedule but as it turned out all they had to do was move a speech up by 20 minutes. Obviously, Ricketts' staff didn't have to work very hard to make him available to meet with President Obama.
Some of Ricketts' biggest mistakes and struggles last year involved his dealings with the Legislature. His top priorities didn't even make it out of committee and three high profile bills - including a repeal of the death penalty - were passed over his veto. Several Republicans speaking on background were critical of his lack of engagement with the State Senators.
In 2016, Ricketts is trying to raise his game and he testified last week in front of the Revenue Committee regarding his latest property tax legislation. Ricketts' plan would limit property tax increases to agricultural land to 3% per year and place limits on local spending.
The problem with Ricketts plan is that it isn't a tax cut - it is a tax shift. According to the non-partisan Open Sky Institute, the Ricketts plan would cause large cuts to spending on education. Local school districts would have to either sustain big program cuts or increase local taxes.
In addition to potentially hurting Nebraska's schools, Ricketts' plan would finance this tax cut on agricultural land by raising taxes on both residential and business properties. This tax increase on homeowners and small businesses could cause property taxes to skyrocket for many Nebraska residential, business and commercial property owners.
This potential tax shift and program cuts encountered spirited opposition from cities, counties, school districts and other local government entities. Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler contended that the consequences of the Ricketts plan could be "devastating" to local governments and even jeopardize the City of Lincoln's coveted Triple A bond rating. A representative of the Stothert Administration testified that the proposed limitations on local government spending could hurt Omaha if it annexes additional land.
What appeared to be overlooked by Ricketts is that the state is not in a position to afford a large tax cut at the present time. Currently, commodity prices are down and this has caused a $110 million shortfall in state revenues. In addition to the tax cut that he proposed, Ricketts also wants to spend an additional $150 million on infrastructure improvements. A tax cut and increased infrastructure spending would jeopardize the state's hard earned rainy day fund just when Nebraska's economy is experiencing slower economic growth.
It must be emphasized here that Nebraska Democrats do favor responsible middle class property tax relief. In 2007, then State Senators Tom White and Steve Lathrop played instrumental roles in helping pass legislation that created a property tax credit for all real estate owners. This tax credit saved the owner of a $150,000 house approximately $141 in 2015. (This property tax cut was the subject of a controversial mailing that the state sent out late last year.)
Well informed sources at the Capitol tell me that Ricketts probably lacks the votes to pass his tax shift plan. In any event, we Nebraska Democrats must take nothing for granted. I would urge each and every one of you to contact your State Senator and express your concerns about Ricketts' plan.
The ultimate solution to Ricketts' ongoing reign of error is to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral this year. We have recruited an outstanding group of candidates and this should be a good election cycle for Democrats. We can't let Pete Ricketts get a compliant Legislature and turn Nebraska into Kansas and Wisconsin. Now let's get it done!
Some of President Obama's most unsung accomplishments are in the areas of taxes and deficit reduction. What appears to be little known is that the 2009 Recovery Act included a $275 billion tax cut for the middle class and working poor. It was the largest middle class tax cut in U.S. history.
Another virtually unknown accomplishment is the progress President Obama has made reducing the deficit. When President Obama took office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion and 9.8% of GDP. By fiscal year 2015, the deficit had been reduced to $450 billion or 2.6% of GDP. It is the fastest rate of deficit reduction since the late 1940s.
The top three finishers in the Iowa GOP caucuses would destroy President Obama's progress on the deficit with multi-trillion tax cut schemes that would provide a huge windfall for large corporations and the super wealthy. The rest of the country would be required to finance these regressive tax plans in the form of much higher deficits or even higher taxes for the poor and the middle class.
GOP front runner Ted Cruz's radical tax scheme contains a huge tax increase on senior citizens, the middle class and the poor. This is because the Cruz plan has a 19% national sales tax that would apply to all purchases of goods and services made in the United States. Under the Cruz plan, something that costs $1 today would start to cost $1.19.
Cruz uses this tax increase on the poor and middle class to (partially) finance a big tax cut for the super wealthy and the corporations. Cruz would reduce the top individual rate from 39.6% to 10%. Moreover, the GOP front runner's plan would eliminate all taxes on corporations and estates. This radical plan would add $3.7 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years.
The cost of the Cruz plan is relatively "cheap" when it is compared to Trump's plan. The billionaire entertainer's plan would add $9.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. Trump would borrow trillions of dollars to finance a reduction in the top individual rate from 39.6% to 20%, reduce the top corporate rate from 35% to 20% and to completely eliminate the estate tax. In order to keep his promise to balance the budget, Trump would need to cut spending by 20%.
Rubio has been described by many in the mainstream press as a "moderate' but there is nothing moderate about his risky tax scheme. Rubio would essentially exempt the super wealthy from all federal taxation by eliminating taxes on capital gains, dividends and estates. The average top 1 percenter would receive an annual tax cut in the amount of $224,000.00. These huge tax cuts for the wealthy would increase the deficit by $11.8 trillion over the next decade.
All of these Republican tax plans contain provisions in which the middle class and the poor would get a small tax break. Those modest tax cuts provide political cover for the windfall for the wealthy and was a tactic that George W. Bush used to market his tax cuts for the wealthy.
Hillary Clinton's and Bernie Sanders' plans for taxes are very different from those proposed by the leading GOP Presidential contenders. The Democratic tax plans would cut taxes for the middle class and the working poor. At the same time, their plans would pay for themselves by increasing taxes on the super wealthy.
Modern history indicates that if the country has a Democratic President, we have lower deficits, middle class tax cuts and a stronger economy. In contrast, GOP Presidents blow up the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthy and increased military spending. Increased deficits is a feature of GOP Presidents due to their support for borrow and spend fiscal policies.
The choice in 2016 is clear. We can have continued progress and prosperity with a Democratic President. On the other hand, if the Republicans are returned to power, they will they blow up the deficit and destroy the economy - like they did in 2008. We Democrats must work hard to elect a Democratic President. The stakes couldn't be much higher. Let's get it done!
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert inherited a good situation when she was elected in 2013. Jim Suttle had made the tough choices on the budget to once again place Omaha on a sound financial footing by raising the restaurant tax. Thanks to Suttle's engineering background, he saved the City of Omaha from an epic flood in the spring and summer of 2011.
Suttle paid a heavy price for his tough decisions. The entertainers on AM radio in Omaha launched a recall effort over the restaurant tax. Those entertainers came up with the usual doom and gloom predictions we frequently hear from the radical right. For example, they even predicted that people would go out to dinner in Council Bluffs to avoid paying the restaurant tax.
As usual, those right wing predictions of Armageddon turned out to be dead wrong. The restaurant tax got Omaha out of it's financial hole and restored it's triple A credit rating. The restaurant business is still thriving in Omaha.
Jean Stothert ran for Mayor claiming she could do better. She promised to repeal the restaurant tax, cut property taxes and increase spending for services - all at the same time. Obviously, her cynical promises were ludicrous and impossible to keep.
Since Stothert was inaugurated, she has broken her promise to repeal the restaurant tax. Despite this broken promise, the entertainers on AM radio haven't launched a recall of Stothert or demonized her for maintaining this tax. Instead, it's been crickets from the entertainers and others in the radical right.
The failure to repeal the restaurant tax is just one of many promises that Stothert has broken. The pensions for the employees of the City of Omaha are still underfunded and in disarray. At the end of 2013, the pensions for the police and firefighters had about $620 million in unfunded liabilities. In addition, the pensions for the civilian employees were $205 million in the red.
Stothert's lone "accomplishment" is a small property tax cut that she enacted. The owner of $200,000 home would save all of $20 per year from this tax cut.
Tax cutting at the local level can have significant consequences due to the legal requirement to balance the budget. This tax cut has forced Stothert to cut corners in areas like snow removal. There have been numerous legitimate complaints about poor removal since Stothert took office in 2013. As NDP chair Vince Powers said: “Because Mayor Stothert has cut so many corners, Omaha now even lacks funding to provide the basic service of removing snow."
Stothert's corner cutting on City finances turned out to be a disaster when a mere 4 inches of snow literally shut down Omaha on January 19. Even though this storm had been forecast for several days in advance, Stothert was totally unprepared for it. Morning commutes that usually take about 15 minutes turned into a one hour white knuckle run. Omaha residents took to social media blasting Stothert's ineptitude.
Stothert's failure to be prepared for a routine Nebraska snowstorm caused a near disaster in the 90th and Dodge area around rush hour. The Omaha Police Department had to shut down Dodge Street in that area because they were pursuing a a suspected criminal armed with an assault rifle who had committed a robbery. Brave police officers were literally pushing cars up the hill to clear the street for snow plows that arrived too late.
Unfortunately, Stothert had the audacity to criticize the decision of the Omaha Police Department to temporarily close Dodge Street between 84th and 90th Streets. “I can’t say the decision by that officer was something that was well thought out,” Stothert snapped.
The Omaha Police Officers Association responded to Stothert unjustified second guessing by issuing the following statement: "We stand by the officer's decision to temporarily close the roadway. The officer's decision was made ON-SCENE and in REAL-TIME while standing out in the cold, pushing vehicles on dangerous slick roads. It's unfortunate that city officials feel the need to criticize the decision that was made for public safety as they sit in their warm offices."
After enduring a fire storm of criticism for her unfair potshot at the Omaha Police Department, Stothert backed off and blamed the fiasco on an alleged “breakdown in communication between all departments regarding the choice to shut down the street."
John Wells, the president of the Omaha Police Association, correctly stated that Stothert shouldn’t have made her initial critical remarks without all the facts. “She was pretty steadfast in her position, throwing the officer under the bus,” Wells said. “I’m glad she came around, but the whole exercise was unnecessary. It was misplaced blame.”
After Tuesday’s four inch snowfall, instead of looking within her own office to find the problem, Mayor Stothert blamed an Omaha Police Officer who made the right call. Perhaps Mayor Stothert should have blamed one of the 18 contractors she hired in 2015 to better handle snow removal this season, listed on her website’s “2015 Strategic Plan Report Card” under “Optimize Delivery of City Services”.
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair, Vince Powers, made the following statement: “Mayor Stothert used an Omaha Police Officer as a scapegoat when in truth, it is the Mayor who was accountable for mismanaging 18 contractors she hired in 2015, solely to improve on the City’s basic service to remove snow. Mayor Stothert owes an apology to the police officer, who was only doing his job, keeping people safe from dangerous conditions which arose because Mayor Stothert failed to do hers.”
Unfortunately, Stothert is consistent for all of the wrong reasons. The Omaha Mayor will not remove snow or the restaurant tax - of course she was elected on her promise to get rid of restaurant tax and her pledge that "Public Safety is my #1 Priority. " The reality is that Stothert has fallen far short of her promises and her mismanagement of the City of Omaha has hurt the residents of this great city.
The Omaha voters will be ready for a change in 2017 and will turn Stothert out of office. Well informed sources speaking on background have told me that Stothert will draw one or more high profile, well financed challengers when she faces the voters again. In the meantime, we have to keep the pressure on Stothert and remind the voters in Omaha again and again that Stothert simply isn't up to the job of Mayor of Omaha.
Last week was a big week for the Nebraska Democratic Party and Nebraska in general. President Obama came to Omaha the day after his State of the Union Speech to discuss his accomplishments and the path ahead for the U.S. The President gave an outstanding speech - punctuated with his usual soaring rhetoric - to a full capacity and appreciative crowd at UNO's Baxter Arena. While President Obama was in Omaha, he also met with Kerrie Orozco's family and a school teacher who had written to him about her baby's future.
President Obama had many significant accomplishments to talk about at his State of the Union Speech and at Baxter Arena. One of his least known accomplishments is the progress he has made in reducing the deficit since he took office. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion from then President George W. Bush. Since he has taken office, the President has reduced the deficit by 75%. This is the fastest rate of deficit reduction since the late 1940s. According to Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal: "The U.S. budget deficit ended last year at its lowest level since 2007, marking the sixth straight annual drop." The deficit has been reduced from 9.8% of GDP when Obama took office to 2.6% of GDP.
The Republicans talk a good game on the deficit but the recent historical record indicates that the Democratic Party is the party of fiscal responsibility. The last three Democratic Presidents starting with Jimmy Carter have all reduced the deficit. In contrast, no Republican President has reduced the deficit or balanced the budget since Eisenhower did in 1960. As a matter of fact, the last five Republican Presidents have all increased the deficit. For example, Reagan and Bush41 quadrupled the national debt and Bush43 doubled the national debt. The only time the GOP has been "serious" about the deficit in the last half century was when Clinton and Obama were President.
One of the factors behind this dramatic reduction in the deficit is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In a recent report, the CBO indicated that the ACA will lower the deficit by $118 billion by 2025. This in part due to the fact that the ACA has reduced medical inflation to it's lowest level in 50 years. Due to this reduction in medical inflation, the taxpayers will be saving billions of dollars in future Medicare and Medicaid costs.
The ACA hasn't only reduced the deficit, it has also insured 18 million additional Americans, saved senior citizens thousands of dollars on prescription costs and done away with pre-existing condition clauses. Thanks to the ACA, the rate of uninsured Americans has fallen from 18% of the population in 2008 to 9% in 2015. That is the lowest uninsured rate in the history of the country.
The GOP reaction to the successes of the ACA have been simply disgraceful. The Republican in Congress - including the GOP members of the Nebraska delegation - have voted over 60 times to repeal - but not replace - the ACA. These reckless votes have followed on the heels of decades of Republican in-action on health care. During the Bush43 Presidency, the GOP did nothing when 8 million Americans lost their insurance policies. The GOP hasn't made a good faith effort to expand coverage to the uninsured since the 1970s. Simply stated, providing insurance to the uninsured isn't a priority for the GOP. Philosophically, the GOP simply opposes spending tax payer dollars to insure the sick, the poor and working families.
The dramatic successes we've seen in expanding insurance coverage is also mirrored by the explosive job growth we've had since 2010. When President Obama took office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month and the country was teetering on the brink of a Depression. Since those dark days, the economy has made a remarkable turnaround. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address: "In these past seven years, our businesses are now on a 70-month streak of job creation, with more than 14 million new jobs in all." Over the last three months, the economy has created an extraordinary 284,000 new jobs per month. This is the best job growth since President Clinton's second term.
We have accomplished a lot since 2009 but there is still unfinished work to do. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this economic recovery is that wages and income for most Americans have remained flat. The GOP would like you to believe that this problem began on 1/20/09 but this is a long term trend that began during the Reagan Administration and has largely been caused by conservative economic policies. The forced break up of the unions, lax anti-trust enforcement, deregulation of big business and tax cuts for the wealthy have created this problem.
Nevertheless, there is now good news on the earnings front. According to Sentier Research - which measures income - household income has grown at the rate of 3-4 percent a year since 2014. This was a long time coming but the recovery really does seem to finally be showing up in higher earnings for many Americans.
The Republicans told us none of these positive developments would ever happen. Instead, John Boehner predicted that the ACA would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country. " Candidate Sasse made the silly prognostication in 2013 that the ACA would cause America to "cease to exist." Not to be outdone by Boehner and Sasse, right wing entertainer Rush Limbaugh predicted that the the U.S. economy would "collapse" if Obama was re-elected.
What's even more bizarre than these wildly inaccurate predictions from prominent Republicans is that the GOP's leading presidential political candidates are so divorced from reality that they believe this dystopian "Armageddon" they predicted is actually happening! For example, Jeb Bush recently said that: "The idea that somehow we're better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe." Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson contended that: "It's the evil government putting all these regulations on us so that we can't even survive." Marco Rubio - who was once declared by the media to be the "savior" of the GOP - who went so far as to say: "If we don't get this election right, there may be no turning back for America."
We must continue to build on President Obama's successes. The best - and the only - way to build on those successes is to elect a Democratic President in 2016. All of the GOP Presidential candidates have pledged to bring back the policies of George W. Bush that wrecked the economy and got the U.S. embroiled in two fruitless foreign wars. A Republican President would destroy all of President Obama's progress and hurt the American people. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than eight years ago?
Largely overlooked in the general relief when the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional in 2012, was the Court's holding that the Medicaid expansion wasn't mandatory for the states. Instead, the 50 state legislatures and Governors would have to actually adopt the Medicaid expansion through the legislative process. That was the price that Chief Justice John Roberts extracted for his necessary fifth vote which found most of the ACA to be constitutional. Since that ruling was handed down, 30 states - including several red states - have adopted the Medicaid expansion.
Unfortunately, Nebraska is one of the 20 hold out states. Despite three previous efforts to pass the Medicaid expansion through the Unicameral, a right wing Republican filibuster has blocked an up or down vote on the measure. Moreover, both Governors Heineman and Ricketts have voiced their opposition to the Medicaid expansion. This despite the fact that there has been a consistent majority in the Unicameral which supports this effort to insure 77,000 additional Nebraskans.
Despite these setbacks, the backers of the Medicaid expansion haven't given up. Senator Heath Mello has teamed up with two Republican State Senators to sponsor a bill that would create a private option for expanding Medicaid, similar to what has been done in some other red states. Under Mello's bi-partisan bill, Nebraska would use Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance for low income people instead of having them enroll in traditional Medicaid.
Adoption of the Medicaid expansion would bring into Nebraska over $2 billion in federal money over the next five years, insure approximately 77,000 additional Nebraskans and provide a vital lifeline for many rural hospitals.
What many people don't seem to realize is that the federal government would be paying the lion's share of the costs of the Medicaid expansion. As Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal Star wrote: "The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs through 2016; the federal share then would gradually begin to phase down to a 90 percent floor in 2020."
The proposed Medicaid expansion isn't some untested or novel idea. It has actually worked very well in the states where it has been adopted. For example, in Kentucky, the Medicaid expansion has injected more than $3 billion into the Blue Grass state's economy in the form of payments to Kentucky doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. The bottom line result for Kentucky has been higher tax revenues, improved job creation, and overall better economic activity, in the amount of approximately $1 billion net benefit through 2021.
Despite the proven benefits of the Medicaid expansion in 30 other states, Governor Ricketts and his band of right wing supporters in the legislature have opposed the Medicaid expansion on cost grounds. They are of the misguided belief that Nebraska can't afford the Medicaid expansion.
Apparently, the right wing opposition to the Medicaid expansion is based upon the belief that the federal government will renege on it's obligation to finance most of the costs. However, the bi-partisan bill being co-sponsored by Senator Mello has a trigger mechanism that would end the Medicaid expansion in the unlikely event the federal government broke it's promises. However, that is a remote prospect since the federal government has paid it's promised 60% share of the costs of traditional Medicaid since it's implementation in 1965.
What Governor Ricketts and his followers fail to recognize is that uncompensated medical care is already costing the state's residents and health care providers. All of us pay a hidden tax in higher health care costs and insurance premiums to cover the costs incurred by health care providers who provide uncompensated care to the uninsured. According to a study by two University of Nebraska at Kearney professors, "expanding Medicaid would reduce the amount of uncompensated care for Nebraska hospitals by $483 million by 2020."
What this is means is that refusing to adopt the Medicaid expansion won't save Nebraska citizens and health care providers any money. Instead, all of us would continue to pay for the cost of uncompensated care through what I would term the "Ricketts tax." Refusing to adopt the Medicaid expansion won't make the cost of uncompensated care go away. It will still be with us and we will all be paying the price.
When President Obama took office on January 20, 2009, the economy was in free fall largely due to a financial crisis caused by the greed and recklessness of the bankers on Wall Street. The bankers precipitated this crisis by investing heavily in bond funds consisting largely of subprime home loans. Once the housing bubble burst, it took down the entire economy with it.
By January 2009, the U.S. (and the world) were going through the most severe financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The U.S. economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month and GDP shrunk nearly 9% in the last quarter of 2008. This Wall Street engineered recession cost the United States nearly $13 trillion in household wealth. We also lost 5.5 million jobs and unemployment peaked at 10%.
President Obama's first act as President was to pass the Recovery Act of 2009 to stop the bleeding. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson played a big leadership role in the passage of this vital legislation. The Recovery Act consisted of infrastructure projects, record investments in renewable energy and the largest middle class tax cut in history.
The 2009 Recovery Act has been unfairly maligned by the GOP and the mainstream media. Unfortunately, President Obama and the Democrats in Washington allowed this stimulus bill to be deemed a failure even though it was very successful.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Act, the 2009 Recovery Act created or saved 1 to 3 million jobs. Furthermore, in a survey conducted by the University of Chicago, 80% of economists said that the Recovery Act was successful and that it ended the recession.
Here in Nebraska, the state's budget was balanced in 2009-2010 with stimulus funds. This injection of federal money into Nebraska prevented severe layoffs and program cuts that would have damaged an already ailing economy.
Once President Obama and the Democrats stabilized the economy with the Recovery Act, they took action to make sure another Wall Street induced economic crisis wouldn't bring down the economy again. In 2010, the Dodd Frank Act passed the Congress with the support of Ben Nelson. This was the toughest and most far reaching Wall Street reform legislation since the 1930s.
The Dodd Frank Act - like the Recovery Act - has been falsely labeled a failure by the GOP and the mainstream press. As it turned out - like the 2009 stimulus bill - the Wall Street reform bill has actually proven to be an unsung success.
The 2010 Wall Street reform law addresses the "too big to fail" problem by giving regulators the authority to subject the largest banks to extra regulation and to take control of the big banks if there is another financial crisis. This additional authority to actually seize control of the big banks makes another bailout very unlikely. The Dodd Frank law also requires Wall Street to keep more capital, thus reducing the prospect that excessive greed and speculation will lead to to bankruptcy.
This same banking act also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The idea for the CFPB originated with Elizabeth Warren and it has already substantially reduced abusive lending practices by the financial services industry. As Nobel Prize Winning Economist Paul Krugman said: "Better consumer protection means fewer bad loans, and therefore a reduced risk of financial crisis." Moreover, the CFPB has cracked down on billions in excessive overdraft fees and has secured over $10 billion in relief for consumers since it's inception in 2011.
Wall Street's hostility to the Dodd-Frank Act is proof that it is working. At the present time, Wall Street is spending millions of dollars in lobbying fees and campaign cash to either gut or completely repeal this needed reform of the Wall Street abuses that crashed the economy in 2008-09. If a Republican President were to be elected this year, one of his top priorities would be repealing Dodd-Frank and putting Wall Street back in charge of the economy.
The four Republican members of Nebraska's Congressional delegation are all on record in favor of the repeal of Dodd-Frank and deregulating the big banks again. Apparently, they have decided to prioritize the interests of Wall Street over Main Street here in Nebraska.
The future of Wall Street reform will be on the ballot this year. If a Democrat is elected President, Wall Street reform is here to stay and another financial crisis is very unlikely to happen. However, if the Republicans manage to regain control of the White House and the Congress again, Dodd-Frank will be repealed and it will only be a matter of time until Wall Street destroys the economy again. The history of the U.S. clearly demonstrates that if the big banks are deregulated, they will bring down the economy in an orgy of speculation and greed.
We Nebraska Democrats must make it clear that we are on the side of Main Street and the GOP is on the side of Wall Street. We must remind the voters that the last time the GOP held all of the levers of power in Washington, they allowed the big banks to destroy the economy and bring about the deepest recession since the 1930s. The GOP can only win this year if the voters forget about the failures of the Bush Administration. We must tell the voters we must not 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 since 2009.
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.
When the ACA passed in 2010, then GOP House leader John Boehner predicted the ACA would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country." In 2013, Ben Sasse made the absurd prediction that the implementation of the ACA would cause America to "cease to exist." It's pretty obvious that those apocalyptic predictions of doom and gloom turned out to be very wrong since the U.S. economy has created over 200,000 jobs per month for nearly three years.
Despite the obvious success of the ACA (or maybe because of it), the GOP has been promising for over six years to come up with a consensus GOP replacement plan and to hold an up or down vote on it. On June 17, 2009, then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) promised that: “I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill.” Subsequently, on October 27, 2009, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of Obama Care was just "weeks away."
Even though prominent Republicans made these bold promises, the GOP still didn't have an ACA replacement plan over four years later which prompted Cantor to make another promise on January 30, 2014: "This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obama Care and pass it on the floor of the House.”
Earlier this month, new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) once again promised to introduce the long over due replacement plan for Obama Care sometime in 2016. “There are many things to do, but most urgent is to repeal and replace ObamaCare,” Ryan said. “We think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of ObamaCare.”
What has been little noticed by Nebraska voters and the Nebraska press is that Jeff Fortenberry, Adrian Smith and Ben Sasse have actually proposed ACA replacement plans. These elected representatives have made little or no mention of their plans. Why is that?
Representatives Fortenberry and Smith are long time members of the Republican Study Committee - a group of ultra conservative GOP House members. Earlier this year, Fortenberry and Smith's group actually offered up an ACA replacement plan that would kick millions of people off their insurance policies and increase insurance costs for many Americans.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Fortenberry/Smith plan would would repeal all of ACA, end the tax break for employer-sponsored insurance, bring back pre-existing condition clauses and create a new tax deduction for health insurance.
These so-called "reforms" would add millions to the ranks of the uninsured. As a starting point, the 100% repeal of the ACA would immediately cancel 17 million insurance policies and bring back pre-existing condition clauses. That would cause serious chaos in both the health care system and the overall U.S. economy. It might even bring about another recession.
Fortenberry and Smith would then replace the ACA with a system that relied heavily upon the dysfunctional individual insurance market. The elimination of the tax break for employer sponsored insurance would result in millions of employers cancelling their policies and pushing their employees into the individual insurance market.
The cancellation of millions of employer based insurance policies must be seen in the context of the ending of pre-existing condition clauses and the shutting down of the ACA insurance marketplaces under the Fortenberry/Smith plan. This change would be disastrous for millions of Americans. Due to a lack of competition in many states like Nebraska, the prices for insurance policies in the individual market are much higher than those for employer based health care. Moreover, anywhere from 50 million to 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would have serious problems buying an insurance policy at any price.
The millions of Americans who would be involuntarily shoved into the individual insurance market place would be given a tax credit to assist them with the purchase of insurance. However, this tax break would probably only be of benefit to the healthy and the wealthy. Before the passage of the ACA, approximately 90% of the uninsured were below the poverty line and unlikely to pay any federal income taxes. What that would mean is that the Fortenberry/Smith tax break would be worthless to the vast majority of the uninsured.
Not only does Ben Sasse's plan contains many of the features of the Fortenberry/Smith plan, it also includes so-called medical malpractice or tort "reform." When he ran for the Senate last year, Sasse called for capping non-economic damages in malpractice lawsuits and implementing so-called “loser pays” rules to cut down on what he termed: “junk lawsuits and defensive medicine.”
The problem with Sasse's tort revision proposal is that it tramples on our 7th Amendment right to a jury trial and slams the courthouse door shut for millions of Americans. The Founding Fathers were of the belief that the 7th Amendment was sacred and fundamental. As Thomas Jefferson said: ""I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Alexander Hamilton echoed Jefferson: "The civil jury is a valuable safeguard to liberty."
Sasse could utterly destroy the 7th Amendment and it wouldn't save anybody any money or increase access to health care. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that all costs associated with medical malpractice total around 2% of all health care expenditures. Many of the states that have adopted the Sasse plan on medical malpractice don't have lower insurance or medical expenses than the states that didn't undermine our rights under the 7th Amendment. All medical malpractice "reform" has done is fatten the already healthy bottom line of the insurance industry.
The harsh reality of the Nebraska GOP's plans is that if they were to be enacted into law, millions of insured Americans would lose their coverage and those that managed to maintain their coverage would pay more for plans with skimpier benefits.
These plans offered by these Nebraska Republicans are similar to other ACA replacement plans that have been discussed by the GOP since 2009. This would explain why the GOP hasn't coalesced around a consensus plan and held the long promised up or down vote. The GOP doesn't want the American people to become familiar with what they actually stand for on health care.
What this means is that fate of health care reform depends heavily upon the election results in 2016. The GOP has promised for years to completely repeal the ACA and take away insurance coverage from millions of Americans. Just recently, the Senate passed - using the budget reconciliation rules - the total repeal of the ACA. (Both Fischer and Sasse voted for repeal.) This vote was a dress rehearsal for what would actually happen if the GOP were to regain power.
We Democrats must message the successes of the ACA and the deep flaws in the GOP replacement plans. It's not fair to the voters to allow the GOP to compare the ACA to some hypothetical ideal that doesn't exist. Instead, the voters must be asked to actually compare the ACA to what the GOP has to offer. I'm confident that if we can successfully make that contrast, we will have a good election cycle in 2016.
There has long been a paranoid and racial element to movement conservatism. We saw this disturbing trend begin with the Goldwater campaign in 1964 when he carried five states in the deep south based upon his opposition to the passage of the Civil Right Acts that year. This trend was further amplified by Nixon's "infamous Southern strategy" in which he made coded appeals to racial resentment with the use of terms like "states' rights" and "law and order."
Subsequent Republican Presidential campaigns continued to use Nixon's southern strategy to win votes. President Obama's most vitriolic and bitter enemies have pursued this strategy up to the present day. This is what the birther movement is all about. Even Mitt Romney used a page from this playbook as recently as 2012 when he briefly ran television ads falsely accusing President Obama of eliminating the work requirements in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.
What makes the Donald Trump phenomenon so disturbing is that he has completely dropped all artifice and has made blatant appeals to racial resentment and xenophobia. In his campaign, Trump has called Mexicans rapists, criminals and drug dealers. What's more, Trump has called for the forcible deportation from the U.S. of eleven million aspiring U.S. citizens.
Trump has been especially harsh with respect to Muslims. The GOP Presidential frontrunner has called for the registration of Muslims and the closing down of Mosques. The GOP front runner recently ignited a firestorm when he called for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
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.