The press - both national and local - is forever in search of the ever elusive moderate Republican. Many reporters are baby boomers (or older) and have fond memories of the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Many in the press are still hopeful that a new version of one of these moderate heroes can emerge from today's dysfunctional and radicalized Republican Party.
The great hope for the national press in the comical GOP Presidential cycle is Ohio Governor John Kasich. Unlike Pete Ricketts, Kasich actually relied upon empirical evidence - rather than blind ideology - and signed into law the Obama Care Medicaid expansion.
Not only did Kasich approve expanded health care for the poor, he is the only Republican who has taken responsibility for the disastrous Bush Presidency. As the Ohio Governor once said: "A Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president blew" in 2001 what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office at the time had projected as a $5.6 trillion surplus between 2002 and 2011. "Look, I've been saying for a long time - and not just here - when I saw $5 trillion being blown, I never thought it was possible."
Alas, notwithstanding his isolated acts of heresy discussed here, Kasich is no moderate. As Governor of Ohio, he signed into law a tax cut for the rich that was financed by a regressive sales tax increase and big cuts in school funding. As a Presidential candidate, Kasich - like all Republican Presidential hopefuls - supports a large, deficit financed tax cut that largely favors the wealthy.
Kasich is a standard, party line right wing Republican on issues in addition to taxes. During his tenure as Ohio Governor, Kasich signed into law a bill that took away the rights of many working people to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. (This anti-middle class law was subsequently repealed in a voter referendum.)
The alleged moderate Governor of Ohio took another shot at working families when he signed a bill that radically reduced early voting, decreased the availability of absentee ballots, and cut back on the minimum number of voting machines counties must have available - potentially causing the longer lines we saw at polling places that we saw in Arizona earlier this year. This voter suppression law is very similar to the one in Wisconsin that a former GOP staffer in the Badger State said was going to help Republicans win elections.
One of the reasons why the press has termed Kasich a "moderate" is because he simply much better behaved than Trump and Cruz. Unlike his rivals, Kasich isn't angry and he campaigns with a sunny disposition. That is unusual in Republican circles these days since many of them are - like Ben Sasse - expecting America to "cease to exist." However, one must judge Kasich by his actual policies rather than his personality.
Another Republican who has at times successfully passed himself as moderate due to a normal personality is current House Speaker Paul Ryan. Like Kasich, Ryan is well behaved and doesn't scream into microphones or hurl deeply personal insults at President Obama, other prominent Democrats, Hispanics and women. This calm and reassuring demeanor has fooled many in the national press to believe that Ryan is some kind of responsible leader who is serious about the governance of the U.S.
Like Kasich, Ryan must be judged by the content of the policies he has pursued as House Budget Committee Chairman and Speaker. Ryan's signature policy since 2011 has been his extreme and regressive budget proposal that has become the centerpiece of GOP economic policies.
The Ryan budget would end the Medicare guarantee to senior citizens and convert it into a voucher program. It would bring back pre-existing condition clauses and require senior citizens to purchase private health insurance policies. Needless to say, this would significantly increase the amount of out of pocket medical expenses paid by senior citizens. The Republicans in Congress have yet to explain to senior citizens how they could afford comprehensive health insurance with the return of pre-existing condition clauses.
This regressive budget plan would completely repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it. Total repeal of the ACA would cancel approximately 20 million insurance policies and double the uninsured rate in America.
Approximately 69% of the budget cuts in the Ryan budget come from programs for the poor. These cuts come in the following categories: Medicaid; health care; food assistance; college grants; school lunches, and the EITC;. At the same time this budget reduces the top income tax rate for individuals from 39.6% to 25% and also reduces the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.
One of Paul Ryan's most loyal supporters is Representative Jeff Fortenberry - who is widely (and falsely) considered to be a moderate Republican. Mr. Fortenberry has voted for the Ryan budget approximately five times, supported the 2013 government shutdown and voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security last year when terrorists were threatening to attack the Mall of America in Minneapolis.
Despite this extreme voting record, Fortenberry is considered by some to be a moderate because he is a nice guy and on rare occasions does buck the GOP Party line. (Fortenberry still votes with the GOP 90% of the time.) Shortly before the 2013 government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion and 100,000 jobs, the Lincoln Journal Star editorial page made the mistake of terming Fortenberry a "compassionate conservative" and found his alleged independence from the more extreme elements of the GOP to be "inspiring."
Republicans like Kasich, Ryan and Fortenberry must be judged by their actual policy proposals - not their personalities. The press must cease to act as theater critics and actually dig deep into their plans. I realize this is hard work but the American people deserve the truth. As prominent political scientist Norm Ornstein wrote: "The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
As Democrats we must get the message out that we are the moderate and responsible party that can be trusted to responsibly govern the country. This is because the stakes in 2016 couldn't be much higher. If we can elect a Democratic President, the country will continue to prosper and have a responsible national security policy. On the other hand, if the GOP were to win the election, the deficits would explode, the economy would crash and we would back to war in the Middle East. Failure is not an option. We must win and we will win!
Last month marked the sixth anniversary of the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA). The goal for this legislation was to insure more Americans and bend the cost curve in health care inflation. Thus far, this 2010 health care reform law has met many of it's goals despite bitter opposition and at times, outright sabotage from the GOP.
At the time the ACA was passed, the Republicans prognosticated disaster for the U.S. John Boehner predicted that the ACA would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country." The GOP House leader's apocalyptic prediction was a mainstream position within the GOP at the time the law passed. His statement was not some isolated incident.
Three years later, then candidate Ben Sasse predicted that the implementation of the ACA would cause "America to cease to exist." Some quibble over his statement and contend that what Sasse really meant was that the ACA would change America for the worse. However, Sasse said what he meant and meant what he said. Moreover, this kind of prediction of doom about the consequences of the ACA was shared by about every prominent Republican at the time.
As readers of this space know, Boehner and Sasse's predictions were simply ludicrous. Since the passage of the ACA, the economy has created more jobs every month. The U.S. has now had 73 consecutive months of job growth. The unemployment rate has been reduced from 10% to 5%. Just about all of the jobs created in this recovery have been full time jobs. The labor participation rate is currently at a two year high.
Most importantly, median family household income is finally rising after sixteen years of decline and stagnation. According to Sentier Research, median family household income is now higher than it was at the onset of the recession in 2007. “We have recaptured all of the income losses that have occurred since the beginning of the last recession in December 2007,” said Sentier’s Gordon Green, a former U.S. Census Bureau official. And incomes are now up 0.4% from where they stood in January 2000.
The Republicans didn't only make the general prediction that the ACA would cause an economic Depression - they also made a series of specific predictions about how the ACA would be a failure. Let's now take a trip down memory lane and review some of those GOP predictions:
- There would be death panels. Former Alaska Governor and right wing entertainer Sarah Palin alleged that her special needs son would be hauled in front of a so-called death panel and she would have to plead for medical care for her son.
- The ACA website will never work.
- Nobody will want to buy insurance from the exchanges.
- The ACA wouldn't meet it's enrollment goals.
- Only people who already have insurance will want to sign up.
- The ACA would cause a net loss of insurance.
- The Democrats would join the Republicans in repealing the ACA before the 2014 elections.
- Insurance premiums will "skyrocket."
- The private health insurance industry would be gone.
I think we can safely say that everyone of these specific predictions about the future of the ACA made by the Republicans were not just wrong but spectacularly wrong. The Republicans should be embarrassed.
There never were any death panels. It was named as the "Lie of the Year" in 2009 by the well respected and non-partisan Politifact.com fact checking site. In the unlikely event anybody is ever hauled in front of the alleged death panel described by Sarah Palin, I pledge I will represent that person for free.
Many of the other silly GOP predictions can be rebutted by simply pointing out that the ACA has insured 20 million additional Americans. The uninsured rate in the U.S. has been reduced from 18% to an all time low of 9%. The uninsured rate would be even lower if Nebraska and nineteen other Red states didn't foolishly reject the Medicaid expansion. What's more, approximately 129 million people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage or charged more as a result.
This dramatic reduction in the uninsured rate has been accomplished at a lower cost than was initially projected. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the ACA will cost 29% lower than expected. Moreover, the CBO has also projected that the ACA will reduce the deficit by $118 billion in 2025.
The ACA is also a factor in the encouraging trend of reduced health care spending. According to a study from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the growth in health care spending was 3.6% in 2013 — the lowest yearly increase since 1960.
The reduced growth in medical spending has also had the salutary effect of slowing the growth in health insurance premiums for consumers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums have grown at a much slower rate since the passage of the ACA: "Premiums increased more slowly over the past five years than the preceding five years (26 percent vs. 34 percent) and well below the annual double-digit increases recorded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "
Obamacare hasn't only saved the taxpayers and consumers money, it has also saved lives. In December 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that ACA programs to improve hospital safety had resulted in 50,000 fewer preventable deaths since 2010.
The Republicans' response to the successes of the ACA has been muted in the 2016 cycle. Instead, the GOP's Presidential candidates are focused on other issues such as immigration, the size of their "hands," and the candidates' wives. The current GOP primary fight is a freak show. What this should tell the voters is that expanding health care to more Americans simply isn't a priority for the GOP.
The reality is that the GOP's record on health care has been a disgrace over the last forty years. During the George W. Bush Administration, the GOP did nothing when 8 million Americans lost their health insurance policies. Since 2009, the GOP has promised over twenty times to introduce a consensus health care plan and hold an up or down vote on that GOP replacement plan. However, all the GOP members of Congress have done on health care is mindlessly vote to repeal Obamacare over fifty times.
The actions of the Republican Party since 2009 clearly indicate that their actual position is to repeal - but not replace - the ACA. The Republicans want to take away insurance from 20 million Americans and bring back the status quo that existed before 2010 when people could go broke if they got sick or injured.
As Democrats, we need to aggressively message the successes of the ACA. We're not only proud of the ACA - we standing willing, ready and able to improve the 2010 health care law We also need to let the voters know that if the GOP wins the election, millions of them will lose their health insurance and access to their doctors.
We can't count on the press to tell the voters about the improvements in the health care system since 2010 and the Republicans' ridiculous predictions of doom. It is entirely up to us Democrats to get that message out and win this election. As Harry Truman said in 1948: "I will win this election and make these Republicans like it—don't you forget that!"
Tragedy struck again last week when terrorists attacked Brussels in a series of bombings. Before the smoke even cleared, the Republicans turned this tragedy into a partisan food fight and blamed President Obama - not the terrorists - for the attacks. The air time on Fox News and AM radio was dominated by the likes of such has beens like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani who went to so far as to allege that President Obama is some kind of traitor. It's no wonder that the likes of such clownish figures as Trump and Cruz are dominating the GOP nomination race.
The remarks from Donald Trump shortly after the tragic attacks were every bit as ridiculous and intemperate as the ones from the disgraced former House Speaker and former Mayor of New York City. The GOP front runner said that he would be open to using nuclear weapons against ISIS and would bring back the Bush Administration's illegal and ineffectual torture policies. Trump further displayed his ignorance of national security policy when he said NATO was "obsolete" and U.S. involvement with that organization should be significantly reduced.
GOP Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz's response to the Brussels attacks was every bit as ignorant and inflammatory as those from the former reality TV show star. Cruz said we should patrol and secure so-called "Muslim neighborhoods." The junior Texas Senator's proposal is unconstitutional and would alienate moderate Muslims around the world who support the international coalition's effort to defeat ISIS.
Trump and Cruz's ludicrous response to the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium have the unfortunate and unintended effect of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance, a veteran of Navy intelligence, blasted Trump for doing the propaganda work of ISIS: "Good God, they're probably cutting videos of this right now. Donald Trump right now is validating the cartoonish view that they tell their operatives…that America is a racist nation, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and that that's why you must carry out terrorist attacks against them…It's irresponsible and it needs to stop."
In sharp contrast to the remarks by the leading GOP contenders, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders were the adults in the room following the Brussels attacks. Senator Sanders rejected the GOP's call for "perpetual war" and maintained that we need "to put together a very effective coalition of Muslim nations who lead the effort on the ground, supported by the United States, the U.K., France, and other major powers in the air and through training." Sanders correctly pointed out that Qatar is currently spending $200 billion to put on the 2020 World Cup and requested that Qatar and other nations in the Persian Gulf spend more money to combat the threat from ISIS.
Hillary Clinton's remarks on terrorism were as equally realistic and measured as those from the Vermont Senator. Clinton called for an "intelligence surge" and indicated that she would build on the policies already put in place by President Obama. In a foreign policy speech at Stanford University Clinton stated: “It would be a serious mistake to stumble into another costly ground war in the Middle East. If we’ve learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan it’s that people and nations have to secure their own communities.”
The next President would be wise to maintain and accelerate President Obama's strategy to defeat ISIS. Just last week, a U.S. airstrike took out the number two official in ISIS who was in charge of that organization's finances. Experts described this development as a "hefty body blow" to the Islamic State. According to the Washington Post, during the Obama Administration, U.S. armed forces have taken out over 30,000 terrorists. Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Magazine has labeled President Obama as "the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency."
Not only is the Islamic State's leadership structure under heavy strain, ISIS has also lost 40% of the territory it controlled at the peak of it's power in 2014. The Washington Post has reported: "Front-line commanders no longer speak of a scarily formidable foe but of Islamic State defenses that crumble within days and fighters who flee at the first sign they are under attack." In addition to those losses on the ground, ISIS has reduced it's fighters' salaries by 50% and cut back on other perks for its soldiers.
President Obama has put in place a strategy that is slowly but surely rolling back ISIS. The 2016 election will decide whether or not we continue that winning strategy or go back to the failed policies of George W. Bush. GOP front runner Donald Trump has called for U.S. troops to conquer and hold ISIS oil fields in Syria and Iraq. If the GOP wins this election, the U.S. will once again be involved in another major ground war in the Middle East.
The Democratic Party is the party of national security. Our Presidential candidates will avoid reckless foreign wars and keep the U.S. safe. Despite the failure of the Bush Presidency, the mainstream media still pushes the false conventional wisdom that the GOP is the party of national security. We need to get out the message that the GOP will unwittingly help ISIS and send our young men and women back into combat in the Middle East. We need to get our message out and elect more Democrats in 2016. I know we can do it!
As I've written here on previous occasions, the Republicans have been making predictions since 1993 that the policies of Democratic Presidents will cause recessions and even destroy the country. In 1993, every prominent Republican boldly prognosticated that President Clinton's deficit reduction bill would cause a recession. Beginning shortly after his inauguration, the Republicans upped the ante and predicted that President Obama's policies would not just cause a recession - they would ruin the country.
The GOP predictions of doom reached their apex in the multi-year debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Approximately six years ago, John Boehner contended that the ACA would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin the country." In 2013, Ben Sasse foolishly maintained that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist. "
State Party Chair Vince Powers and I have attempted on numerous occasions to get the press to pay attention to these ludicrous predictions and hold the GOP accountable. We aren't just trolling the GOP when we try to hold them to account. These repeated predictions of doom and gloom from the GOP are actually very significant.
The apocalyptic predictions of disaster from the likes of prominent Republicans like Boehner and Sasse matter because many Republicans genuinely believe that America is doomed. That feeling of deep pessimism on the right means that the GOP is 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.
Many Republicans don't only believe that America isn't great anymore, they also believe that President Obama and the Democrats are trying to deliberately wreck the country. For example, GOP establishment darling Marco Rubio stated during his recent ill fated Presidential campaign that: "Obama had deliberately weakened America." After the junior Florida Senator made those remarks, his spokesman was asked by a reporter if President Obama was intentionally trying to destroy the country. Rubio's spokesman answered: "Absolutely."
In a recent speech, President Obama brilliantly distilled the current attitude of paranoia and pessimism that pervades the Republican Party: "That the other side isn’t simply wrong, or we just disagree, we want to take a different approach, but the other side is destroying the country, or treasonous. I mean, that’s – look it up. That’s what they’ve been saying....I mean, conservative outlets have been feeding their base constantly the notion that everything is a disaster, that everybody else is to blame, that Obamacare is destroying the country. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. It’s not, ‘We disagree with this program,’ ‘We think we can do it better,’ it’s, ‘Oh, this is a crisis!’
What many people don't seem to know or understand is that this kind of doom and gloom discourse is a regular feature on Fox News and AM radio. For example, right wing entertainer and college drop out Rush Limbaugh has alleged that President Obama is "purposely destroying the economy." Millions of Americans - probably around 30% to 35% of the voters - imbibe this toxic message on a daily basis and are heavily influenced by it.
Rank and file Republicans aren't the only ones that have been swayed by this allegation that President Obama is allegedly a traitor. Most GOP officeholders and candidates are equally swayed by this divisive and hateful message. That tells us why the GOP has adopted it's strategy of all out obstruction during significant portions of both the Clinton and Obama Administrations.
This sense among the GOP that America is doomed and Obama is intentionally destroying the country has had a major impact on how the GOP governs. In 2011, the GOP threatened to stiff American's creditors unless President Obama cut Social Security and Medicare. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, this hostage crisis concocted by the GOP cost the economy 1.4 million jobs and caused a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating for the first time in our history.
The GOP resorted to sabotage again in October 2013 when they shutdown the government shortly before the ACA was implemented. Like the 2011 default threat, the 2013 shutdown hurt the American people. This ridiculous shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.
The GOP's pattern of scorched earth obstruction continues to the present time. As we all know, the GOP is refusing to allow an up or down vote on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many Republican Senators won't even meet with Judge Garland! This is absolutely outrageous since Judge Garland is highly qualified to serve on the nation's highest court. During the Clinton Administration while serving in the Justice Department, Garland over saw the successful prosecutions of the "unabomber" and the terrorists who attacked Oklahoma City in 1995. Beginning in 1997, Garland has served with distinction on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The U.S. is fairly exceptional among first world developed countries in that we have a Presidential system. Most other advanced countries have parliamentary systems where the same party controls both the executive and legislative branches. The U.S. system requires a certain degree of cooperation between the two parties in order for the country to be properly governed. Due to the GOP's current extremism, it's hard for the Congress to even pass a budget anymore - let alone address the serious problems facing the country.
Due to their deep pessimism and paranoia, the GOP has abandoned the former governing norms that allowed the wheels of government to turn. Before the Obama Administration, refusing to raise the debt ceiling or rejecting a well qualified Supreme Court nominee without even a hearing was simply unheard of. The GOP has justified this nihilism due to their deeply pessimistic attitude about the future of the country and their belief that Democrats are traitors. This misguided belief system has caused the GOP to determine that literally anything goes when it comes to opposing a Democratic President. That's why the GOP's predictions of Armageddon matter.
The country will be at a crossroads in the 2016. Will we return a party to power that is completely dysfunctional and whose platform would bring back the failed policies of George W. Bush? Or will the voters elect a party that has successfully turned around the economy and insured over 20 million Americans? I'm confident that the Democratic Party will have a successful election cycle in 2016. Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted. Let's get to work!
A few months ago I wrote a piece which correctly pointed out that no prominent Nebraska Republicans were willing to denounce or otherwise stand up to Donald Trump's racism and xenophobia. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that it was just a matter of time until Donald Trump imploded and he dropped out of the race.
As it has turned out, Trump has won twelve primaries and is the runaway GOP front runner for the Presidency. Only Ted Cruz stands between Trump and the GOP nomination. What we have on the GOP side this year is the spectacle of the most disliked man in America competing for the nomination against the most hated member of Congress.
The GOP establishment has become deeply alarmed at this state of affairs in their party. Since Trump has emerged as the odds on favorite to win the nomination, the GOP establishment has begun to spend millions of dollars in negative ads attacking the reality show star. Moreover, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney gave a speech denouncing Trump as a "phony" and a "fraud." (What Romney didn't mention was that in 2012, he was delighted to have Trump's endorsement.)
This growing sense of panic among the establishment GOP has recently found it's way to Nebraska. Freshman Senator Ben Sasse was one of the first Republican members of Congress to declare that he won't support Trump if he is the GOP nominee this fall. Sasse criticized Trump for not being a true conservative and for playing "race baiting games." Sasse went so far as to say that he would potentially support a third party candidate if Trump should win the GOP nomination.
In response to Sasse's threat to walk away from the GOP in the general election, an online group emerged aiming to draft Nebraska's junior Senator to make the third party bid against Trump. Sasse quickly stated he had no intention of running for President this year. However, Sasse has campaigned for other GOP Presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this year. There is speculation that Sasse may be setting himself up to run for President in 2020.
Sasse was joined in his opposition to Trump by former Governor Kay Orr. In an op-ed piece, Orr correctly pointed out that: "Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted about his infidelity. He has repeatedly disparaged numerous Americans for their looks, and he recently mocked a journalist with a disability. This vile behavior is unbecoming of any president — regardless of party affiliation." Orr went on to contend that Trump isn't a real conservative and that he lacks the requisite character to serve as President.
Orr's decision to ditch Trump is a big deal for Nebraska Republicans. The former Governor is highly respected in the Nebraska GOP and is revered as an elder stateswoman. In 2014, Orr hit the trifecta in the GOP primary cycle when she endorsed Ben Sasse, Pete Ricketts and Doug Peterson.
I fully expect other Republicans both in Nebraska and outside of our state to dump Trump if he should be the nominee. The prominent Republicans who are refusing to support Trump aren't acting out of any sense of principle. Instead, they can see that Trump isn't electable and has the potential to cost the GOP the White House and the U.S. Senate. If Trump was leading Clinton and Sanders in the polls, Republicans would swallow their doubts about him and support him full stop.
This deep split in the GOP portends well for our eventual Presidential nominee. Parties that have deep divisions rarely win Presidential general elections. This current cycle reminds me of 1964 when Barry Goldwater was routed by LBJ. In 1964, Goldwater ran as an extremist and lost the support of many prominent moderate Republicans like then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
I'm feeling increasingly confident that the Democratic Party will have a successful cycle both here in Nebraska and nationally. Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted. The prospect of a Trump Presidency and a GOP controlled Congress is frightening. Despite Trump's differences on some issues with many in his party, he still supports a huge deficit financed tax cut for the wealthy and sending U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria. We must do everything in our power to elect a Democrat the 45th President of the U.S.
I want to use this space to thank everybody who participated in our recent Presidential caucuses. It was a huge success. Both Clinton and Sanders had paid staff in Nebraska for the last several weeks. We also received campaign stops from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. It is a great time to be a Nebraska Democrat!
Over the last twenty five years, prominent Republicans have gotten into the habit of making predictions that turn out to be wildly erroneous and well off the mark. If the Oval Office is occupied by a Democrat, the GOP predicts that President's policies will ruin the country. On the other hand, if a Republican is President, everything will turn out to be sunshine and roses without any costs to anybody, ever.
I wrote a piece on June 25, 2013 titled: "The GOP And Their Cracked Crystal Ball" which covered the Republicans' erroneous predictions during the Clinton and Bush43 Administrations. There were a lot of them. You can find it here: http://www.nebraskademocrats.org/GOPsCrackedCrystalBall.
I'm writing this piece to update that previous piece and to let our readers know that the habit of the GOP of making ludicrous doom and gloom predictions about a Democratic Presidents' policies has carried over to the Obama Administration.
At the time he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, President Obama inherited the worst economic situation since Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933. The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month, GDP had shrunk nearly 9% in the last quarter of 2008, and the Dow Jones had slumped to around 6,500. The U.S. domestic automobile industry was also on the verge of collapse when George W. Bush left office.
President Obama made the rescue of the U.S. economy his top priority when he took office. He proposed and passed the 2009 Recovery Act which created or saved 1 to 3 million jobs. It is the consensus of U.S. economists that the Recovery Act ended the deepest recession since the 1930s and ignited the current recovery which continues to this day.
The Obama Administration's rescue of the U.S. automobile industry was every bit as important as the Recovery Act. At the time President Obama proposed to save the auto industry, every Republican predicted it would be a failure. Then House GOP leader John Boehner prognosticated: “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?” Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) contended that: "When government gets involved in a company, the disaster that follows is predictable.” Not to be outdone in the ridiculous prediction department, Mitt Romney said we should: "Let Detroit go bankrupt" and we could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye if the administration’s policy was implemented."
Once again, the Republican predictions of doom and gloom proved to be wrong. President Obama's rescue of the auto industry has been a huge success. The U.S. auto industry has been returned to profitability and experienced record breaking sales of cars by 2015. If President Obama and the American people had listened to the likes of Boehner and Romney in 2009, we wouldn't have an auto industry and there would be Depression levels of unemployment in states like Michigan and Ohio.
In 2009, the Republicans weren't only wrong about the auto industry, they were equally wrong about the stock market. In a now infamous editorial in the Washington Post on March 6, 2009, former George W. Bush economic adviser Michael Boskin argued that Obama's alleged "radicalism" was "killing the Dow" and that Obama's policies would cause a further stock market decline. Only three days later, the Dow hit bottom and began to rise again. By May 2015, the Dow reached an all time high of around 18,300. Currently, the Dow is at 16,640. It has been one of the greatest stock market rallies in U.S. history.
The Republican pattern of apocalyptic predictions during Obama's first term probably reached it's peak during the Obama Care debate. As we've discussed here before, John Boehner predicted that the health care law would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin the country." Then candidate Ben Sasse fearlessly predicted in 2013 that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cause America to "cease to exist."
As we should all know by now, those predictions of disaster for the ACA made by the Republicans couldn't have been more wrong. Since the implementation of the ACA, 17 million Americans have been insured for the first time. The uninsured rate has dropped from 18% to an all time low of 9%. The economy has created jobs every month since the passage of the ACA in March 2010.
During the 2012 election cycle, the Republicans once again made the mistake of getting into the prediction business. Former House Speaker Newt Ginrich predicted that if President Obama were re-elected, gas prices would rise all the way to $10 per gallon. GOP nominee Mitt Romney prognosticated that unemployment would remain stuck above 8%. Current GOP Presidential front runner Donald Trump maintained that there would be a stock market crash and right wing entertainer Rush Limbaugh promised a general economic collapse if there was an Obama second term.
The voters ignored those ridiculous GOP predictions about an Obama second term and the President was re-elected by a comfortable margin. Shortly after his re-election, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were scheduled to expire. Once again, just as in 1993, there was a raging debate about whether raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt the economy.
As usual, the GOP made their usual ridiculous predictions that raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt the economy. For example, then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor predicted that the repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would result in the loss of over 700,000 jobs. Closer to home, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss prognosticated that the elimination of these tax breaks for the wealthy would "adversely affect small-business owners, who, as a result, might hire fewer workers or lay off current employees." Goss further contended that the wealthy would "respond by investing less in their enterprises. That means fewer jobs and spreads the misery to everyone."
As we've seen going back to 1993, these Republican predictions of doom and gloom about the consequences of Obama's re-election and raising taxes on the wealthy couldn't have been more silly. Gasoline is now less than $2 per gallon over the U.S., unemployment has been cut in half to 4.9%, the Dow is now above 16,000 and the economy has creating over 200,000 jobs per month over the last three years. It is the best economic performance since Bill Clinton's second term.
It never ceases to amaze me that the press has never called the Republicans out on all of these ridiculous predictions of doom and gloom. As Democrats, we need to remind the press and the voters that the GOP is invariably wrong. The GOP is wrong because their policies simply don't work and the Republicans' belief in their policies is based entirely upon ideology. Recent, historical experience clearly proves that trickle down economics and pre-emptive ground wars in the Middle East inevitably fail.
In 2016, the GOP is running on these same tired and failed policies. They must be defeated or otherwise the country will be in serious trouble. Let's hope the Republicans predict a landslide for their candidate this fall! In any event, as Democrats we can't take anything for granted. We must work hard to inform the voters and elect more Democrats. I'm confident we will have a successful election cycle in 2016. Now let's get it done!
The national race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders remains very competitive. Thus far, Clinton has narrowly won contests in Iowa and Nevada, and Sanders won by a wide margin in New Hampshire. I don't buy into the conventional wisdom that after Clinton's victory in Nevada that it's all over but the shouting. Sanders has millions of dedicated supporters and he has been very successful in raising more than enough money to be competitive. I anticipate this race will continue for longer than the conventional wisdom currently anticipates.
What that means is that the Nebraska caucuses on March 5 - like the inaugural 2008 caucuses - will have a significant impact on the overall direction of the race. Already, both campaigns have had paid staff in Nebraska for the last few months. Moreover, after the completion of the Iowa caucuses on February 1, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns reinforced the paid staffers that were already in Nebraska. Both campaigns have opened offices in our state and their respective organizers are working hard to turn out the vote on March 5.
The current front runner and favorite to win both the nomination and the Presidency is Hillary Clinton. She brings to the table a wealth of experience and a whole host of accomplishments as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. Clinton has one of the most impressive resumes of any Presidential contender in American history.
As First Lady for Bill Clinton, she played an instrumental role in the passage of SCHIP legislation which provided health insurance to 6 million children. When Clinton served as Secretary of State during President Obama's first term, she led the way in establishing the tough international sanctions against Iran that led to the recently signed nuclear agreement which will for the first time ever place limits on that country's nuclear program. Moreover, Clinton rebuilt America's relations with our allies around the world after they were torn asunder during the Bush Presidency.
At the present time, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has posed a spirited and viable challenge to Clinton's front runner status. Sanders' populist message confronting the political and economic power of the top 1% has resonated with Democratic voters and attracted huge crowds to his rallies. I would recommend to anybody who has a social media account to follow Senator Sanders. On a daily basis, Sanders comes out with a powerful message regarding the trend of growing inequality in the U.S. That message has allowed him to decisively defeat Clinton in New Hampshire and to come very close in Iowa and Nevada.
While our party has two excellent candidates, the GOP field is made up of a motley crew that resembles the cast of characters from the iconic bar room scene in the first Star Wars movie that came out in 1977. The surprise front runner in the GOP field is businessman and reality TV show host Donald Trump. The New York billionaire has had a checkered business career in which he has filed for bankruptcy at least four times. On the campaign trail, Trump's demagoguery has set a new low in modern U.S. politics. He has called Hispanics "rapists," said he would consider requiring Muslims in the U.S. to register in a database and would ban all Muslim travel to the U.S.
Trump represents what is currently wrong with the Republican Party. The GOP has gone off the rails since the advent of the right wing media and the failure of the George W. Bush Administration. Many of it's supporters are angry and have been radicalized by Fox News and AM radio. The key to understanding Trump's appeal is that he sounds like a host on Fox or AM radio. He is an obnoxious and opinionated individual with a penchant for name calling. The GOP base has marinated in that kind of nonsense and hatred for the last quarter century.
Trump's two major competitors - Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio - aren't any better than the GOP front runner. Cruz is a one term Senator with no accomplishments and is hated by just about everybody in Washington, D.C. Moreover, Cruz has proposed a 19% national sales tax that would partially finance a big tax cut for the wealthy. Even with the new revenues from the regressive sales tax, Cruz's tax plan would add nearly $4 trillion to the national debt.
Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is the other viable Republican Presidential contender. Rubio is a callow young man with no accomplishments in public life who also has a history of personal financial problems and ethical issues. In 2014, Rubio cashed out a 401K to purchase a speed boat and pay off some personal expenses. While Rubio served in the Florida legislature, he put thousands of dollars of personal expenses on a Florida GOP Party credit card. Like Cruz, Rubio's tax proposal would borrow trillions of dollars to provide the wealthy with a big tax cut.
To put it bluntly, the Republican field of Presidential candidates is dangerous. If a Republican President is elected along with a GOP majority Congress, the country will be in serious trouble. Any one of these Republican candidates - if elected President - would blow up the deficit with huge tax cuts for the wealthy and send U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria. What that means is that we must elect a Democratic President in 2016. Whether the nominee is Clinton or Sanders, we Democrats must unite behind our nominee and work to hard to send them to the White House.
A good start to electing a Democratic President in 2016 would be participate in the Nebraska caucuses on March 5. Any person who is eligible to vote in the State of Nebraska and will be at least 18 years old on Election Day, November 8, 2016, may participate in the Nebraska Caucuses on March 5, 2016. You must be registered as a Democrat or register at the Caucus as a Democrat.
The Nebraska Democratic Presidential caucus will take place on March 5 between 10 AM CST, 9 AM MST and 8 PM CST, 7 PM MST. Each county will set the time and place of their County Caucus. You can find the time and location of your caucus site at this link: http://nebraskacaucus2016.org/
If you can't attend the caucus in person, you can submit an absentee ballot by mail. (Nebraska is the only caucus state with an absentee ballot procedure.) This Wednesday, February 24th, is the deadline to submit a request to caucus by absentee ballot to the Nebraska Democratic Party. All requests must be delivered to the Nebraska Democratic Party office in Lincoln by close of business, 5:00PM on February 24th.
We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party are committed to providing all participants with a rewarding experience. We want to have a civil, open and transparent process. We promise an accurate and speedy counting of the votes. If you should have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our office in Lincoln or any of our party officers. We hope to see you on March 5!
The unexpected death of long time Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has shocked the political and legal world. All who knew Justice Scalia - notwithstanding their differences of opinion on legal and political issues - said he was a good man and good friend. Liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg was counted among Scalia's closest friends. Dave Domina expressed those sentiments towards Scalia very well in a tweet: "Sincere condolences to family of Justice Scalia. May fond memories replace the grief of loss."
While Scalia was a good family man and friend, he did leave behind a controversial and complex legacy at the Supreme Court. Scalia was one of the leaders of the conservative bloc that has tilted the legal and political playing field in favor of the wealthy and the GOP over the last few years.
It was Scalia who was one of the five votes in favor of the stay in the Bush v. Gore case that stopped the recount in Florida and handed the Presidency to George W. Bush. In his opinion justifying the stay, Scalia made it clear that the five Republican appointees were going to find for Bush when he wrote: "The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner Bush, and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election. "
After Roberts and Alito were appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005, Scalia was a loyal ally of the other four GOP appointees who voted to gut the Voting Rights Act and to find that money is speech under the First Amendment in the infamous Citizens United case. Scalia was also the author of the Supreme Court's holding in 2008 that overturned decades of settled law and found that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a gun for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
Within hours of Scalia's death, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell laid down the gauntlet and said that the vacancy should not be filled until a new President is elected. Shortly thereafter, President Obama took the podium and announced that he would fulfill his Constitutional duties as President and would nominate a successor "in due time."
McConnell's apparent refusal to even consider a Supreme Court nominee is unprecedented and in direct contradiction of what he stood for during the Bush Administration. On May 19, 2005, the Kentucky Senator said: "The Constitution of the United States is at stake. Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges. The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent. But my Democratic colleagues want to change the rules. They want to reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation. In effect, they would take away the power to nominate from the President and grant it to a minority of 41 Senators... The Republican conference intends to restore the principle that, regardless of party, any President's judicial nominees, after full debate, deserve a simple up-or-down vote."
The Senate Republican leader's rejection of the the Senate's Constitutional duties isn't only hypocritical - it also runs contrary to modern history. There is ample historical precedent to support the notion that the Senate should consider and even confirm a Supreme Court nomination during an election year. In 1956, a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate confirmed Dwight Eisenhower's nomination of William Brennan. Both Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist were confirmed by a Democratic led Senate in the 1972 election cycle. In 1988, a Democratic controlled Senate confirmed Reagan's choice of Anthony Kennedy with the support of McConnell.
The only exception to this precedent in the modern era was in 1968 when a Republican and Dixiecrat filibuster blocked LBJ's nomination of Abe Fortas as Chief Justice. The obstruction worked out for the conservatives because Nixon won the election and a Democratic led U.S. Senate confirmed Warren Burger as Chief Justice in 1969.
Two other modern precedents also provide more evidence that McConnell is engaging in raw partisanship in refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nominee. In 1991, despite the controversy surrounding Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment, a Democratic majority Senate confirmed the nomination of Clarence Thomas by a 52-48 vote. In 2005, Samuel Alito's nomination was confirmed by a 58-42 margin. In both cases, these Republican nominees were granted an up or down vote. If the Democrats had filibustered, Thomas and Alito wouldn't have been confirmed.
Mitch McConnell wasn't the only Republican Senator who is currently serving that guaranteed an up or down vote to all judicial nominees, regardless of the party affiliation of the President making the nomination. Anybody with a simple google search can find numerous quotes from GOP Senators similar in nature to McConnell's statement of May 19, 2005.
It is obvious that the Republicans have a double standard when it comes to judicial nominees. Republican nominees get an up or down vote but the GOP seems to find "exceptions" with no historical precedent to deny an up or down vote to a qualified Democratic nominee. As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman said in 2013: "The lesson here is never to take right-wing huffiness about the process of politics and political debate seriously. These guys don’t actually believe in any rules at all; whatever rule they may lay down in one case, they’ll break in an instant if they think they see an advantage."
This unexpected opening certainly raises the stakes immeasurably in this election cycle. Not only will control of the White House and the U.S. Senate be up for grabs, but control of the Supreme Court will be on the ballot. Since 2005, a five man "conservative" majority has tossed aside long standing and venerable precedents in an attempt to increase the power and influence of the wealthy and the Republican Party. It has been the first activist "conservative" majority since five justices on the Supreme Court invalidated most of FDR's New Deal between 1933 and 1936.
A Republican victory in the 2016 elections would give them control of the Supreme Court for a generation or more. We could see the return of the jurisprudence of the late 1800s and early 1900s that threw out child labor laws, minimum wage laws and maximum hour laws. A radical right wing majority would weaken the power of the federal government to protect the middle class and the poor.
I am growing increasingly confident that the Democratic nominee will win the Presidential election this year. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in Sanders' words: "On our worst days ... we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate." Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted. The super wealthy and the large corporations will spend whatever it takes to regain power and to increase their grip on the economy. We have no choice but to leave it all on the field this year. Now let's get it done!
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!