uneasy times

I thought that I had mentally prepared myself for DT’s presidency, thinking that Congress would step up and cooperate to create sound legislation to keep us on a reasonable track.

I was, of course, totally wrong.

As of today, the United States government is in partial shutdown for a record 27 days and counting. 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay, including the Coast Guard, air traffic controllers, and food inspectors. There are also one million contractors who work at government facilities who are not working and who, unlike federal workers, will not get back pay when the shutdown ends. Besides the workers and their families, there are also other businesses that rely on government work/ers as their customers, and are experiencing big drops in revenue as a result of the shutdown.

One of the frustrating things is that this shutdown should not have happened in the first place. After a prior (brief) shutdown, the last Congress had agreed on spending levels for all departments for 2018-2019. Some of the appropriations bills were passed by both houses of Congress; these departments are not affected by the shutdown. The remaining bills followed the previously agreed upon funding levels, but were not voted on in time to go into effect before the shutdown began. Although the House in the new Congress has now passed the same appropriations bills that the Senate in the prior session had previously passed, Republican Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell will not hold new votes on these bills to re-open the government because the president doesn’t approve, citing lack of $5 billion for a wall on part of the southern border.

It is, however, Congress’s Constitutional duty to control government spending. Therefore, I think that the Senate should pass these bills so the government can re-open – and because it is their duty to fund the government. Then, the ball will be in DT’s court. He can sign the bills and everyone can get back to their jobs serving the public. He can veto the bills, which would return them to Congress for a vote to over-ride, which might be possible as the pressure builds on Republican members of Congress to restore government services. The third option is that the president refuses to sign the bills without vetoing them, which would mean that they take effect in ten days.

The government needs to be about its business of serving the people. The human toll is already mounting and will continue to mount if government is not fully open soon. Many current government workers may be forced to take other jobs to support themselves and their families, which would be crippling to the functions of the affected departments when they do re-open.

Of course, this is not happening in a vacuum. Over the past couple of weeks, in court filings, testimony, interviews, and investigative reporting, there have been ever more alarming stories about the administration’s relationship with Russia and with NATO and sad and disturbing stories from the Middle East. It seems that the White House is overwhelmed with its responsibilities and incapable of dealing effectively with either domestic or foreign affairs.

The United States government has weathered a lot of storms. I’m hoping and praying we come through this one, too.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/17/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-17th/
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Not a beautiful Christmas present

On Tuesday, several members of clergy from different faith traditions held a noon-time prayer service, asking for Congress to seek justice in our tax code.

Then, we marched to the office of Claudia Tenney, who represents our district in the House of Representatives. Unlike some of the other Republican New York Congressmembers, she had voted for the House version of tax cuts, despite her opposition to cutting the deduction for state and local taxes. While the conference version of the bill restored partial deductibility for these taxes, it is problematic in many other ways as well, such as the repeal of the individual mandate for health insurance. All the bills have failed in terms of social justice, because most of the benefits go to the richest people and to corporations, which are getting permanent tax cuts while individuals are only getting temporary ones – and some people will actually have higher taxes even in the early years under this bills.

Hours after, Tenney voted for the bill, which passed the House, except that the bill had been rushed so much it didn’t conform to Senate rules, so the Senate passed it late Tuesday night and then the House had to vote again on Wednesday.

DT has described the bill as a “big beautiful Christmas present” for the American people, but, for many of us, it is not. The federal government, already in debt and deficit, will have less revenue coming in and Speaker Ryan is already talking about cuts to core safety net programs, which will most highly impact those at lower socioeconomic levels, children, and seniors.

The gifts of Christmas are supposed to be peace, joy, and good will to all.

A tax cut bill that is designed as a gift to big corporate and individual donors to politicians and their campaigns is not in accord with the true spirit of Christmas.

US Healthcare Update

Overnight, the Senate defeated the Affordable Care Act repeal bills. It wasn’t pretty, with 49 Senators willing to take health insurance away from millions of Americans, but 51 Senators stood up for us.

Now, we need Congressmembers from across the spectrum to engage with each other to craft legislation that improves and expands the Affordable Care Act so that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care. There are already some bill drafts that do that available as a starting point.

Let’s go.

Plan C? Seriously?

Last night, more Republican Senators made it clear that they would not vote to open debate on the latest version of the health care bill.

Within a couple of hours, Majority Leader McConnell announced that he would bring up a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but delay its taking effect for two years, during which time the Congress would need to pass a replacement plan for the president to sign.

This is a bad idea.

The last time the Congress tried something similar was during a budget impasse. They put in place a sequester program that capped budget allocations for both discretionary and defense spending. The theory was that both parties would want to cooperate so they could allocate more money for their budget priorities. The reality was that no agreement was reached and there were some years that Congress didn’t even pass its appropriations bills, but used a series of continuing resolutions to fund the various departments.

This does not give high confidence that Congress would pass a replacement bill before the deadline.

Insurance companies and health care facilities are upset because this would create so much uncertainty for them.

The general public is concerned because the repeal is expected to immediately raise premiums and reduce the number of people who can afford insurance.

There are senators across the political spectrum calling for a new process to begin, involving input from all senators, along with public health professionals and the public, to craft health care reforms that will increase the availability and affordability of health care.

I hope that Senator McConnell will choose to engage in this more cooperative process which is in line with the way the Senate has traditionally operated.

Open letter to Congressional Republicans

Dear Republican Members of Congress,

During the Independence Day recess, please reflect on the the Preamble to the Constitution.

How well do you think you are carrying out the tasks that “We the People” have set before you?

You are in Congress to represent all of us, from my newborn granddaughter to the 108-year-old neighbor of my parents.

You do not just represent other Republicans.

Or people who voted for you.

Or your party apparatus.

Or your political donors.

“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Other than the common defense, these goals are mired in either inaction or regression.

Exhibit A is your attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act which would increase the number of uninsured, decrease coverage, raise premiums and deductibles dramatically for older adults, force small rural hospitals and hospitals and nursing homes that treat large numbers of lower income folks into bankruptcy, and squeeze spending on Medicaid which pays for health care for those living in poverty, people with disabling conditions, and long-term care for the elderly and ill.

It does not “promote the general Welfare.”

It is opposed by a large majority of “We the People of the United States” whom you are supposed to be representing.

Even worse, you are trying to pass it under budgetary rules, making spending cuts that will hurt millions of Americans in order to give a large tax break to the wealthiest taxpayers. And, by the way, precluding the possibility of a filibuster in the Senate.

You have also used a totally anomalous process to create this legislation, forgoing the usual months of committee hearings, expert testimony, public discussion, revision, and amendments. And you seem to have forgotten that the Affordable Care Act followed that regular order process and that the final bill included Republican amendments and met the threshold of sixty votes in the Senate.

Your excuse that you have to adjust to being a governing majority party is disturbing. You have been in the majority in Congress for years, but instead of crafting legislation that would serve the American people, pass in both the House and Senate, and be signed by the President, you chose partisanship over actual governing, eschewing the tradition of other Congresses where the majority party was not the party of the president.

You have proved in the last few months that you can’t even govern with a president from your own party, albeit a president, who, as a candidate, campaigned against much of the Congressional Washington agenda, and who, as president, sends mixed signals of his priorities and opinions.

We the People deserve better.

During your Independence Day recess, I call on you to reflect on your duty to the American people and return to Washington ready to serve all the people in a way that really does “promote the general Welfare.”

Sincerely yours,
Joanne Corey
July 4, 2017

Senate shenanigans

While we have been dealing with our own family health issues, I have also been keeping my eye on the sorry spectacle unfolding in Congress.

Last week, the Senate Republicans made public their version of a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. It was drafted by a small group of the most conservative male red-state Republican Senators, without hearings, public debate, the input of health care experts, and contributions of the other 87 Senators, who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

The bill would cut Medicaid over time, raise deductibles, decrease the comprehensive nature of insurance, increase premiums, make insurance unaffordable for millions of people, and give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.  It faces major opposition from doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, public health organizations and advocates, and the general public.

Still, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans a vote on the bill this week. It seems that the main reason is to have the first major piece of legislation enacted in the new administration, not to actually improve medical care access or affordability for the American people.

One of the things that has been most annoying is the Republican members of Congress and some pundits and reporters who equate the current process on this healthcare bill to the process that produced the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act was passed after almost a year of public discussion, numerous Congressional committee hearings, expert testimony, amendments from both Democrats and Republicans, Congressional debate, floor votes, the creation of a bill to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions, and a final round of voting with met the 60 vote total in the Senate to avoid filibuster.

Contrast this with the current Republican bill, which was written behind closed doors by a small group of Republicans. There are no hearings, plans for only limited debate, and the invocation of budget bill rules which make it impossible to filibuster.

There are two Republican Senators who are opposing the bill because it will hurt their constituents and other Americans. Four other Senators oppose it as not conservative enough. After the Congressional Budget Office analysis came out yesterday, with projections of 22 million people losing coverage and costs skyrocketing especially for those with low incomes and those who are in their late fifties to mid-sixties. there is hope that Senator McConnell will pull the bill or, at least, slow down the process to allow for more debate and revision and to put the bill under regular order instead of trying to reform healthcare through the budget process.

Many of us are inundating our Senators with pleas to protect and improve our healthcare. We’ll see if they listen.

Bernie Sanders on what he wants

Weeks ago, I wrote about what I, as a Bernie supporter, want moving forward.

In today’s Washington Post, Sanders writes about what he – and more importantly – his supporters want.  He actually mentions the twelve million people who voted for him in primaries, but he has many more supporters than that. Some, like me, are independents who live in closed primary states. Others are people who caucused for Bernie in their states, but who are not tallied as votes for him due to the state caucus rules.

The list of issues that Senator Sanders highlights is not exhaustive, but it is expansive, emphasizing yet again that Sanders’ campaign was never one-issue, as his critics had characterized it.

I hope that the Democrats will seek to address these issues and earn the enthusiastic support of Bernie’s supporters of all political affiliations.

I take the recent energy and actions by the Congressional Democrats as a positive sign that  the party is finally putting the needs of the people above the special interests.

Bernie has been calling for a revolution, not a violent one but a political one.  Let’s use the momentum of the current moment to make it happen.

It’s what being a democratic republic is all about.