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.

The House’s Turn

Following up on Senator Murphy’s almost 15-hour Senate marathon. There were four amendments on various aspects of gun control in the Senate on Monday, all of which failed. There is a bipartisan group of Senators trying to craft something that might pass.

Today, the House of Representatives is having an old-fashioned sit-in to force a vote in the House, vowing that they will not go on a planned break next week unless there is a vote on gun issues. Some Democratic senators have come over to support the House members.

It is great that Rep. John Lewis is leading the sit-in. A veteran of many civil rights sit-ins and protests, he is the perfect voice to lead this action.

Reaction to the death of Justice Scalia

Like most people in the United States, I was surprised to hear of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday. Although he was the longest-serving justice on the current Court, he was, at 79, not the eldest, and was considered to be in good health.

He has been the anchor of the conservative justices on the Court for many years. He was an originalist, trying to interpret the Constitution as intended by its authors. I think of originalists as being akin to fundamentalists in religious interpretation. (When interpreting documents, I am more inclined toward taking into account the historical setting of the time a text was written, as well as historical-social developments since to gain contemporary understanding, which is the opposite school of thought to Scalia’s viewpoint.)

What was most shocking to me, though, was the reaction within hours by the Republican leaders of the Senate and the Republicans running for the presidential nomination that President Obama should not nominate a replacement for the Supreme Court vacancy, instead leaving it open until his successor takes office. (For those of you outside the United States, the Constitutionally-proscribed procedure is that the President nominates a person for the Supreme Court and the Senate then votes to accept or reject the nominee. Supreme Court appointments are for life and choosing Supreme Court nominees is considered one of the most important duties of the presidency.)

I was shocked first in social/human/religious terms, that the Republican Senate leadership was so immediately politicizing Justice Scalia’s death.  In the first hours and days after his death, there should have been recognition of his public service and condolences to his wife, their nine children and many grandchildren, colleagues, and friends, not political wrangling about his replacement. It was sadly ironic that many of the same politicians who say it is disrespectful to the families of victims to discuss gun control legislation in the aftermath of a mass shooting had no qualms about politicizing Justice Scalia’s death before his body had even been transported back to his hometown.

The Supreme Court has been closely divided in recent years, issuing many 5-4 decisions. With Justice Scalia gone, the current term is likely to be produce a number of 4-4 ties, which means that lower court rulings will stand, but that no precedent has been set. Those cases or issues are likely to come back to the Supreme Court in the future.

If a replacement for Justice Scalia has not been confirmed by October, when the next Court session will begin hearing arguments, the country risks losing the voice of the Court for another whole year.

Our government is already suffering from gridlock; we can’t afford to make it worse.

The Congressional Republicans have been obstructing much of the normal legislative functions of passing bills and timely confirmation of executive and judicial appointments during the Obama presidency.

It has to stop.

If the Republicans delay or obstruct a Senate confirmation for a Supreme Court justice, they are violating the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold.

PS  Within an hour of posting this, I ran across this segment of John Oliver discussing Scalia’s replacement. I thought you might enjoy it. Warning: there is a bit of adult language.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Vt9xV9ZI74

Government Gridlock: Theme and Variations

Before the Nov. 4 US elections, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not the Republicans would take a majority of the Senate seats. I thought about weighing in, but didn’t because I realized it wouldn’t really matter. We would just be swapping one flavor of legislative gridlock for another.

A primer of the US system, for those who don’t live in the United States:  Legislation must be passed by the majority of both houses of Congress, The House of Representatives and the Senate. (If each houses passes a different version of a bill, a conference committee drafts a compromise version for approval.) The President can sign the legislation into law or veto it. In the case of a veto, the bill doesn’t become law unless a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress vote to override the veto. The other important word to know is filibuster. In the Senate, 60 of 100 votes are needed to move a bill forward for a vote. This was originally designed as a way for minority views to be heard and was time-limited by the length of time that Senators could speak, but has morphed into a tool to block any legislation for which there are not 60 votes in favor, even if it has majority support of 51-59 votes.

Congress has been gridlocked for most of President Obama’s time in office. There was a brief period in the beginning of his presidency with a Democratic majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This was when the stimulus bill and the Affordable Care Act were passed.  The Republicans had vowed not to support anything the President wanted, but they could not stop legislation, so there was no gridlock then, even though the Republicans were refusing to co-operate in governing.

Within months, due to the death of Senator Kennedy and a special election that went to a Republican, the Democrats lost the ability to break a filibuster in the Senate and the first flavor of gridlock began. Instead of the rare use of the filibuster that had been the case for the 200+ year history of the Senate, the Republicans began filibustering almost every piece of legislation and many nominations for judgeships and executive branch appointees. The Democratic majority House was still passing bills, but the Democratic majority Senate could not get them to the floor because the 41 Republicans kept filibustering.

Next, the Republicans, thanks largely to gerrymandering of Congressional districts within states, took the majority in the House, which began phase two of gridlock, where the House passed dozens of bills that were never going to be taken up in the Senate, like voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act fifty times, while the Senate Republicans filibustered almost everything that was proposed. When there was a rare instance of bipartisanship, such as the Senate passage of comprehensive immigration reform, the Republicans in the House wouldn’t even bring it up for a vote. Meanwhile, the filibuster in the Senate blocked nominations for key posts, so we faced the ebola situation without a surgeon general to lead and co-ordinate the efforts and the debacle with Russia and Ukraine without a US ambassador to Russia.

So, with the electorate already frustrated with gridlock and disgusted that this Congress is about to break the shameful record set by the last Congress for least number of laws passed, we held elections last week. Turnout was 36.3% of eligible voters, the lowest in seventy-two years. In many Congressional districts, including mine, an incumbent was running unopposed. The Republicans will hold a majority in both houses of Congress.

One could hope that the Republicans would now decide to co-operate with the Democrats in governing, as many past Congresses have done when one party had majorities in Congress with a sitting president from the other party.

Unfortunately, such hope is not warranted.

We are just going to move on to the next flavor of gridlock, although this one will probably have a bit more spice to it. Some legislation that the Democrats find particularly objectionable will be filibustered in the Senate. Other legislation may pass by both houses on party-line votes, get vetoed by the president, and then die because there will not be a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

The mystery lies in what happens after that political theater is over. Will the Republicans, having satisfied their base with their initial votes, actually work to craft a bipartisan solution which could pass both houses and be signed by the president?

I wish I could say yes, but recent Republican party history and current rhetoric do not give cause for hope.

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