Monday, October 20, 2014

Tom Fina's Letter from Washington, October 2014

To Democrats Abroad
19 October 2014
Tom Fina
Executive Director Emeritus of Democrats Abroad

Ebola, ISIL, Ferguson, Secret Service, Ukraine, VA, Benghazi, immigrant terrorists and disease, deficits, Dow dips 460, Obamacare, unemployment, deadlocked Congress and government over-reach – all flow from Obama’s ineptitude, incompetence and lack of leadership. Oh, and Benghazi. Dare any Democratic candidate to defend that!

That is the Republican campaign play book. It worked. It has spooked Democrats who have been running scared since the Tea Party wave in 2010.

And that has multiplied the power of Republican attacks on voter access to the polls, family planning, access to abortion, stimulus investment, raising the minimum wage, providing universal high quality pre-school, expanding Medicaid to the needy, immigration reform, infrastructure repair, Federal Reserve pump priming, emission controls, regulation of firearms, closing of tax loop holes and virtually everything else that Obama has sought. Including improved school nutrition.

The Obama Administration has a record of achievements that Republicans consider failures and many Democrats are afraid to defend. The great legislative achievements were possible only while Democrats had majorities in both Houses of Congress. Once the Tea Party terrorists gained a controlling hand in the House, the President was obliged to use the powers he already had to advance the policies for which he was twice elected.

His support for the TARP, launched by Republican Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson, made that fundamental move to halt the plunge of the American and world economy in 2008. Obama followed that with the infusion of federal spending and tax cuts (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) which saved the United States and the world from a Depression on the scale of the 1930's. It included the major incentives to up-grade public education through the Race to the Top. In that first stage of his presidency, Obama also pushed through the Lucy Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, he ordered an end to the use of torture, removed the federal barrier to stem cell research, pushed through the historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation, fathered his most notable legislation, the Affordable Care Act (despite concessions to Republican opponents that have handicapped its performance.) And appointed two liberal women to the Supreme Court.

Republicans alone were not responsible for all Obama proposals killed in the congress. Enough Democrats sided with the Republicans to kill cap and trade legislation, trials of Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts and gun control after Sandy Hook.

Once Republicans controlled the House, the legislative history of the Obama Administration was reduced to a succession of proposals dead-on-arrival. Thus died various versions of the American Jobs Act designed to put the unemployed back to work. And immigration reform, once seen by Republican leaders as essential to win Hispanic voters, killed by inaction. Or the Dream Act designed to open the way to legal residency for child immigrants. The same fate killed Obama’s full court press to get more effective gun control after the Sandy Hook massacre and his continued efforts to close Guantanamo and put its detainees on trial in Federal civilian courts. Idem, proposals to raise the minimum wage, to require full disclosure of political advertising and to rebuild our rusting bridges, pot-holed highways, 19th Century railroads, overflowing airports and antiquated water purification and waste management systems.

Despite the Republican success in shutting down the legislative process, the Obama Administration has succeeded in serving the American people. It has returned both Iraq and Afghanistan to self government and self defense. It has eliminated bin Laden and other world terrorist leaders, ended “don’t ask don’t tell” in the armed services, led the effort to abandon the Defense of Marriage Act, appointed a majority of liberal justices to the extraordinarily important Federal courts of appeal, brought tobacco under FDA regulatory control, adopted motor vehicle and power plant emissions standards that will reduce air pollution, vastly extended Federal protection of natural areas, expanded college student aid while reducing their tax payer cost, fought Republican efforts at the state level to restrict access to the polls after the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act and appointed an activist liberal woman to chair the Federal Reserve.

But the over-arching achievements have been in a revival of the economy and the revolution of our healthcare delivery system.

Jobless claims fell in October to the lowest level since 2000. The economy has added 2.64 million jobs in the last year – the best since 2006. Available jobs are at their highest level in 13 years. Manufacturing output is up 3.7% in the past year. The deficit has dropped to 2.8% of GDP from 9.8% when Obama took office. Unemployment has been cut to 5.9% from 9.7% in 2009. Meanwhile the EU, guided by Republican austerity policies, has an unemployment rate almost double ours (11.6%). The IMF projects the 2015 growth of real GDP per capita in the US to be more than double that in the EU (2.4% compared to 1.1%).

These are significant economic gains all the more important because they confirm that the basic Republican policy of cutting government spending to reduce budget deficits when applied in Europe has increased unemployment, reduced GDP and proliferated human suffering. The contrary policy of anti-cyclical spending by the Obama Administration, however limited by Republican and Democratic deficit hawks, has had the opposite effect. It has reduced unemployment, increased GDP and saved schools and hospitals, begun infrastructure repair and invested in high-speed rail, improved water quality infrastructure, boosted renewable energy technology and expanded broadband availability in under served areas – inter alia.

The Affordable Care Act, despite constant Republican efforts to discourage enrollment, voting to repeal it more than 50 times and shutting down the government in 2013 to kill it, has been a success. It has far exceeded all expectation. Its aim was to provide healthcare insurance to some 40 million Americans without it. By April of this year, it had cut the uninsured rate to the lowest level since 2008. By September, it had enrolled 7.3 million paying members while the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had predicted only 6 million. The result of this success is that the private insurance industry is going after more business. There will be about a 25% increase in the number of insurers who will compete in the next enrollment year that opens November 15. And, that competition should help to increase consumer choice and contain consumer costs. The best data now at hand shows only a modest average national premium increase for the next year although there will be increases and decreases in different service areas. There is other good news, too: Medicare spending is lower than predicted and is actually falling. According to the CBO, Medicare will spend about $11,200 for each person enrolled this year and that is down (in inflation-adjusted dollars) from $12,000 it spent three years ago. Moreover, it expects the cost to drop to $11,000 by 2017 and to remain there until 2020.

The discouraging reality is that the reductions in the numbers of uninsured have not come in Republican controlled states that have both refused to create their own insurance marketplaces and have refused to accept Federally funded Medicaid for their poor. These refusenicks include four of the five states with the highest percentages of household poverty: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.

Republicans have rushed to fan election eve panic about Ebola, dragging some Democrats with them to avoid attack for being less alarmed about one tragic death and the two brave nurses who have contracted the disease. But, where is the Republican outrage about our 30,000 gun deaths, our 30,000 automobile deaths, 2 million unwanted pregnancies and thousands of flu deaths?

Looking at the record of our political parties, I have no doubt about which candidates I will support on November 4.

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