Notes from the campaign trail

1st District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was the only member of Nebraska’s delegation in Washington to vote for the $1.1 trillion budget bill. Regardless, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 passed easily (72-26) without the support of Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer or Reps. Lee Terry and Adrian Smith (359-67).

Shane Osborn, Republican candidate for Senate, found himself in hot water Thursday after a Tweet that criticized the new omnibus budget plan as a “short bus to nowhere.” A short bus is a small school bus often used to transport children with disabilities, and the reference was derogatory. Osborn apologized and yanked the tweet, but fortunately there’s a website where it lives on in infamy. Among those who saw the tweet was Jordan Gehrke, a senior advisor to rival Ben Sasse, who responded: “Agree. Awful bill but mocking special needs kids?”

Conservative radio host Mark Levin has endorsed Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse. Levin, who uses his show to bash all things Obama, most recently accused the president of attempting to stage a “gradual, quiet coup,” through his use of executive orders. Sasse also has a new video featuring his toddler in which he talks about contraception, abortion and Obamacare. Who’s listening, though, with an adorable kid in the scene?

Bart McLeay has snagged the endorsement of his fellow Kutak Rock law partner, former U.S. Sen. Dave Karnes,  and former U.S. Rep Jon Christensen of Nebraska’s 2nd District. In 1988, Gov. Kay Orr appointed Karnes to serve the remainder of U.S. Sen. Ed Zorinsky’s term after his untimely death. Christensen served two terms in the House, from 1995-99.

Rep. Lee Terry has a new campaign manager, Kevin Conroy, who’s worked on both on the Hill as a staffer and in a bunch of Republican campaigns. In 2008, he was field coordinator for both Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in the all-important New Hampshire presidential primary. We wish him better luck in Nebraska.

Mark your calendars now:

  • Jan. 27, Union-busting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will appear at an Omaha campaign rally for Pete Ricketts, a candidate for Nebraska governor. The Ricketts family, individually and through the Ending Spending Action Fund, heavily backed Walker in his 2012 recall battle.
  • Jan. 28, President Obama’s State of the Union address.
  • Jan. 29, the first debate for Republican senate candidates at the Gering Civic Center. The sleepy Scotts Bluff County town of 8,500 will give the candidates a chance to dust off their debate skills before the main events..
  • Feb. 4, National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraiser for Shane Osborne in Washington.

Back to business as usual

With less than 24 hours left until a likely default, the House and Senate reached agreement late Wednesday on a deal that reopens the federal government and avoids a breach of the debt ceiling.

By a margin of  81-19 in the Senate and 285-144 in the House, Congress approved H.R. 2775 to fund the government through Jan. 15 and covers the debt limit until Feb. 7

Nebraska’s entire delegation, Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry and Adrian Smith, supported the measure.

Smith, Terry and Fortenberry were among the 87 House Republicans who joined 198 Democrats in passing the budget and debt deal. In the Senate, the measure gained the support of all Democrats and all but 18 Republicans.

Voting against it were such vocal opponents as Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas,  Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Mike Lee of Utah. There was concern earlier in the day that Cruz would use a procedural move to delay the vote until at least Thursday.

The Senate voted about 9 p.m. CDT and the House voted just after 11:15 p.m. CDT.

In the end, Republicans had little to show for the 16-day shutdown of the federal government and stretching the debt ceiling to the brink. They failed to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, although they did win a minor concession involving income verification for those receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

No answers for the folks back home

Republican rhetoric about the debt ceiling is beginning to sound amazingly like the rhetoric that proceeded the government shutdown. Whether the GOP’s “no big deal” talk is a signal that Republicans are ready to take us into a default remains to be seen, but it isn’t encouraging.

Pro-shutdown and default positions, once staked out only by Congress’ newest and most extreme members, have lately taken on a mainstream flavor. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a member of the Senate since 2005, who previously served three terms in the U.S. House, joined the bandwagon Monday.

“There’s no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country because it’s never not been increased, and that’s why we’re $17 trillion in debt,” said Coburn said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

“I would dispel the rumor that’s going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we’ll default on our debt. We won’t. We’ll continue to pay our interest, we’ll continue to redeem bonds, and we’ll issue new bonds to replace them.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that default could be avoided if the U.S. prioritizes the payment of its obligations. That could mean officials would have to weigh making payments to foreign bondholders against sending out Social Security or veterans’ benefits because the federal government spends more  each month than it takes in.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that “prioritization” is just another word for default.  It is also unknown what damage an attempt at prioritization would have on the economy and financial markets. America has never defaulted and neither has it ever tried such a prioritization plan.

Just the fact that the debt ceiling matter is up for debate is making markets jittery. In 2011, there was so little faith that the parties would end their bickering in time to avoid default.  Standard & Poor’s downgraded American’s credit rating for the first time in history.  The last country to make it back to AAA after a downgrade spent 19 years doing so.

Sadly it’s hard to find a member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation who  is taking  a firm stance on the debt ceiling.  None has posted their position on their official web site, even though the deadline is next week.  In the media, their comments are mostly limited to the old-news shutdown.

Do Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer think no Nebraskans own Treasury bills? Do Reps. Lee Terry, Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith not understand that many of the elderly are already worried about their November Social Security checks?

2nd District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was one of those who supported the 2011 fight over the debt ceiling that led to the credit downgrade. He has  since said he would not support another debt ceiling fight — but not recently.

Freshman Sen. Deb Fischer may even support the drama of the twin shutdown-default fights. In one of her September columns, Fischer wrote:

“This pair of decisions present Congress with the opportunity to address our out-of-control spending. Nebraskans know that Congress doesn’t act unless it is forced to do so. That’s why I look forward to the debates on our rising debt.”

Nebraskans should be getting loud-and-clear answers from their Washington delegation. We saw our home values and retirement accounts trashed in the 2008 economic crisis. We’ve been through the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Our families have suffered layoffs, and now the hardships of the shutdown. We are a nation at war. Why do our leaders in Washington think it’s OK to shut down the government while our military fights a war that Congress created?

The “Prioritization” option may seem like an alternative, but it’s not. The nation’s payment system is automated for efficiency. Even if the Treasury Department could find enough fountain pens, paper ledgers and green eye shades to un-automate, there are too many bills and too few Treasury employees to make it work. Most of them at home, furloughed.

Nebraska’s senior senator, Mike Johanns, has voted both for and against past debt ceiling increases, but hasn’t said whether he would support an increase this month. He did say, however, that he’s worried about the situation. Aren’t we all?

Trickling down in Nebraska

With the House of Representatives having just passed a stunning $40 billion cut in food assistance to the poor, it’s a good time to examine the relationship between federal budgets and state budges.

A large percentage of the money in any state’s budget comes from the federal government. It may be as little as 20 percent in Alaska, or as much as 49 percent in Mississippi. In Nebraska, exactly 36. 23 percent of Nebraska’s general revenues in 2012 came from the federal government, according to the Tax Foundation.

The means that more than one-third of the dollars used to run the state of Nebraska every year, comes from the federal government. It also means that when Congress makes deep cuts to the federal budget, your state lawmakers have to make the hard decision to either cut state services or replace those federal dollars by raising state sales and income taxes.

Either decision means a loss for Nebraskans: Less money in their pockets or fewer services to meet their needs. And, when the state government has less money, it gives less money to counties, cities, school districts, and universities.

City parks are not maintained, teacher-student ratios get larger, tuition goes up, fewer police officers patrol the streets, and libraries close early. That is, unless city and school officials decide to make up for those lost state dollars by raising your property and city sales taxes. Again, a lose-lose scenario for Nebraskans.

Most Nebraskans are justifiably concerned about federal debt and deficits. As responsible, educated people, they know trillion-dollar deficits aren’t good for our country. We are a hardy people, used to weathering storms and making sacrifices. We’d love to see more fiscal discipline in Washington, and most of us would be happy to see cuts or an end to some of the programs that those in our nation’s Capitol deem essential.

The problem is that Nebraskans in Washington are never going to ask you what you can live without — what you want to see cut. Moreover, your House and Senate members are never going to tell you how the decisions they make will impact individual Nebraskans — you, your family, your neighbors, your fellow congregants.

And your governor and state lawmakers are never going to ask you whether it’s worth it to you to pay a few more dollars in taxes to replace the money that Washington didn’t send. They aren’t going to ask you which budget holes that Washington created are the ones you think are important enough to fill with state money.

In fact, no politicians on any level will ever talk about the individual effects that will come from service cuts. They don’t want it to ever occur to you that they are in any way responsible for, say,  bigger potholes, longer waits at the DMV, or your nephew’s lost job.

If it ever occurs to you that the lawmakers you voted for are responsible for your inconvenience — the camping trip your family can’t take because of an early shut-down of some state parks — it will also occur to you that the people you elected are not the wonderful folks looking out for your best interests that you thought they were when you were in the voting booth.

Compared to some other states, politics is a polite sport in Nebraska. School board members, university regents, mayors, state lawmakers, the governor — none of them are willing to point the finger at anyone else when cuts have to be made. Why? Because they have their own pet legislation to pass, agendas to pursue, and ambitions to fill. Everybody gets along better when they all go along.

You Voted for them Nebraska, tries to avoid intrastate politics. There are other people, organizations and sites that do that and do it very well. We just want to remind you that there is a very real connection between the budgets passed in Washington and the quality of your life in Nebraska.

Sources cited: The Tax Foundation, taxfoundation.org

© uvoted4them, 2013