Terrance Heath

Is Your Senator a Champion?

Filed By Terrance Heath | December 14, 2012 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: financial crisis, financial reforms, fiscal cliff, Medicaid, Medicare, political mandate, social security

As Washington approaches a “fiscal cliff” of its own making, our elected officials appear to be forgetting some important things. President Obama seems to have forgotten the mandate he won in November, not bigstock-Financial-Cliff-39694612.jpga mandate just to increase taxes on the wealthy (something nearly 50% of Republicans now even support), but a mandate not to compromise for the sake of compromise -- and not to compromise on cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. John Boehner has forgotten that he doesn’t have a mandate, nor do House Republicans have a mandate from the majority of voters. And both seem not to notice that President Obama is winning the “fiscal cliff” showdown.

It’s time to remind Washington just what Americans voted for -- and against -- in November. That’s why a coalition of progressive organizations are mobilizing to whip Democratic Senators against voting for any “fiscal cliff” deal that includes cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

A coalition of liberal advocacy groups is mobilizing its members to whip Democratic senators against voting for any deficit-reduction deal that cuts safety-net benefits.

The groups divide the caucus up into three categories -- the "weak-kneed," who they fear may agree to benefit cuts; the "wavering," who have signaled discomfort with the idea but haven't committed; and the "champions" whose support they're confident of. Via petition, they are urging their supporters to call their senators and ask for and record their positions on benefit cuts, with the dual goals of pressuring Democrats to oppose reducing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits and of providing their supporters continually updated information on where key members stand on the issue.

"Senators owe their constituents clarity about whether they'll stand up against any benefit cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security," said Victoria Kaplan at MoveOn.org Political Action, in a statement to TPM. "Our whip count seeks to shine a spotlight on whether Democratic Senators will fight for poor, middle class and working families, or if they will cave to Republican demands to favor millionaires and billionaires instead."

The petition splits Democratic senators into three groups: “Champions,” “Part-Way There or Wavering,” and “Weak-Kneed.” Right now, the “champions” include:

  • Sen. Daniel Akaka (HI)
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH)
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (MD)
  • Sen. Al Franken (MN)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
  • Sen. Tom Harkin (IA)
  • Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ)
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT)
  • Sen. Carl Levin (MI)
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)
  • Sen. Barbara Mikulski (MD)
  • Sen. Jack Reed (RI)
  • Sen. Jay Rockefeller (WV)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)

If your senators aren’t on that list, visit the petition and click on their names to call and ask them: “Do you commit to oppose any benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?” (Or call them and thank them for their commitment if they are listed among the “champions,” as my Maryland senators are.)

Call your senators and remind them what Americans really care about. Remind your senators that most of us are following the “fiscal cliff” debate closely, and we want to see them stand up for our concerns. Remind them that the deficit is not our top priority; not even close.

Call your senators, and remind them what Americans voted for in November, and the priorities we elected them to fight for.

Their first priority is to create jobs and get the economy going. Many mistakenly believe that large deficits cost jobs. But when we asked them to chose between work to "grow the economy" and a plan to "reduce the deficit," they chose growing the economy by more than two to one, 62-30, a margin of 31 percentage points. Fifty-five percent said they felt strongly on the first.

Second, voters disagree strongly with the priorities of the elite consensus congealing around the president's deficit commission co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, and his own discussions of a grand bargain with House Speaker John Boehner. Those discussions suggest a deal that trades cuts in Medicare and Social Security for tax reform that lowers rates for individuals and corporations while gaining revenue by closing loopholes - a sort of Romney-lite tax reform.

When it comes to a deficit reduction plan, Americans have clear ideas.

They want tax rates to be raised on the wealthy. 68 percent find a plan that did not raises taxes on the rich "unacceptable." 70 percent support a plan that raises taxes on the top 2 percent while keeping the taxes of others at the same level. 63 percent would find a plan that continued to tax investors' income at lower rates than worker's wages unacceptable. 75 percent would support a plan to create a higher tax bracket for millionaires. 67 percent finds a plan that lowers tax rates on corporations or the rich unacceptable.

They do not want Social Security benefits cut over time. By 62 to 31, they would find a plan that did that unacceptable.

They do not want Medicare payments cut or capped: 79 percent, nearly four out of five, find capping Medicare payments forcing seniors to pay more unacceptable.

By 50 percent to 41 percent, they favor a deficit reduction plan that starts with closing loopholes and raising tax rates at the top, and excludes cuts to Medicare and Social Security over one that closes loopholes but "gets entitlement spending under control, including reducing the growth of Medicare and Social Security."

In November, voters handed President Obama a bigger win than Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, or Bush; and gave Democrats gains in both the House and Senate. Voters gave President Obama and the Democrats a mandate to use government to improve people’s lives.

President Obama's reelection represents a victory for the Democratic ideal of activist government and a mandate for more of it. From the stimulus through the auto rescue through Obamacare and, finally, Hurricane Sandy, Americans saw the Democratic president making a difference in their lives, and after a campaign that was stunning in its ugliness, they gave Obama a second term and sent Mitt Romney home, wherever that is.

…The only reason the election was a squeaker was voter suppression in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. The long lines to vote, especially in minority neighborhoods, represent a 21st century poll tax, and should horrify all Americans. If Democrats were as unethical as Republicans, they'd look for ways to suppress the older white vote. Instead, all of us should look for ways to make it easier for everyone to vote. Democrats don't have to cheat to win.

The reelection of our first black president may be more remarkable than his first win, given the implacable opposition he faced from Republicans and racists (they aren't the same thing, even if it seems like it sometimes). In the end, Romney's contempt for half the country, as revealed in his 47 percent remarks, brought many Americans together behind a man who wants to be the president of all of us. When I saw his tears Monday night, I worried that it meant he'd learned bad news, but maybe he knew he was going to win, after four years of demonization. He tweeted his campaign slogan, "We're all in this together," to his followers after his win. Let's hope some Republicans listen this time.

We expect Republicans to ignore that mandate. We should remind Democrats that they ignore it at their peril.

(Fiscal cliff graphic via Bigstock)


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