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Archive for January, 2018

Shutdown Deal Turns Democrats on Each Other Before Midterms

Article reposted with permission from Bloomberg Politics

For Democrats, the recriminations began even before the final votes were cast to end the three-day government shutdown — hinting at divisions that could complicate their efforts in November’s congressional races.

Most of the blame fell squarely on Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who was assailed by party colleagues for accepting a Republican offer on immigration that fell far short of Democratic demands.

“Why do Democrats always fall into some stupid trap,” asked Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat. “We’re taking a great hit. Totally unjustified. And our people just seem to take it flat-footed.”

Slaughter was one of many liberals who unloaded on Schumer’s decision to go to the brink with the shutdown only to step back without gaining any meaningful concessions in a key policy area for the party in an election year.

Democrats have banked on President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings and their own enthusiastic base to yield big gains in Congress in the midterm elections, including a possible majority in the House. Party operatives and activists had hoped for the shutdown to represent a watershed moment in Democrats’ battle over immigration. Now, they hope it will be a distant memory come November.

No Commitment

“The bottom line for us is that Democrats caved. I don’t see how anyone could characterize it as anything but that,” said Angel Padilla, policy director of Indivisible, a grassroots group that has grown from opposition to Trump. “I don’t see what they got out of this.”

While the funding vote came with one Democrat policy ask — a funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan — it included only a verbal agreement that the Senate would try to take action on immigration legislation. There was no commitment to restore protections for the some 690,000 young immigrants as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, comes to an end in early March.

Trump quickly seized on the deal to claim victory.

“Big win for Republicans as Democrats cave on Shutdown,” Trump said in a tweet on Monday. “Now I want a big win for everyone, including Republicans, Democrats and DACA, but especially for our Great Military and Border Security. Should be able to get there. See you at the negotiating table!”

Since another short-term funding bill was passed in December, progressive and pro-immigration activists had been pressuring Democratic lawmakers to refuse to fund the government without getting an agreement on DACA. The vast majority of House and Senate Democrats did just that on Friday, but by Monday it was largely the left flank of the party that voted against reopening the government. That group included several senators who’ve been discussed as possible 2020 presidential candidates, including Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

‘Kicks the Can’
“This simply kicks the can down the road with no assurance that we will protect Dreamers from deportation or fight Republican attempts to curtail or eliminate legal immigration,” Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez said in a statement. “This shows me that when it comes to immigrants, Latinos and their families, Democrats are still not willing to go to the mat to allow people in my community to live in our country legally.”

Billionaire donor Tom Steyer, who’s pledged to spend $30 million this year helping turn out Democratic voters, vented in a statement. “Democrats need to ask themselves: what do they really care about — human beings or irrelevant political grandstanding? If the answer isn’t people, then are we any better?”

Democrats still have to prove that they’re going to fight the Republicans on issues that affect working families, said Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. If Democrats continue to back down from fights “it’s gonna drag down the Democratic tickets as a whole” she said.

A poll conducted for Senate Majority PAC in December in 12 battleground states found voters in more conservative states dividing blame for a shutdown among Trump and both parties in Congress. If told a shutdown was be linked to the status of DACA recipients, those polled assigned more of the blame to Democrats. The Washington Post reported the poll on Sunday.

“I hear our numbers are dropping like a rock because, supposedly, we closed the government down,” Slaughter said, without pointing to any specific polls.

Some Democrats said Schumer handled the situation well.

‘Weak Hand’
“He made the best possible of an inherently weak hand,” said Matt Miller, who was communications director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when Schumer was its chairman.

It was worth going into a shutdown “on the chance you might pressure Trump into a deal,” but a longer shutdown didn’t make sense once clear that Republicans weren’t going to budge on DACA, Miller said. “Politically, Democrats have the wind at their backs so why juggle a live grenade that might go off in their face and change the dynamic?”

Faiz Shakir, the ACLU’s National Political Director, said it didn’t “feel like there was a great exit strategy in place before entering into this.” He said he worries the Democratic leadership had erred not just by appearing to fold Monday, but by appearing to agree to separate the DACA issue from must-pass spending bills, and conceding in negotiations they’d be willing to give the president funding for a border wall.

“The jury is essentially out” on questions of Schumer’s leadership abilities, Shakir said, adding that it was fair to reserve judgment to see if the Senate’s top Democrat would be able to secure protection for dreamers before the DACA program expires in March.

Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat up for re-election this fall, said he wasn’t surprised that activists were upset with lawmakers from their party who voted to end the government shutdown.

“People are not going to be happy. People weren’t happy with the shutdown, people weren’t happy with the vote last week, they’re not happy with the vote today,” he said. “These are big, tough, challenging issues and I understand that there are going to be folks that don’t like it.”

The Mom Vivant

What is a blogger supposed to do when everything they thought they knew changes in one fell swoop? Bloggers get clicks for being controversial, not advocating a middle of the road approach or compromise. Since November 2016, this blogger has alternated between wanting to pull the covers over her head when the television news is on to talking back to the television when I get tired of the personal attacks and eye rolls that seemed to have replaced substantive news. Instead of positing thought provoking points to create dialogue, I have sat though one stupefying episode after the next, wondering whether saying nothing might be the most moderate thing to do. In fact, my love of parsing rhetoric to find the middle has now been reduced to a fascination nee obsession about what everyone else is doing while the President is talking. It’s like that game where two people see who is going to blink first. It’s just me marveling that no one has broken down and lost face in public. At least with the mannequin challenge, you’re allowed to let loose and laugh uproariously when the photo op is done.

A smarter blogger would have littered her social media with the terms “p234y” or “sh1thole.” Imagine the traffic! But this one was hoping that the President could do what the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems to have done. A businessman from outside politics, he came in to a gravely serious situation where many people doubted his ability to execute and seems to have succeeded in dialing down the tension with North Korea, at least for the time being.

The truth is, while I didn’t vote for Donald Trump (or Hillary, for that matter), I secretly wanted him to succeed. I adore his daughter and at one point, admired his chutzpah. When my preferred candidates fell away, I thought Trump could be the guy that got into the revolving door at exactly the right time to give the candidate in front of him, Hillary Clinton, the bump she needed to exit stage left. I thought the biggest risk to our country would be more of the same.

It seems in this brave new world, you can’t win but for trying.

I spent years advocating for Gay Marriage in Missouri. Wouldn’t young people be drawn to work and live in states that were more tolerant and open minded, I wrote and said out loud to anyone who would listen. Then I saw a headline the other day on the cover of a think-ish national magazine, while standing in line at the grocery store, that said, “Gay Marriage has destroyed Gay Culture.” Is it me? You’re kidding.

I hope the Director of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen didn’t stay up too late doing research before that hearing the other day. “Exactly what cuss words did you hear, Ms. Nielsen?” “Well, there was strong language, Sir.” I felt like I was playing the game Twister but my feet and hands were on all the wrong spots. Wanting to reach towards the purple, to give the Senator from Newark a high five for being outraged over disparaging comments about African immigrants (?), my other hand was reaching even further to that winning spot where Cory Booker could follow his own advice to “elevate not denigrate.” Why not go “stille” on the obvious and use the hearing to break new ground by asking the Secretary of Homeland Security how she would introduce merit while maintaining compassion in Immigration reform?

I continue to be amazed at the disconnect between what the average citizen wants or agrees on and what happens inside the only-insiders-allowed mirage called the nation’s capital. Is everybody stoned? Is that why no work seems to be getting done in Washington, DC? That is a joke. Admittedly a bad one. But I am serious when I say it concerns me that the only two things Americans seem to agree on lately is the legalization of marijuana and the need to avert a shutdown. I love the image of New York Senator Chuck Schumer and The Donald secretly negotiating a spending bill compromise while noshing on cheeseburgers. Not exactly Cheech and Chong. More like Chuck and Don. Too bad it didn’t work.

The way the shutdown played out was predictable. Votes were ultimately cast along party lines. The reasonable Republicans and Democrats working towards a bipartisan compromise were humored then marginalized in the 11th hour. Cue: Minority leader Nancy Pelosi who probably knew what gift she was going to give the President on the anniversary of his inauguration a year ago. A giant right back at ya! Yes, polls did show more Americans cared about passing the spending bill than they did about guaranteeing the Dreamers could stay. The part Madame Pelosi missed was voters wanted Congress to pass a spending bill.

The closest thing to an eye-opening headline for me was when one commentator said something about the fact that Republicans may be trying to test their theory that many federal agencies and departments could be run with a fraction of the staff. That and the fact that Congress still gets paid in the event of a shutdown but military families will have to wait for compensation in the event a family member in the Service is killed during the Shutdown. What?

The bottom line is it isn’t hard to compromise. Every parent on this plant knows how to broker compromise. It starts with the acknowledgement that not reaching an agreement is a fail for all involved.

The Daily Dose

Article reposted with permission from Stars and Stripes

WASHINGTON — The families of two U.S. soldiers killed in a helicopter crash Saturday will get death benefits from an area nonprofit, despite the government shutdown. Fisher House Foundation in Rockville, Md., which helped Gold Star families who lost benefits during the 2013 shutdown, is stepping up again.

“Families like the ones we helped in 2013 are very deserving. They are deeply dedicated to overcoming the challenges they confront,” Ken Fisher, chairman and CEO of his family’s nonprofit, said in a statement Saturday. “Helping them isn’t charity but rather this nation’s solemn duty. In these very tough situations, they don’t quit. Neither should we.”

Families of the two soldiers killed in Fort Irwin., Calif., should be eligible for the help. The government’s death benefit program for servicemembers includes an immediate $100,000 payment to each military family. The program is halted during a shutdown, along with other funds that cover funeral, burial and related travel expenses as well as a temporary housing allowances.

“Government rules and regulations can often prevent it from doing what is best for our military,” Fisher said. “A perfect example of this occurred during the 2013 government shutdown when the (Department of Defense) could not pay the benefits earned by servicemembers through their ultimate sacrifice.”
In 2013, the Fisher House provided $750,000 in grants to 30 families during the 16-day shutdown.

On Friday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., reached out to Fisher, and the nonprofit agreed to offer the families an advance grant until the government can make reimbursements, Manchin’s office said. The Fisher House will also cover flights, hotels and other incidentals for family members at a time of “unfathomable loss,” his office said.

“I applaud Ken and the Fisher House for their dedication to serving our soldiers and their families during their time of need and especially as this senseless shutdown looms,” Manchin said ahead of Saturday’s shutdown. “It’s shameful that our military families could bear the consequences of this shutdown.”

In October 2013, the families of four soldiers who were killed in combat in Afghanistan didn’t see the death benefits for days, forcing them to alter plans to meet the bodies of their slain relatives at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Such incidents triggered an angry backlash from the military and their supporters as well as congressional promises to rectify the problem. But there’s been no legislation to fix it, and supporters of Gold Star families are worried about a repeat of such ordeals.

“These families have to deal with the tragic loss of their loved ones as well as suffer the loss of the monetary support for our government when they need it the most,” said Keith Humphrey of Kansas, a Navy veteran and father-in-law to a fallen Marine Corps servicemember who has been working on a legislative fix.

Humphrey’s family received their death benefit immediately, but he was angered when he heard of the 2013 cases and it inspired him to get involved. Humphrey has since made it his life mission to close the gap in coverage.

The news of the shutdown, followed by the Fort Irwin deaths, “is like a shot to the gut,” he said. “It immediately took me back to relive the day my son-in-law was killed. The death gratuity payment that (proposed legislation) secures during a government shutdown won’t be paid — this bill should have been passed a long time ago.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., has sponsored the legislation, the Families of Fallen Servicemembers First Act, during every congressional term since the 2013 shutdown, but bill has languished in the committee stage. Each year, however, the plan has grown in support, going from 8 cosponsors in 2013 to 108 this year.

“What happened during the 2013 shutdown was shameful,” Connolly said in December. “With the near quarterly threats of a government shutdown, enacting the Families of Fallen Servicemembers First Act is more important than ever.”

In Kansas, Humphrey saw quick success, where the state in 2013 enacted a law to cover such benefits when the federal government can’t during a shutdown.

Humphrey since pushed for the federal government to follow suit. This year, Humphrey has helped Connolly’s legislation reach its 108 cosponsors – about one-quarter of the House.

A cost estimate maybe hurting the bill’s chances. In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office, which evaluates and estimates the cost of legislation, gave a similar plan a $150 million price tag.

Supporters of a permanent fix have said the estimate is too high, and seems to assume the government would remain in shutdown mode in perpetuity.

While the shutdown doesn’t impact insurance-related death payments – such as ones from the Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance program – those funds can take weeks to reach families.

More than halfway through the October 2013 shutdown, the Pentagon struck a deal with Fisher House to provide the benefits to families of the fallen as a contractor.

“I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at the time. “In the days before the shutdown, we warned Congress and the American people that DOD would not have the legal authority to make these payments during a lapse in appropriations.”

In the end, the Fisher House issued payments of $25,000 to about 30 Gold Star families who lost members of the military in combat, training or other incidents during the shutdown, Fisher said.

The nonprofit, which provides temporary housing all over the world for military families in need, such as people with a servicemember who is hospitalized, raised a large portion of that money privately.

“We have to learn from our mistakes. Too often history repeats itself and we need to make sure that is not the case,” Fisher said last month. “It’s not just about making sure the death benefits are paid, it’s honoring the sacrifices these people have made.”