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Yellen’s June 1 Deadline May Not be Real

There is a Strategy for Not Defaulting on Federal Loans

Unfortunately, the media and both parties have tended to conflate a shutdown with defaulting. That has never happened with past shutdowns. Not even during the longest ones.

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The US budget is again teetering on running out of money because the Republicans and Democrats are playing a game of chicken on whether to raise the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling caps how much the US can borrow through issuing bonds. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that failure to pay US bondholders will cut revenue to foreign countries, corporations worldwide, US IRA accounts, and personal holdings, which “would undoubtedly cause a recession in the US economy.”

That assessment was backed by Beth Ann Bovino, chief US economist at Standard and Poor’s, who predicted that “the impact of a default by the U.S. government on its debts would be worse than the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, devastating markets and the economy.”

Yellen conditioned this catastrophe from occurring when she said at the beginning of the year, “Once all available measures and cash on hand are fully exhausted, the United States of America would be unable to meet its obligations.” 

But those conditions can be met within a government shutdown. Unfortunately, the media and both parties have tended to conflate a shutdown with defaulting. That has never happened with past shutdowns. Not even during the longest ones of 22 days in 1995 under Pres. Clinton, 17 days in 2013 under Pres. Obama, and 35 days in 2018-19 under Pres. Trump. 

Not defaulting on loans was accomplished since the “cash on hand” was not exhausted. That’s because income and payroll taxes are the federal government’s primary revenue sources. As a result, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that net interest payments on the debt will be a little less than $400 billion this fiscal year, or 6.8% of all federal expenses. 

Consequently, without borrowing additional funds to continue operating, the government in the past and currently takes “extraordinary measures” to avoid defaulting on loans.  In short, some government ‘obligations” to continue services and functions are trimmed or halted. The most extreme measure is not paying federal employees to work or furloughing them. Yet, this is precisely what happened during the past three most extended shutdowns and has yet to occur. 

Under the shutdowns listed, Clinton’s shutdown saw 420,000 federal working without pay, and another 380,000 were furloughed without payment; Obama’s shutdown brought about 850,000 workers (40 percent of the federal workforce) being furloughed; the most recent shutdown under Trump again saw about 800,000 furloughed workers, based on data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  

Laying off federal employees will not hurt the Republicans. These are union members whose organizations reliably endorse Democrats. In addition, reducing the number of federal employees fits into the larger conservative paradigm of shrinking government. Republicans, led by the reactionary House Freedom Caucus, can continue to stall on reaching an agreement with the Biden Administration to raise the debt ceiling as long as they know that the Administration could lay off employees. 

Taking this “extraordinary measure” can buy Republicans time for pressing concessions from Biden. Their risk is triggering an economic depression if the Administration goes nuclear and doesn’t pay interest on loans – something past Democratic and Republican Administrations have refused to do – and wisely so.

However, this strategy has a downside and one that the Biden Administration has yet to draw notice of it. Even if a loan default does not happen, the threat of one and a dramatic slowdown in public services and employment can hit the economy hard. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the last shutdown during Trump’s administration delayed $18 billion in federal spending, thus lowering the projected level of real GDP in the first quarter of 2019 by $8 billion. 

Obama’s budget crisis in 2011, initiated by the Republicans threatening not to lift the debt ceiling, resulted in the Dow Jones average falling 2,000 points. According to the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office (GAO), federal borrowing costs increased by $1.3 billion that year.

During the Clinton Administration shutdown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped disease surveillance, toxic waste cleanup at 609 sites was halted, and more than 20% of federal contracts, representing $3.7 billion in spending, were affected adversely.

These consequences may not concern the Freedom Caucus members as the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. Former President Donald Trump, MAGA leader, spoke bluntly in a CNN interview. Advising his Republicans in Washington, “If they don’t give you massive cuts,” he said, “you’re going to have to do a default.” 

Trump has a certain charm in exposing his desires, like when he said, “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” he said at one of his rallies. He got his wish with the longest government shutdown in our history, but not the $5 billion he demanded.

In line with this attitude, the MAGA Republicans, who fought against McCarthy becoming the Speaker, had extracted a commitment not to increase the debt ceiling without significant cuts. As a result, four Republicans, three of them HFC members, voted against McCarthy’s bill, the Limit, Save, Grow Act. It would have increased the debt ceiling by a smaller amount than Biden requested. It also required more stringent work requirements to receive federal benefits. If one more Republican had voted against the Act, it would have failed. However, the more moderate conservative Republicans voted favorably and stayed loyal to McCarthy. 

The close vote demonstrates that the most conservative Republicans will refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless there are significant cuts to Biden’s programs. Given this attitude among the core House MAGA supporters, the only way for the debt ceiling to be raised, even slightly, will depend on some Republicans voting for it. Biden administration’s most relevant pitch to get their votes is to zero in on the fear they and the Democrats share. A prolonged government shutdown or defaulting on its bonds will kill our economic recovery.

If the Republicans reject a modified Biden proposal, their party and candidates will be blamed for a failing economy come election day, not the Democrats. In addition, Biden will have shown that he presented a more acceptable budget, which the Republicans still rejected. The opinion polls will likely replay how Bill Clinton’s popularity increased after the Republicans dragged on the government shutdown during his first term. Clinton then went on to win a second term.

The critical swing voters, who are not entrenched in either party’s camp, will only remember that Biden offered something. And no matter what, they will recognize that Biden tried to avoid damaging the economy while the Republicans were not as concerned. Trump and his MAGA supporters’ hubris in beating Biden and not appearing weak will once again steer the Republican Armada into the shallow shoals of defeat. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

What is the Federalist Society and what does it want from our courts?

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The Federalist Society (FS) is the most successful activist group to shape, if not make, federal court decisions. How has that come about? Where did they come from? And what do they want? Before answering those questions, one must appreciate their immense presence in the federal court system.

Federalist Society judges could determine many, if not the majority, of decisions from the federal courts.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says that nearly 90% of President Donald Trump’s appellate judges appointed to the Circuit Courts were members of the Federalist Society. That’s easy to believe, given that as a presidential candidate in 2016, he promised that his judicial nominees would “all [be] picked by the Federalist Society if he were elected president.”

 Consequently, Trump appointed 53 judges to comprise just under a third of the federal appellate judges. Previously about half of Bush’s appointments to those courts went to society members. That’s no surprise because the George H.W. Bush administration gave responsibility for judicial selection in the White House Counsel’s office to Lee Liberman Otis, a founder of FS.

At the entry-level of federal courts, Trump has appointed about a quarter of district court judges. However, he delivered for the Federalist Society by selecting three members to the Supreme Court to join the three members already on it.Then you must add the Federal Society judges that remain on the SCOTUS appointed by George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, giving FS effective control over that court’s decisions. The six SF Justices, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Amy Coney Barrett, now represent all the Republican appointees on SCOTUS. 

Having vertical consistency of very conservative decisions rising from a district court to the circuit court and then to the Supreme Court could allow society members to reject prior court decisions that have been accepted for decades. I describe how an SF district judge, backed up by an SF-dominated circuit court, recently rejected the FDA’s twenty-year prior approval of an abortion pill used as a safe drug across five presidential administrations.

What is the Federalist Society?

So, what is this society that is altering our society in a legal manner and not through rioting in the streets? Founded in 1982, the Federalist Society focused on spreading conservative ideas in law schools, hoping their members would someday deconstruct the liberal-dominated legal system.

The Society was not the first university-based organization to help law students understand and promote a political philosophy. As a former Mother Jones political blogger, Kevin Drum, wrote, hundreds of groups coalesced around the concept and practice of public interest law before the Society was formed.

That liberal movement started in the 50s when groups began aggressively fighting for civil rights causes in the Supreme Court. According to Drum, “New Deal liberals took over law schools, professionalized them, and started churning out thousands of young lawyers steeped in a liberal understanding of the law.” Then, in the 60s, public interest law exploded. In 1971 Ralph Nader started Public Citizen, and hundreds of similar groups were formed.  

However, while they focused on issues like fighting for the constitutional rights of women, minorities, workers, unions, and consumers, they did not have a singular organization that worked to get their members appointed to the courts. Instead, they were going to the courts to win cases. Meanwhile, some of their members became law professors, politicians, and judges with similar liberal views. 

But unlike the Society, they did not have a game plan or the funds available for taking control of the courts. The furthest right-wing Republicans were disappointed in Republican-appointed judges who approved laws like desegregating public schools and allowing abortions. Two professors analyzed how Republicans, in line with the beliefs of the Federalist Society, led to the rise of a conservative legal network of judges steeped in what could be labeled a reactionary philosophy

Comparing the Federalist Society to its closest liberal twin organization

Thirty years after the Federalist Society was founded, the American Constitution Society (ACS) was created in 2001. Perhaps due to their head start, Drum notes that the Federalist Society “has more student chapters, more than twice as many lawyer chapters, and a huge fundraising edge.” However, comparing their membership size, revenues, and donors is like a fight between a tiger and a lone wolf over a bit of meat. 

Membership in ACS amounts to over 200 student and lawyer chapters in almost every state and on most law school campuses. Meanwhile, FS has chapters at each of the 196 ABA-accredited law schools across the country and 24 chapters at international law schools. In addition, ABA-accredited satellite campuses, non-accredited law schools, and undergraduate campuses harbor SF chapters. Finally, separate from the school chapters, there are over 100 metropolitan lawyer chapters and 15 nationwide practice groups. 

Unfortunately, while ACS lists chapters, its website does not provide membership numbers. For example, the Federalist Society claims 60,000 professional legal members, and Sen. Whitehouse believes they have an additional 10,000 law student members. 

The annual revenue for FS in 2020 was $20 million, with assets of $32 million. From 2015 through 2020, the ACS’s yearly revenue fluctuated between $4.5 million and $8.2 million. There is no separate accounting for their assets, but if the ratio of revenue to assets holds for both organizations, ACSs would be about a third of FS’s.

But these metrics don’t begin to tap the underlying explanation of why FS has significantly influenced the federal court system to its liking. As the adage goes, follow the money.

Federal judgeships have become a valuable commodity on the political market.

Sen Whitehouse has given over nine speeches on the Senate floor accusing FS of being funded by right-wing anonymous donors’ intent to capture federal courts for their interests. His accusation rests on recognizing that the Federal Society pursues three different complimentary strategies through three separate functions. However, they share the same ideological goals, financial resources, and membership. 

At its membership base, FS Whitehouse sees “a debating society, made up of like-minded aspiring lawyers drawn to conservative ideas and judicial doctrine. They organize seminars and invite academics, judges, and attorneys to speak.”

The next level of activity is a think tank entity that issues newsletters produces podcasts, and policy recommendations. They hope to “reorder priorities within the legal system” and create a network of members that “extends to all levels of the legal community.” They equate less central government and an open market economy with having more freedom.

Both functions operate within the spirit of maintaining a democratic dialogue. Of course, one may strongly disagree with their conservative ideas and fear they would destroy democracy. But someone could also fear a liberal organization doing the same activities.  

However, Whitehouse sees a third Federalist Society that understands how much political power the federal judiciary wields. And it could be wielding legal rulings to benefit the financial interests of their donors. Whitehouse refers to the special interests as FS’s donor interests. Since there are many donors, their interests must be coordinated to be effective. 

Whitehouse and a host of journalists identify Leonard Leo, the FS’s past executive vice president and currently its co-chair, as the most influential person shaping our federal judiciary by coordinating those donors’ interests. According to Whitehouse, “it was Leo who delivered the list of potential nominees to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia and the blocking of Merrick Garland” to be appointed to SCOTUS. Neil Gorsuch was one of his FS picks for Trump to nominate to the Supreme Court.

Whitehouse points out that the Federalist Society is funded by massive, secret contributions from corporate right-wing groups with big agendas before the courts. Their contributions pushed for the appointment of judges who, before being appointed to a court, had publicly argued for the need to trim or eliminate much of government regulation of the marketplace. This approach ignores the effect of accumulating and concentrating wealth on people and businesses that dominate the marketplace. 

Just accumulating wealth is not destructive to a democratic society. However, when court decisions denigrate the quality of life for most citizens, then our democratic society begins to fracture between the haves and not-haves. It led to the rise of conflicts and, as some would say, “class conflict” or populist insurrections. 

The creation of the Federalist Society grew from a recognition that it was necessary to educate new lawyers on the need to overturn the established rationale of liberal judges to protect the welfare of all citizens at the expense of businesses. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell sparked that recognition.

Before he sat on the Supreme Court, Powell sent a memorandum to the US Chamber of Commerce in the early 70s, framing corporate America’s concerns as the concerns of individual freedom. In Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean writes how Powell’s memo argued that “the American economic system is under broad attack,” pointing to environmentalism and the rise of pro-consumer litigation. But, most importantly, he urged businesses to aggressively protect their interests in the courts since they are “the most important instrument for social, economic, and political change.”

The Federal Society became the instrument for the business interests to promote that political change. In addition, it fostered an anti-government regulation philosophy among new attorneys, encouraging them to seek judgeships. Federalist Society’s activism works through a network of conservative donor organizations that Leonard Leo helped create. According to Politico, in 2022, Leo obtained a historic $1.6 billion gift for his traditional legal network of non-profits, made possible by his leading role in the Federalist Society.

Leo’s network funds political media campaigns that indirectly help politicians support FS candidates for federal court positions, including SCOTUS. According to the New York Times, between mid-2015 and 2022, Leo’s network spent nearly $504 million on policy and political fights, including grants to about 150 allied groups. 

Federal Society’s financial and political success in shaping federal court decisions rests has resulted from harnessing conservative ideals to promote the monetary interests of businesses which in turn fund expanding the influence of FS. The counterweight to this effort must be to preserve the liberal basis of our legal system that has protected public welfare economically and socially from being sacrificed on the open market. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

Banning Abortion Pills – Choosing between secularism and moralism

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How a single federal judge could upend twenty years of science.

Texas Federal District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk recently banned prescribing and distributing the abortion pill mifepristone as unsafe. However, after a four-year review, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certified the pill safe in 2000. Its status as a safe drug was maintained across five presidential administrations until this one Judge wouldn’t accept that decision. 

Judge Kacsmaryk’s heart rather than science seems to lead him to ban mifepristone. In his ruling, he refers to the fetus as an “unborn human” or “unborn child.” These are not medical terms but moral statements.

Language reinforces our beliefs into reality. Kacsmaryk used terms to define abortion as a violation of a moral code. However, he and similar moralist judges are careful not to morally condemn aborting a fetus. If they did so, they would pierce their veil of claiming that they pursue secular justice. 

Six years before his ruling banned the abortion pill, we could see him as an advocate for a Christian morality code. Washington Post reported that Kacsmaryk had submitted an article to a Texas law review criticizing Obama-era protections for those seeking abortions. 

He argued that the Obama administration had discounted religious physicians who “cannot use their pens to prescribe or dispense abortifacient drugs designed to kill unborn children.” In other words, the doctors’ religious freedom would be violated if a woman asked them not to give birth, even if they were raped. The doctors were the victims, not the pregnant woman.

Kacsmaryk must have realized that his logic might not fly at his Congressional confirmation hearings. So, although he had initially been listed as the article’s sole author, he removed his name and replaced it with two other attorneys from the First Liberty Institute, where he was the deputy general counsel. 

First Liberty claims to be the nation’s largest legal organization focused exclusively on defending the religious freedom of individuals and businesses. Their attorneys sue the government to stop regulations that force their doctor clients to violate their religious beliefs, like allowing women control over their bodies. However, Kacsmaryk, ignoring his years working to overthrow abortion procedures, said before his Senate confirmation hearing in 2017, “As a judge, I’m no longer in the advocate role.”

He is seen as fair by conservative moralist groups because his decisions have been against sustaining liberal civil rights laws. That reputation attracted the Christian legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom to have their client, The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM), file a lawsuit against the FDA in Texas’s North District Court. They did so because Kacsmaryk was the only judge in that sector to try their case. Like any federal judge, his rulings could have nationwide implications. However, Defending Freedom would not say whether they filed their suit against FDA in Amarillo, TX, because Kacsmaryk was the judge.

It appears that way since (AHM), was a Tennessee-based organization until it moved to Amarillo three months after the Dobbs decision. Shortly after relocating, AHM filed its lawsuit against FDA.

Since Kacsmaryk’s ruling lacked a verified scientific justification, FDA appealed his decision to a three-judge Fifth Circuit panel covering Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. 

The Defending Freedom law firm also understood that an appeal to Kacsmaryk’s ruling would go to the Fifth Circuit Court, which has Trump-appointed judges. Two of them were on the circuit courts’ three-judge panel that heard FDA’s appeal. They backed Kacsmaryk’s decision that mifepristone is unsafe to use.

Although the Circuit Court’s decision was unsigned, the record indicates that only two of the three judges favored a total ban on mifepristone. However, their unanimous decision reintroduced three medically unnecessary measures: 1) requiring in-person visits with doctors, 2) rolling back the availability of the pills from the first ten weeks of pregnancy to seven weeks, and 3) barring dispensing them by mail. 

The DOJ accused the Circuit Court’s ruling of ignoring the large body of research showing that mifepristone is safe and effective. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists analyzed hundreds of published studies and found that “serious side effects occur in less than 1% of patients, and major adverse events — significant infection, blood loss, or hospitalization — occur in less than 0.3%.”

Consequently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an emergency request to preserve the F.D.A.’s prior approved use of mifepristone with the Supreme Court. Their appeal to SCOTUS notes that to “the government’s knowledge, this is the first time any court has abrogated FDA’s conditions on a drug’s approval based on a disagreement with the agency’s judgment about safety.” 

Without dismissing this case, by banning or restricting a prior FDA-approved drug, future challenges could be made to any FDA-approved drug in court. For example, businesses could easily sue to delay the distribution or deny a competitor’s medication based on minimal data. In addition, the development time for releasing new drugs would likely be significantly extended to gather additional clinical trials to reply to pending lawsuits. 

Since the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision to legalize abortion, one of the largest groups in our nation, devout Christians, has worked toward establishing their moral code of opposing abortion as the nation’s moral code, regardless of religious affiliation. 

The tension between justifying our laws within a secular or moralistic framework is at the core of determining how our legal system shapes our culture. The temporal and moral worlds see reality differently, but they do overlap. Secularism is not amoral, nor is morality irrational. Although both could go down those roads if not constrained by the norms of a democratic society seeking to establish rational decisions.

The Supreme Court punts but remains in the game.

The Supreme Court, in replying to DOJ’s motion to toss out the lower courts’ rulings, choose to reject the lower-court restrictions to suspend mifepristone from the market and impose significant accessibility barriers to allow the lawsuit to continue.

Their decision came in a one-paragraph order, with two dissenting justices: Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. However, up to two other judges could have disagreed with the order without public disclosure since the order was unsigned.  Thomas did not explain his dissent, but Alito provided a detailed three-page analysis that attacks FDA strictly on procedural grounds. 

Alito’s dissent is required reading to understand how morality will never be discussed in any decision to support eliminating access to this abortion pill. He also avoids attacking the validity of FDA’s science and settles for merely noting that there is no real threat of harm from an expected short appeal period.

If Alito’s dissent foreshadows the arguments that the Circuit Court will apply to sustain Kacsmaryk’s decision, the final decision comes down to who will be on their panel to hear the FDA’s case. It may not be the same judges that heard FDA’s initial motion. However, if the panel has a majority of Trump appointees, they would be expected to reach a similar conclusion. If they overreach and base their decision on FDA’s science, they could be on shakier ground for winning a Superior Court ruling if it decides to hear an appeal.

Circuit panels generally consist of three judges, supposedly selected at random. A Cornell Law Review article by a professor found that rarely are the judges chosen randomly. Since the Fifth Circuit Court has four Democrat-appointed to twelve Republican-appointed judges, it is the most conservative appeals court. It turned even further right with Trump appointing six of the judges. If a three-judge panel is used to hear the FDA case, two of the three will likely be Trump appointees, having the same makeup as the original panel that heard FDA’s appeal.

If the Circuit Court denies FDA’s appeal or overrules Kacsmaryk’s decision, one of the parties will undoubtedly appeal to the Supreme Court. But, again, Trump-appointed judges may hold sway; half of the six Republican-appointed justices are moralists selected by Trump. 

The Supreme Court conservative Justices’ would be headed toward a strict moralistic application of the law. Following Alioto’s logic, they would prefer to define their ruling around procedural issues, not morality. If the Circuit Court’s decision questions the science used as a basis for their ruling, the SCOTUS justices could be split on how they rule on the appeal of that court’s finding. 

Whatever the outcome, the conservative Supreme Court Justices’ decision to deny this pill to women would reflect their unwavering Christian beliefs. Acknowledging that the US can harbor a mixture of religious thoughts and practices without one faith being morally superior will not be present in their decision. 

No government cannot decree that a democratic society must make a perfect moral world; it can only make a world that regulates harmful behavior toward other citizens. That is why Congress must remove this issue from the judicial system and codify women’s rights to control their bodies. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

How the Legal and Political Worlds Shape Trump’s Criminal Trial

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Understanding the strategies at play

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg inherited a yearslong grand jury investigating whether former President Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate in 2016, paid to cover up an alleged 2006 affair that could have damaged his campaign. 

Should the criminal charges not be dismissed, Trump’s pending trial for breaking the law will be determined by the court’s legal framework and the public’s attitude. The legal procedures are demarcated and should be independent of public opinion. 

The prosecution will lean heavily on facts based on the witnesses’ knowledge. He will appeal to the jurists based on weighing evidence to enforce the principle that all citizens, even a former president, are equal before the law.

The defense will attack the witnesses’ reliability to provide unbiased, verifiable evidence. That effort began outside the courtroom and before the trial started. Citizens on the jury will be influenced by what they learn from the media. Despite the prosecutor and defense rejections of prejudiced potential jurists, all jurors will have some image of the accused to guide their decisions. 

Trump has begun establishing his image as a victim of a political conspiracy by Democrats to stop him from being the Republican presidential candidate. While that accusation cannot be proven in court, it could undermine the legitimacy of the prosecution’s witnesses and even the prosecutor and the judge in the minds of the jurists.

The defense just needs one jurist to have a reasonable doubt as to whether Trump intended to hide criminal behavior. The jury is hung if that individual disagrees with the other jurors on guilt. No decision is reached, and although Trump is not found innocent, neither was he found guilty. The case could be retried, but that isn’t certain. 

To get a complete picture of the legal and political elements of Trump’s current court case, it is best to do a Q&A on them.

What is an indictment?

            An indictment is a formal accusation from a grand jury of residents, not a conviction.  The indictment means that a grand jury has found enough evidence to formally charge them with the said crime. 

Are grand jurors chosen through politics?

            They are chosen randomly from the same list of jurors for a trial jury. They should represent a cross-section of the resident population from the jurisdiction where a trial will take place. There were 23 grand jurors in this case, with a majority of 12 required to agree on indicting Trump. 

            Trump suggested that the grand jury be held in Staten Island, not the financially centered Manhattan, which has many more Democrats than the primarily residential Staten Island. However, while each New York City burrow has a District Attorney (DA), most financial cases are tried in Manhattan. 

Does the accused have a representative at the grand jury proceedings? 

            No, the only people present are the jurors, a prosecutor, and a court reporter. All are sworn to secrecy. No judges are present. Primarily the prosecutor questions the witnesses, who are under oath, as if in a trial. The jurors may ask questions as well. Republicans argue that the grand jury hears only one side and, therefore, was easily swayed by the prosecutor to indict Trump.

What does charging Trump on 34 counts mean?

            The indictment listed 34 felony counts under a New York statute. While each count represents a separate instance of alleged misconduct, they are all part of one crime for being indicted.

Is D.A. Bragg politically motivated to have Trump jailed?

            Trump trumpets that message on social media, saying that Bragg “campaigned on the fact that he would get President Trump. ‘I gotta get him. I’m going to get him.’ South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham said, “This is political persecution. This is a combination of political hatred and selective prosecution on steroids.”

             Bragg said during his campaign to become the new D.A. for Manhattan, “I have investigated Trump and his children and held them accountable for their misconduct with the Trump Foundation. I know how to follow the facts and hold people in power accountable.” 

            As PBS reported, Bragg folded the Trump investigation after getting into office because he felt there was insufficient evidence to pursue a conviction. He changed his mind after he won his case against the Trump Foundation. Its top official Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges.

            He did sentence Trump’s close confidant Allen Weisselberg to prison and presided over the Trump Organization tax fraud trial. However, Nicholas Gravante, the attorney who represented Weisselberg in his plea, said, “Judge Merchan was efficient, practical, and listened carefully to what I had to say.” 

            Earl Ward, a trial attorney, and chair of a public defender nonprofit, has watched Merchan preside over cases. Ward says, “He’s fair, and his rulings are consistent with the law.” But, if it’s a close call, he lands on the prosecutor’s side.

            As a citizen, Merchan donated $35 to Democratic causes in 2020, which included $15 to President Biden’s campaign and $10 to a group dedicated to “resisting … Donald Trump’s radical right-wing legacy.”

            Consequently, in his post-arraignment speech, at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Trump said, “I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris.”  Donald Trump Jr. shared a link on social media that included a photo of Merchan’s daughter. In the 24 hours after Trump’s arraignment, Merchan and his family received multiple threats.

What does the D.A. have to prove to the trial jury?

            One word provides the answer: intent. Bragg must prove that Trump knowingly intended to conceal criminal conduct. For example, he is accused of falsifying internal business records at his private company to hide a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The payment stopped her from publicly claiming they had a 2006 affair. The payments were given to her a couple of weeks before the November 2016 election to avoid the incident from going public and harming his chances of winning the election. 

            Bragg also said that Trump “orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects.” This was in regard to another alleged affair he had. 

            Under New York law, falsifying business records is a misdemeanor charge. Still, if there is an “intent to defraud” that includes an intent to “commit another crime or to aid or conceal” a crime, it becomes a felony. The other crime could be violating the federal campaign finance law or failing to pay taxes on the payments involved

            John Edwards, a former Democratic presidential candidate, was also charged with this crime in 2012 for paying for a scheme to cover up an affair. Like Trump, Edwards concealed a payment that amounted to an undisclosed campaign contribution to benefit his presidential campaign.

He was acquitted on one count, and the jury failed to reach a verdict on the other counts. The jurors afterward said there was confusion over the exact requirements of campaign finance law, discomfort with unusually using the law to punish a candidate’s personal misdeeds, and concerns with the credibility of a critical witness.

Could the court dismiss the charges without a trial?

            Yes, if the defense can convince the judge that Bragg linking a state misdemeanor charge to violating federal law is not allowable. Some legal experts question Bragg’s legal strategy. If the judge allows that link to be made, the defense could appeal his decision, delaying the trial’s start date. They might try to push it past November of 2024.

If Trump is found guilty, will he go to jail?

            First, a conviction would not legally prevent Trump from continuing to run for president. While Trump could face up to four years in prison for each count, legal experts say he would not receive jail time as a first-time offender with no criminal record.

Will the trial’s date influence who is the Republican Presidential Candidate?

            You bet! Trump’s attorney asked that the start of the trial be in spring. If the judge accepts that request, the trial begins in May. The expectation is that it will take a couple of months. The Republican Convention is scheduled for July 15-18, and their primaries and state caucuses to select presidential candidates to begin in March. By asking for a spring date, Trump expects to make his trial the centerpiece issue of the Republican Primaries and its Nominating Convention. Just try to push him off the front pages.

Has the indictment hurt Trump?

            A CNN poll from April first shows that Trump’s indictment has not hurt him. He started with a favorability rating of 32% in January 2023 and had 34% in the poll. It appears to have ticked up slightly, with Republicans moving from 68% to 72%. The poll’s margin of sampling error is +/- 4.0%. This implies that Trump, at this stage in the court process, is solidifying his base and on the way to winning his party’s primaries. 

            However, 60% of Americans approved his indictment, and while the Ds and Rs were firmly in favor or opposed, independent voters, 62% to 32% supported the indictment. That trend points to a repeat of 2020, when Biden won most independent voters in the swing states to beat Trump. 

            Whatever the verdict in this trial, Trump has hammered home the message that his legal problems are all about politics. That spin may resonate with the public since, according to the CNN poll, “about three-quarters of Americans say politics played at least some role in the decision to indict Trump, including 52% who said it played a major role.”

That attitude may not push independents to vote for Trump, but they might sit out the election and not vote, hurting the Democratic candidate more than Trump. 

Bottom Line: Does it matter whether Trump is found guilty or innocent?

            No polls have been taken to measure how this trial’s verdict would impact Trump’s electability. But given what we know, his base will hold, and they account for over 50% of the Republican primary voters. So, if Trump is found guilty, he could still become the Republican Presidential nominee. 

            The more significant stumbling block to a Trump victory in the primaries and the general election is how the other prominent potential indictments, which tie him to election interference in Georgia and the January 6 insurrection, play out. 

            It is highly likely that if there are other indictments, they will come before the March 2024 Republican Primaries begin. However, it is also likely that the resulting trials, if not dismissed, may begin after November 2024. 

            Like the leaders of other nations who have been indicted for criminal activity, Trump may be able to delay his trials for a long time. Typically, high-profile court cases of former or current leaders of other democratic countries (e.g., Israel, Brazil, France) take longer than a year. 

            The path forward for Trump is to continue fighting all the pending indictments and declare innocence in all potential trials. In winning, he’ll declare unmitigated victory; in losing, he’ll claim that our democracy is dead and predict an uprising to save it. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

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Our Cultural Assumptions stop us from achieving National Health Care Coverage

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This piece is part 2 of looking at Health Care in the US. Part 1 was issued two weeks ago and can be read here.

American attitudes dissuade citizens from having a universal health care system (UHC). Those beliefs have outweighed considering the health benefits gained from providing affordable health coverage to every citizen. 

However, since the Affordable Care Act was passed, there has been greater acceptance of moving our nation’s health standards to what citizens enjoy in other economically developed democracies.  Still, two beliefs continue to resist universal health care.

The first belief is that America is the greatest nation in the world, and hence our health care is better than anywhere else. Second, collecting taxes makes for a big government to interfere in people’s private lives.

Those beliefs are not evil but are stopping our healthcare system from being universally accessible to all Americans.  Consequently, let’s examine how each assumption is challenged by how our healthcare compares to other nations’ healthcare plans.

Being the Greatest Nation has limits.

The belief that one’s country is a unique great nation is a sentiment other nations have also possessed. Britain, Russia, Germany, China, etc., sometimes believed they were the greatest. And each declined as they limited what they were willing to learn from other countries. We need not make that mistake.

We are the wealthiest nation in the world, measured by both GDP and per capita GDP. Moreover, our federal military and health budgets are roughly equal. However, compared to other developed democracies, our military’s performance is unmatched, while our health care is dismal. 

Our politicians, for the most part, have shunned investigating how other nations have surpassed us in delivering health care. As a result, Americans are only aware of the difference from other countries once they experience receiving health care elsewhere. Of course, each person will have a different experience, but they will all be starkly different from how they are treated in the US. For example, you can read about the experience of two of my readers with universal health care (UHC) in Italy and Germany here. I invite others to submit their stories to me, and I’ll post them on my website under the tab Resources. 

Measuring the Quality of a Nation’s Health Care

A nation’s cultural assumptions are dynamic in that political power energizes them to achieve objectives that benefit those who wield power. Nevertheless, despite this condition in other democracies, their societies have adopted UHC despite resistance from their established health industry. The results are evident when their health systems are compared to the US as measured by three indexes: Medical drug expenditures per capita, health expenditure per capita, and life expectancy. The detail for each index follows. 

Cost of medical drugs – A study on Retail Rx spending per capita (1980–2015) showed that the US spent more than nine other high-income nations of similar population sizes. For example, Americans spent $1,011 annually, while Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom spent considerably less. Germany came the closest to the US, spending $686 a year. 

Findings concluded that Americans consume similar amounts of drugs as people in other countries, so the high US cost was not due to our greater demand. 

Health expenditure per capita – The data is expressed in Purchasing power parities (PPPs) which equalize the purchasing power of different currencies. In 2021, the US had the highest expenditure at $12.3 thousand. This amount includes both public and private expenditures.

Of the nine other comparable developed democracies, seven in Europe and two in Asia, Germany, at $7.4 thousand, had the next highest per capita ranking. All the other countries had per capita amounts that ranged from six to four thousand dollars per capita.  

Life expectancy – In the US, the average life expectancy is 79.11 years, which ranks at #46 out of 149 countries based on the latest United Nations Population Division estimates. We rank last among economically developed democracies. On average, citizens in the three nations with our closest cultural heritage, Canada, England, and Australia, live five years longer than Americans. 

Although the public may need to become more familiar with these metrics, a 2019 survey by Statista revealed that only 33% of Americans were satisfied with our national health system. Compared to other economically developeddemocracies, the UK ranked highest with 53% satisfied, followed by Australia, France, Canada, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Italy, and the US. The Statista survey also showed that 43% of Americans were dissatisfied with our health system. 

The Fear of Big Government is hurting us.

Republican President Ronald Reagan gets credit for the best quote about fearing Big Government when he said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. “

Since 1980, Republicans have opposed tax increases for expanding Medicare and Medicaid and enacting ACA. Providing more health care is a precursor to producing a big government with more bureaucracy and poorer service. Most countries with effective and affordable UHC heavily fund it through taxes. Tax-financed expenditures as a percentage of US national health expenditures were 65.7 % in 2020. That is in the high range for comparable nations but not unusual.  

However, our private per capita health expenditure is the highest of all of them. It is 17% higher than what citizens spend in Australia, Canada, and South Korea, which spend the following highest amounts per capita. US tax dollars do not offset out-of-pocket costs that individuals must pay for health coverage, while citizens in nations providing UHC pay less out-of-pocket expenses. This discrepancy is not a problem of a big government; it is a problem of how our tax dollars are spent. 

Nevertheless, a note of caution is necessary. First, of course, a national government must be involved in the planning or delivery of health services. However, a government declaring total coverage does not guarantee good health care. For instance, Brazil is the only country where any individual is eligible to receive free healthcare with no previous application. Consequently, one would expect them to have a health care system with the most satisfied citizens. But that’s not so. 

Brazil is ranked 63 among nations in providing a sound quality health system. Meanwhile, the US is ranked 30 by the CEOWorld Magazine‘s Health Care Index. Also, 63% of Brazilians are dissatisfied with their health care system, a far higher percentage than Americans are dissatisfied with ours. Therefore, government involvement is critical for achieving an efficient UHC, but only if it is one of many other participating organizations. Comparable countries to the US with UHC involve private companies, hospitals, physicians, and non-profit organizations in some capacity of service delivery, cost sharing, and planning. 

How UHC functions in other nations

All nations implementing universal health care (UCF) do so through regulation and taxation. The legislation directs what kind of care must be provided, subject to the ability to make a co-payment for a minimum amount for service or medications. 

The following is a brief sampling of how comparable nations to the US have consistently rated among the top dozen nations providing the best health care to their citizens (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom’s England).  

In looking across multiple nations, UHC can be described by how they address four common elements: Funding source, health costs, coverage provided, and how services are delivered. Remember that the health plans described reflect conditions over the past few years. Countries continuously adjust their plans as political and economic conditions impact the health of their citizens. 

Funding Source 

All the comparable countries have some national healthcare insurance that receives substantial tax revenue. That revenue comes from central and local governments through income, sales, and corporate taxes. Some have specific levies for national health insurance, like Australia, which has a 2% levy and a surcharge for people over 35 that don’t have private health insurance. Exemptions and reductions are available for low-income Australian earners. 

Businesses in most of this sampling also pick up a significant portion of healthcare costs for their employees. For instance, German employers pay for half of their employees’ health insurance contributions, while self-employed workers pay the entire contribution themselves with some exceptions.

Health Costs

One of the critical tools employed is the government regulating health costs for medical procedures and prescription medicines and not leaving the profit-oriented marketplace to determine prices. 

Japan has used a national uniform fee schedule for reimbursing health providers for decades. Canada determines physician fees through periodic negotiations between the ministry and provincial medical associations (the Canadian version of the American Medical Association). France sets the insurance premium levels to be charged related to income and determines the prices of goods and services refunded.

By the government influencing the costs, it can insert community social goals, such as access to health care based on need. For example, Germany calculates individual health insurance premiums based on income and not age or the number of dependents. Australia made hospitalization free for permanent residents; in France, only 3.7% of hospital treatment costs are reimbursed through private insurance.

Coverage Provided

Although these nations commit to providing affordable healthcare, it is not free of requiring copayments. For instance, the national insurance plans in Canada and Japan cover 70 percent of the costs. However, in the case of Canada, the 30 percent typically relates to services not covered or only partially covered by their national insurance, such as prescription drugs, eye care, and dentistry.

 In Japan, the individual contribution percentage could drop to 10 or 20 percent, depending on the family’s income and the insured’s age. Seniors who are covered by Japan’s national Senior Insurance plan only pay 10% out of pocket.

While some of these eight nations have no-cost emergency medicine and general doctor visits, individual co-pays are common in all the countries. Often it does not apply to public health needs; instead, it applies to specialties like dental and eye work. Italy has a small parallel private healthcare system specializing in dentistry and optometry health needs. 

Even with universal health coverage, some items still need to be covered. For instance, Australia does not cover the cost of ambulance services, most dental care, glasses, contact lenses, or hearing aids. However, most of these are covered by state and territory governments or under private health insurance.

How Services Are Delivered

Surprisingly nations adopting UHC have not created large central bureaucracies. As a result, the decision-making and delivery of services are more decentralized than expected.

In the UK, which has one of the most extensive UHCs, responsibility is divided among geographical areas through strategic health authorities. And within each of the UK’s states (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), their legislatures make changes that address their citizens’ concerns. 

Italy permits considerable variation in the quality and outcomes of care by region. For example, when measured at their Local Health Authority level, the results varied between 5% and more than 60%. And Australia’s state and territory governments regulate and administer the significant elements of healthcare, such as doctors, public hospitals, and ambulance services.

Germany has a unique arrangement where the Federal Joint Committee executes its healthcare system, making binding regulations and routine decisions. The Committee consists of representatives of public health insurance, hospitals, doctors, and dentists and three impartial members. In addition, on a local level, regional groups of sickness funds negotiate with regional doctors’ and dentists’ associations for payment for ambulatory and dental care.

Canada has a single payer system operated by a third-party payer responsible for paying health care providers for medical services. The government generally doesn’t own hospitals or employ doctors directly, and health services are delivered through provincial and territorial systems.

Each nation has a different way of planning and delivering health services. But they all manage to provide health coverage more cost-effectively and equitably than what the US is accomplishing.

To Move Forward, We Must Question our Assumptions.

President Biden said, in a New York Times guest editorial, that “he will make Medicare “solvent beyond 2050 without cutting a penny in benefits.” Biden knows that adults 65 and older with Medicare coverage (94%) report being very satisfied or satisfied with the quality of their medical care and the availability of specialists. 

Conservatives and portions of the health industry are attacking his suggestion to raise funds through fees and taxes. They are tapping into two cultural assumptions hindering America from moving forward: taxes produce a big ineffective government, and America has nothing essential to learn from other nations. 

Opponents of Biden’s plan fear a more significant trend, support for a public health insurance option now winning over 80% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans. Having the opportunity to choose public or private insurance is one of the critical elements of the comparable nations’ universal health care plans.

Biden needs to use his executive authority to begin a year-long process to evaluate how other developed democracies serve their citizens’ health needs compared to what we are providing to ours. He should invite both houses to pursue this effort with him. He should also reach out to health medical professionals and providers. 

This discussion must be debated openly, not with ominous predictions or utopian promises, but with facts gathered from the leaders and users of UHC in other nations. Let them explain how it works to our citizens. Let them talk not just in DC but in forums around the US. 

Those forums should be held in at least the seven states that approved Medicaid expansion by ballot measure, Idaho, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. They should also appear in Florida and Wyoming, the only remaining states that have rejected expanding Medicaid but can expand it by ballot initiative. All these states except Maine voted for Donald Trump in 2020, who campaigned to eliminate ACA.  

The US will never adopt UCF, Medicare for All plan, or a public insurance option until Senators and Congressional Representatives from those and similar red states are pushed to support it by their residents. Until then, Congressional Republicans will block the creation of any national health insurance plan.

If you want to start a discussion on how to get better health care for Americans, pass this on to your friends who live in other states!

Stop Playing Politics – Provide Americans Universal Health Care – Part 1

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Although Republicans in Congress push to cut President Biden’s proposed budget significantly, they will not touch the military, but they threatened to cut the health budget. The nation’s health system is too expensive and impacts our federal budget, but it also doesn’t serve the public’s health needs.

The military and Medicare budgets combined evenly account for about 40% of the federal budget. The health budget includes Medicare for all seniors and CHIP and Medicaid programs that pay health care costs for those who meet low-income guidelines.

President Biden, in his recent State of the Union address, warned Americans that the Republicans were coming for their Medicare.  Overnight, Republican Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell publicly rejected Sen. Rick Scott’s (R) campaign manifesto to sunset all federal programs, including Medicare. 

McConnell must have read the recent survey by AP Votecast showing that the only group voting Republican by a majority in November’s national elections were those 65 and older.

Despite the recent Republican retreat from a conversation about cutting Medicare, maintaining Biden’s proposed healthcare budget will neither balance the budget nor fix our healthcare apparatus.  

Providing everyone with decent, affordable health care will be unattainable unless we adopt Universal Health Care (UHC). The alternative will be to leave almost 30 million Americans uninsured, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Universal Health Care does not necessarily cover all ailments for all people. But it does mean that all people have access to healthcare when and where needed, without financial hardship.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson took the first step toward achieving that goal in 1965 when he persuaded Congress to enact government health insurance for senior citizens. Unfortunately, it took 20 years to accomplish this after President Harry Truman proposed UHC.

President Barak Obama took the next significant historic step 45 years later when he got Congress to pass the comprehensive healthcare reform law Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. Up to then, the total number of uninsured averaged 15 percent. 

Since 2014, when the ACA was amended, 39 states have chosen to expand Medicaid eligibility and establish health insurance marketplaces through ACA. As a result, the uninsured rate has fallen to around 10 percent. Still, in 2021 64% of uninsured adults said they were uninsured because the cost of coverage was too high.

And uninsured rates are not spread evenly across demographic groups. For example, the uninsured rate is 5.7% for White, while the largest minority group, Hispanic or Latino, has an uninsured rate of 17.7%. In addition, youth, those under 35 years old, which make up 59% of our population, have the highest rate of being uninsured. 

Because of not having insurance, or inadequate insurance, a 2019 Gallup poll found that 25% of U.S. adults said they or a family member had delayed treatment for a severe medical condition because of cost. Sixty percent of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical bills, with most of those people being underinsured.  

Most significantly, the lack of health insurance is associated with about 45,000 excess preventable deaths per year, according to a study conducted by the American Journal of Public Health in 2009.

Conservatives argue that making our economy even more free market can provide the best health coverage due to competition and keep our budget balanced.

However, the conservative Fraser Institute’s Freedom Economic ranked countries New Zealand, Australia, and Denmark as having a friendlier capitalist economy than the US, and they provide better health care according to the 2021 CEOWorld Magazine‘s Health Care Index. They also spend half of the $12,318 we spend per capita on health care. Our per capita cost is by far the highest in the world. And that cost is a burden to both individuals and the government. 

The non-partisan CEOWorld Magazine’s 2021 Health Care Index provides one of the most respected rankings of nations by how well they provide health care to their citizens.

They use “a statistical analysis of the overall quality of the health care system, including health care infrastructure; health care professionals competencies; cost (USD per capita); quality medicine availability, and government readiness.” The US placed 30, right behind Mexico but one notch above Lithuania. We should at least be in the top ten. 

Despite Medicare and ACA, the US is still the only developed nation without a functioning universal healthcare network. As a result, millions of Americans go without health coverage in the wealthiest nation in the world as measured by our GDP.

Our economy is larger than the combined total of the next eight largest national economies, exempting China. It is not for the lack of money that we have a poor health system. The reason is that politicians from both the left and the right have resisted a universal health system that shares health care costs between government and private entities. 

Democrats and liberals have pushed for universal health care, with government funding going back to FDR. Except for Teddy Roosevelt, all subsequent Republican presidents have adhered to a free-market health system as a better alternative.

However, the Republican position since Ronald Reagan has turned beyond debating the merits of how to provide a national health plan to actively overturning any programs deemed “socialist” that provide broader health care facilitated through governments. Instead, a free-market ideology and a private-profit-driven health delivery system shape that position.

President Donald Trump was the latest example of this trend when he tweeted that Republicans would seek to replace the ACA after the 2020 election. When that attempt failed, they passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which eliminated the ACA requirement that people maintain health insurance or pay the penalty. 

Requiring everyone to have health insurance is often used by countries to sustain an efficient risk distribution among participating public and private insurance providers. Without everyone being insured, healthier people will be picked up by private companies leaving the sick to be covered by the public health care plans. 

Republicans and other critics of ACA expected the change to cause the ACA insurance network to collapse financially. American University Professor Aparna Soni analyzed the impact of this change with that possibility in mind.

Soni Used data from the 2015–19 Census Annual Population Survey to compare pre-and post-repeal insurance levels in states that did and did not impose a state mandate in 2019. She found a 24% increase in the likelihood of becoming newly uninsured in states with no federal or state mandate. In other words, the free market did not meet the health needs of those unable to afford insurance through private providers. 

Conservatives argued that ACA would hurt the economy and, by extension, contribute to budget deficits. However, ACA reduced payments to hospitals under Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans, which lowered the expected growth of Medicare expenditures by 20 percent.

Overall, Medicare spending fell from 2010 to 2018. Meanwhile, the annual increase in national per capita healthcare cost was modest by historical standards creating no attributable spike in the nation’s budget deficit.  

America has the least effective and most costly health system of any economically developed nation because our politics are driven by a culture where citizens fear losing the freedom to select a health care provider of their choice. That belief reflects our country’s legacy of being founded on the principle of protecting personal freedoms. It is sustained by a profit-oriented market that promotes the acquisition of certain commodities and services as safeguarding personal freedoms. 

Consequently, the health industry relies on keeping government regulation of health care to a minimum so that their products and services do not have to compete with cheaper and possibly better options. Republicans fanned the fear of big government controlling our health choices by describing ACA as an attack on our freedom.

Since ACA was signed into law in 2010, Newsweek found at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify, or curb the Affordable Care Act. Immediately preceding the 2014 midterm elections, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s found that 84% of Republican-affiliated healthcare ads attacked the ACA. The Democrats, meanwhile, barely mentioned it, with only 11 percent of Democrat-affiliated ads promoting it. 

The barrage of Republican attacks resulted in unfavorable polling toward ACA, reaching its historic high of 53% for one month in 2014. Overall, polling has shown that the country has been evenly divided over accepting ACA, with the unfavorable opinion slightly in the majority until Donald Trump’s first year in office. Once he took office with his MAGA agenda, polls never showed opposition greater than support. Support for ACA reached a historic high of 58% in 2022.

Republicans noted that significant change in public attitude, and they started walking back their previous criticisms. In the new House Republican one-page “Commitment to America” blueprint for their policy objectives, there is no mention of ACA. It is no longer portrayed as the cause of our budget deficit. 

Republicans failed to eliminate ACA and never revealed the health plan they promised to have as an alternative. However, progressive Democrats failed to secure a single-payer system for health care to replace ACA. Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the progressives’ primary advocates, refused to support expanding ACA. Instead, he pushed for the government being the “single payer” for virtually all health care services.

Public opinion did not embrace either path toward establishing a national plan for health care. Americans may adopt a system that citizens in other developed democratic republics have chosen, one that mixes public and private financial and delivery systems to achieve universal health care. 

What has been missing from the debate between liberals and conservatives is an understanding that universal health coverage is not what either side describes. Citizens living in countries with UHC are neither in prison nor in a utopia. There are wide varieties of it, but all result in a healthier population than ours.

Viewing the differences among the countries with universal health coverage reveals that private insurance may not disappear. Often government works with private companies.

Whether the delivery is through the government or private companies, the bottom line is that no one is left without the affordable health coverage needed to live a healthy life.

Without understanding how comparable countries implement Universal Health Coverage, we will continue to blame the other political party for a health system ranked below a score of far less wealthy nations. 

Citizen Politics will explore how implementing the UHC practices from other countries can provide more equitable, affordable health coverage for Americans.

Nick Licata is the author ofBecoming A Citizen ActivistandStudent Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

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A Bloated Military Budget enables waste, corruption, and world-wide intervention

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While the Republicans and Democrats do a slow tangle to lift the debt ceiling to avoid crippling our economy, they agree on taking one step together. They are lockstep in supporting the military budget.

A few politicians from both parties raise a tepid voice of caution to avoid excessive and loosely supervised spending. Nevertheless, for over a hundred years, the military budget has been sacrosanct to Republicans and Democrats.

The Biden Administration and Congress carry on that tradition in the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Strategy Budget.It is an increase of $69.2 billion over the FY 2022 budget and $25 billion above President Biden’s budget request

Nevertheless, Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks’ proudly defended the military budget at the Reagan Institute. It is fitting that Hicks spoke in praise of President Reagan, whose military budget was above 6% of the nation’s GDP(gross domestic product) in each of his budgets. It has never been that high since he left office. 

The military is the golden goose that lays the golden eggs for arms suppliers. According to the non-partisan SIPRI(Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), five American companies (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics) accounted for 35 percent of the top 100 arms sales in 2018. The total arms sales of US companies represented 59 percent. For the last two decades, the American military-industrial sector accounted for more than 30% of the world’s military spending.

However, for most citizens, funding the military is like having a knight protect your castle from being attacked. President Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme American knight from WW II, was one the few who voiced concerns about unrestrained support for military funding. 

During his Farewell Address in January 1961, he said, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex,” adding that it could lead to the disastrous rise of misplaced power. During that same speech, he linked it to the dangers of massive spending, especially deficit spending. Eisenhower should have been concerned about military costs because they gobbled up 9 percent in his last two budgets. 

Since Reagan left office, the military budget has not exceeded 5% of our GDP, and it has been under 4% for most years. So Biden has a way of catching up with Reagan’s appetite even though his Fiscal Year 23 request was an 8 % increase over the ’22 request.

Raising money to defend our nation is far easier than fighting someone else’s war. Perhaps that’s why Harry Truman got rid of the War Department, which had been a cabinet post since George Washington. Instead, he created the Department of Defense, using the excuse that he wanted to include the Navy and the Army under one administrative roof. 

They could have saved a lot of stationary and kept the old name. But Depart of Defense has a better image than the Department of War. 

President Reagan justified his defense budget, saying it would “preserve a free way of life in a sometimes-dangerous world.” President Biden’s State of the Union address tapped into that feeling of keeping America safe in a dangerous world when he said, “Modernizing our military to safeguard stability and deter aggression. Today, we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world.”

Still, some members from both parties question if the spigot of money flowing to the military should be turned down a bit. 

From the Democratic side of the aisle, Bernie Sanders is the most vociferous critic of a wasteful military budget. Sanders refused to vote for Biden’s fiscal year 2023 National Defense Strategy Act (NDSA).

He explained why he voted no on his Senate website: “the Department of Defense continues to have massive fraud and cost overruns year after year and is the only major government agency not to complete an independent audit.” ThePentagon failed their last audit in 2022, unable to account for more than 60% of its assets.

Echoing Eisenhower’s warning, Sanders added, “Our nation’s history concerns about the deficit and national debt seem to melt away under the influence of the powerful Military Industrial Complex.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) joined Sanders to be one of just six Senate Democrats voting against Biden’s NDSA. The other Senate Democrats voting no were Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Markey highlighted their objection to the billions more that Congress has invested in the military than it has in “addressing many of the biggest security concerns facing the American people–such as climate change, the opioid epidemic, poverty, hunger, and disease.”

Five Senate Republicans joined the Democrats in voting no, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).

In the House, NDSA passed overwhelmingly, with only 39 Democrats and 62 Republicans voting against it. The core of opposition within each party sprung from the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus and the Republican’s Freedom Caucus. 

Although more Republicans than Democrats voted against providing additional money for the military, their opposition stemmed from their cultural war against liberal social changes. Kevin McCarthy told Fox News his priority was to “Eliminate all the money spent on ‘wokeism.’ Eliminate all the money that they’re trying to find different fuels, and they’re worried about the environment.”

His remarks accurately reflect those of the Freedom House Caucus members and reactionary Republicans. For example, Rep.  Jim Banks, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he supported defunding programs like diversity and inclusion training. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chair of that committee, told the Hill, “We’re going to cut money that’s being spent on wokeism, we’re going to cut legacy programs.”

Nevertheless, there are Republicans and conservatives who are more concerned about fiscal policy than defunding environmental and racial justice programs. Justin Logan, a director at the libertarian Cato Institute, said talk around slashing “woke” programs are more about scoring political points than enacting real budget change. Eliminating those woke programs would be a drop in the bucket.

Logan put his finger on the fundamental problem, “the Pentagon has had extremely ambitious goals for the United States, and pursuing those goals is extremely expensive.” Moreover, the goals go way beyond the Constitution’s Preamble, which limited the use of the military “…to provide for the common defense.”  

America, since WWII, has come to define our “common” interest in defense to apply worldwide – to any nation presenting a threat to us. That threat may be a government, even a democracy, deemed anticapitalistic or a country threatening our foreign investments. 

We often do not send in the American military but encourage others to toss out a government using our equipment. However, America has become the single most significant global military footprint. We have roughly 750 US foreign military bases spread across 80 nations. Russia has about three dozen bases, and China has just five bases. In addition, we had around 173,000 troops deployed in 159 countries as of 2020.

Examples abound of American intervention to install governments to our liking. The two that stand out are the overthrow of Chile’s elected President Salvador Allende, a self-declared Marxist, in favor of a military junta in 1973, and the 1953 Iranian coup d’état which ended the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favor of restoring monarchical rule. In addition, an academic study showed that America participated in at least 81 overt and covert known interventions in foreign elections during the period 1946–2000.

Domestically, influencing Congress’s budget is critical to preserving our military supply business. The military industry spent over $101 million lobbying Congress in the three months before the NDSA was passed. During the 2022 midterm election cycle, the industry contributed an additional $17.5 million directly to the campaigns of Congress members. 

As a result, defense contractors should receive the same portion of the money allocated to the Department of Defense that contractors received from 2001 to 2020. According to the Brown University Costs of War Project, anywhere from one-third to half of the $816 billion that Congress approved and President Biden signed off on will go to military contractors; that’s a minimum of $244 billion.  

Between the influence of these contractors on Congress and the widespread fear of having our freedom taken from us by Russia, China, Iran, and others, trimming the Defense Budget is more of a dream than a reality. To make that dream a reality, one of the parties needs to focus on the actual costs of maintaining a military industry that is neither affordable nor practical.

Dan Caldwell, a vice president at the conservative Koch-funded organization Stand Together, said the “seemingly unstoppable growth in the defense budget is not tied to a realistic strategy,”  Caldwell further told a Vox journalist that “The only way that you can realistically reduce defense spending is by effectively changing America’s grand strategy.”

Congress asked the Congressional Budget Office in 2021 to provide its members with ways of trimming that grand strategy by lowering the Department of Defense while maintaining a solid defense. The CBO provided a report with three broad options for reconfiguring the military. They proposed that the Department of Defense funding could be reduced by $1 trillion (in 2022 dollars), or 14 percent, over the next ten years. Unfortunately, there has not been a push by Congress to hold public hearings on its suggestions. And the CBO just released a new budget projection of a 

Until Congressional members work together to alter the military’s use, we will continue to allocate money to build more expensive equipment not to defend our nation’s boundaries but to shape politics worldwide. At some point, the US must decide where its commitments must be limited in amount and time. Failing to do so will draw us into protracted conflicts that have limited importance for protecting our democracy or those elsewhere. 

We need bold leaders to stop ignoring the investments required to maintain our domestic infrastructure and essential citizen services in order to sustain a wasteful military budget.

A Debt Ceiling Holds Our Economy Hostage

If Congress doesn’t raise the ceiling, one of the political parties threatens to bring our economy to a halt. That is not a sensible way to run a government. That’s why only the US and Denmark have a debt ceiling set at an absolute amount rather than as a percentage of GDP like other developed countries.

Once the federal budget is not balanced and runs a deficit, the government must borrow more money, go deeper into debt to pay its bills, and not default on paying its loans. Although the U.S. has run a deficit in 77 out of the past 90 years, it has never defaulted on its debt payments because Congress raised the debt limit. However, that threshold may be crossed this year under pressure from the House Freedom Caucus, which demands a cut to the 2023 budget that Congress already approved.

Limiting debt or balancing the budget is not mentioned in the constitution. However, paying off a national debt and setting a debt limit began with the American Revolution.

The next big crisis was when the Civil War brought a tremendous 4,000 percent increase in debt. Then, finally, the First World War debts led to the first law to limit debt from federal bonds. 

Those initial concerns addressed a specific debt that arose from a specific need, such as fighting a war. However, since the Great Recession, Congress has passed laws that have grown to the point that now a debt ceiling applies to 95.5% of all federal debt. So how did we get here?

We can thank the Democrats for the debt ceiling law we have today, which was substantially established by Public Debt Acts in 1939 and 1940 when they controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress. However, just having a debt ceiling has not been a problem in the past. Since 1960, Congress has raised the debt limit 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents to avoid the US defaulting on its debt payments.

Congress raised the debt ceiling regularly until 1995 despite some party politics threatening to vote against a budget to fund the government. This stability was due to the parties adopting a parliamentary rule (named the “Gephardt Rule”)in 1979 that automatically raised the debt ceiling when Congress passed a budget.

However, a Republican-controlled House repealed the rule in 1995. Ironically, Republican Ronald Reagan benefitted from the Gephardt Rule by raising the debt ceiling 18 times in his eight-year administration in the 80s. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were the successive highest administrations with the number of raised ceilings, Bush at 11 and Clinton at 8.  

After the Gephardt Rule was repealed, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling in 1995. They demanded President Bill Clinton cut budget programs in Education, Environment, and Health Care. Consequently, the government was shut down for a total of 26 days. 

The Republicans initiated a budget crisis in 2011 by refusing to raise the ceiling until President Obama cut his budget. They waited to approve it until two days before the Treasury borrowing authority would be exhausted. The government did not shut down, but the Dow Jones average fell 2,000 points. The threat alone raised federal borrowing costs by $1.3 billion in 2011, according to the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office (GAO). 

The Republicans rejected Obama’s budget by refusing to raise the debt ceiling in 2013. They would not raise it this time unless President Obama defunded the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Their opposition resulted in a 16-day shutdown until the day arrived when the Treasury estimated that their “extraordinary measures” would end. If the shutdown had continued, all government payments would have stopped, possibly including loan payments. 

Democrats have also used the debt limit to their advantage. Like the Republicans, the threat of not raising the limit is often waved around. For instance, Senator Joe Biden in 2006 joined other senators in opposing a ceiling increase to protest the cost of tax cuts and the Iraq war, but no shutdown resulted.

Democrat-initiated shutdowns occurred twice in 2018. In January, they refused to fund Trump’s budget, and the government had to shut down for three days. They objected to Trump’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) immigration policy which was tucked in the budget that would have subjected unregistered minors to deportation. 

In December 2018, Trump got his wish when he said in May 2017 that “our country needs a ‘good shutdown.” That month the Democrats prompted a government shutdown for 35 days, the most prolonged shutdown in history. It intended to stop Trump from funding a wall along our Mexican border.

Initially, both parties in the Senate unanimously passed an appropriations bill without funding a wall. However, outrage from right-wing media and Republicans got Trump to say he would not sign any appropriations bill that did not fund its construction. Ultimately, Trump declared a national emergency on the border with Mexico to access billions of dollars to build the wall.

A government shutdown is not just an inconvenience of closing national parks and laying off government employees; it damages the entire American economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the December 2018 shutdown cost to be at least $11 billion. The current budget crisis, which began when the debt ceiling was hit on January 19, 2023, could be much worse. 

Until now, the US has never defaulted on any bonds. However, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has begun implementing “extraordinary measures” to keep the government open and from defaulting on loans. Deploying extraordinary measures to avoid defaulting is a well-worn path, with the Treasury using them at least seven times since 2011.

The current measures are expected to expire as early as the end of summer. Consequently, the country’s financial markets will be under stress for more than half a year before they go over the cliff. According to Yellen, “Once all available measures and cash on hand are fully exhausted, the United States of America would be unable to meet its obligations for the first time in our history.”

If that happens, she believes that, at a minimum, our debt rating will be downgraded, resulting in higher government and individual borrowing costs. In addition, failing to make payments to US bondholders will cut revenue to foreign countries, corporations worldwide, US IRA accounts, and personal holdings. Yellen says this action “would undoubtedly cause a recession in the US economy and could cause a global financial crisis.”

That crisis could permanently damage America because the dollar serves as a reserve currency that is used in transactions all over the world. In effect, the US is the world’s Savings Bank. And while we are the largest reserve fund in the world, our share has been shrinking. Our share of central banks reserves fell in 2020 to 59 percent, its lowest level in 25 years, according to the IMF.

Because most foreign central banks hold dollar-backed securities like U.S. Treasury bonds, the United States can borrow at lower interest rates than other countries. If we skip payments, our securities become less safe, pushing up the interest America must pay to borrow funds in the future. Increasing our interest costs results in a more significant portion of our federal budget for interest payments reducing revenue for domestic social services, structural investments, and employment. In addition, a prolonged government shutdown invites a recession and further budget deficits.

The past cycle of reckless brinkmanship will continue if the right-wing guides House Republicans over the next two budget cycles. However, history shows that both parties use the threat of not increasing the debt ceiling to advance their policy issues. Just exercising the threat creates massive problems in running a functioning government and guaranteeing safe and secure bonds to purchase. 

If the Republicans strongly threaten to allow the government to default on its debt obligations, they will lose voters. The Democrats must also be wary of how President Biden handles a shutdown. The party that refuses to abandon an unpopular policy, whether they control Congress or the Presidency, loses. Polls from the Republican-driven shutdowns in 2011 and 2013 show that over three-quarters of the population opposed a shutdown over accepting something less than perfect in the budget. 

But a President can also be blamed for a shutdown initiated by the opposition party in Congress. In the Democrat-initiated 2018 shutdown, 53% of Americans blamed Trump and Republicans for the shutdown, compared to 34% who blamed Democrats. That’s because the Republicans focused on a very unpopular issue, building a border wall. A CBS News poll found that 71% of Americans considered the border wall “not worth the shutdown.”

Unfortunately, each party has used the debt ceiling to gut a President’s budget of unacceptable policies. However, to execute that threat is to ignite the collapse of our capitalist financial system. This is a strategy for burning the house down, not building new ones.

If we want to stabilize our budget process and not endanger our economic security, we should adopt what most countries do. The government takes on more debt at the end of accepting the spending or appropriations process. Operationally the quickest and cleanest path for doing that is to resurrect the Gephardt Rule.

Otherwise, we will continue to see a decline in using America’s dollar as the world’s safest investment. That fall we will trigger greater borrowing costs, shrinking government revenue and eliminating construction projects and social services.

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Creating Chaos is not an accident but a strategy

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The Republicans’ chaotic process for selecting the House Speaker was the first open skirmish in the war to take down the establishment. Kevin McCarthy won the battle, but the fight for power to control the future of the Republican Party, as well as our current form of government, is far from over. 

McCarthy gained only a Pyrrhic victory. On Monday, January 9, the Republican rebels, as the liberal media have described them, secured a new set of rules. Democrat Representative Jamie Raskin says the right-wing created chaos is destroying Lincoln’s party. The rebels are out to overthrow the established leadership of both parties, accusing them of stifling House representatives from passing much-needed legislation.

Two questions need to be asked. First, who is promoting this chaos? And what do they want besides tearing down the House?  

Democrats have described McCarthy’s opponents as the far-right, Jake Tapper of CNN and other liberal media journalists describe them as rebels, and Republicans have labeled them everything from anarchists to freedom fighters. 

When you look closely at the composition of the core 20 Republicans, who fought against McCarthy becoming the House Speaker, they share one measurable status: they are all members of the House Freedom Caucus (FC), which is the reactionary faction of the Republican Party. I previously wrote about how The Far-Right Freedom Caucus will steer Congress’s agenda for the next two years.

The media has ignored that picking the new House Speaker and setting the new House rules has been orchestrated by the Freedom Caucus. Surprisingly, from both the left and right media, there is an absence of articles recognizing the Freedom Caucus’s leadership. The closest a journalist came to identifying them was by the Public Broadcasting System, Who are the House Republicans voting against Kevin McCarthy for speaker? The article identified three “Early Leaders” and three “Trump Allies,” saying most of McCarthy’s no votes were probably from members of the House Freedom Caucus. However, they cautioned that most of that caucus supported McCarthy.

I compared those voting against McCarthy to the list of acknowledged members of the Freedom Caucus. Every one of the 15 incumbents, in the group of 20 opponents to McCarthy, is a caucus member. Five of the fifteen were the most right-wing faction within FC, referring to themselves as the MAGA Squad, who believe that Trump won the election. 

Additionally, the caucus runs the House Freedom Fund, which endorsed and gave donations to all five newly elected House members who were part of the 20 No McCarthy group. Each new member ran and won against establishment Republicans in their primaries. 

Andy Ogles won by claiming that the GOP primary was a battle between the “establishment versus the conservative wing of the party.” Keith Self ousted an incumbent Republican representative who voted to certify the 2020 presidential election and for a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. 

Those caucus members who eventually switched to support McCarthy did so because he agreed to their new House rules. And those who initially supported McCarthy from the caucus made side deals with McCarthy to obtain positions of power. The prime examples are former Jim Jordan, the founding Chair of FC, who was promised to head the Judiciary Committee, and Marjorie Taylor Green, who was promised a seat on the Rules Committee. They didn’t leave the Freedom Caucus; they became caucus implants on two of the most powerful House Committees. 

Now that the Freedom Caucus has set the new rules for the House, how will the Republicans use them?

The person who knows first-hand is former House Speaker John Boehner, who the Freedom Caucus pushed out in 2015. Boehner gained the speakership and held that position in 2011 thanks to the Tea Party, the forerunner of the Freedom Caucus. However, when the Freedom Caucus was formed from many of its veterans, Tea Party was functionally dead, and by 2018, nearly half had left the House .

As the House Speaker, Boehner described Tea Party members as “great patriots,” “It’s not enough, however, for Republicans to simply voice respect for what the Tea Partiers are doing, (and) praise their efforts,” he said. He added, “Republicans must stand with them.” After being dismissed by the Freedom Caucus, he described them as “anarchists. They want total chaos. Tear it all down and start over.”

His successor, Paul Ryan, served as House Speaker from 2015 to 2019. He was the Freedom Caucus’ compromise candidate but spent four years trying to get legislation passed over their objections. Finally, after he failed to get a Republican bill replacing Obama’s Affordable Care Act due to the caucus’s opposition, realizing that he could no longer be Speaker, he resigned from Congress. 

Kevin McCarthy’s future will replay Boehner and Ryan’s experience. Like them, he has continually adjusted his traditional conservative principles to align with the most far-right Republican base. Most importantly, McCarthy agreed to an arrangement that Boehner and Ryan rejected.  He has apparently agreed to the anti-establishment caucus strategy of blocking legislation and disrupting government protocols that do not conform to their ideology. 

McCarthy shares many of the same values as the Freedom Caucus; however, he comes out of a tradition of respecting institutions that they do not. Chaos was not the unintended fallout of electing McCarthy as Speaker. It was intended to hold McCarthy, hostage until he agreed to accept their agenda and strategies. They released him after he adopted their House rules. 

The Freedom Caucus leaders are not stupid. They are clever. They promoted some rule changes that had been sought for years by many representatives who felt ignored, if not suppressed, by the leadership of both parties. Caucus member Chip Roy said the House floor is nearly empty for most debates, and members haven’t been able to offer amendments there for years.

One progressive improvement was to adhere to the requirement that the Democrats had introduced years ago. It said there had to be 72 hours available for members to read legislation before House members must vote on it. This is a mild change since past critical legislation took about this time.  

Republicans attack Democrats for not giving them enough time to read the 4,000 pages of the Democrat’s recent $1.7-trillion fiscal 2023 omnibus spending package. However, that legislation had a tight deadline to keep the government operating or could not pay its bills. Republicans and Democrats had been negotiating to agree on what would be in the bill since September. 

Republicans have also rushed bills through Congress. In December 2017, the Republican 1,100-page tax-reform measure was distributed on Friday evening to the House, and the vote was the following Tuesday. Passing it was not critical to the government funding itself. 

But the new 72-hour rule comes without any enforcement mechanism. So will the Republicans apply it to all legislation?

Another change was secured by a verbal promise, not a written rule. It would allow amendments to be considered on the floor. This change could be interpreted as a return to the “open rule,” allowing any lawmaker to offer an amendment to be voted upon by the entire chamber. Under Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in the 1990s, more than half the bills reached the House floor through the open rule. It ended in 2016 when Ryan dropped it, trying to hamper right-wing members from sabotaging his legislation. 

When the Democrats won the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not resurrect the open rule, realizing she needed it to maintain discipline within her party. Consequently, no legislation has been introduced on the floor through that rule in the last seven years.

A far more critical change is not in the written rules but by installing a block of Freedom Caucus members on the Rules Committee. From that perch, they should be able to veto any legislation from reaching a vote on the House floor. Generally, no amendments are allowed on most bills once out of committee, and the only amendments that can be put to a vote must be pre-approved by the Rules Committee. In other words, all House legislation brought to a floor vote could be subject to the caucus’s approval or face possible defeat.

Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chair, described the goals of the Freedom Caucus approach to MSNBC, “It’s not about good govt or draining the swamp, it’s about deconstructing the administrative state.” The liberal NYT reflected that belief in their front-page news analysis, saying, “Their agenda is mostly to defund, disrupt and dismantle government, not to participate in it.”

The Freedom Caucus touts freedom and democracy. Freedom is a marketplace economy free of most government restraints. Democracy is for citizens who abide by the laws framed by dominant Christian cultural values. A liberal state that restricts or punishes investments and tolerates deviant social behavior should be disrupted by a little chaos to dismantle it by shrinking its revenue to the level that it cannot continue those activities. 

The first piece of House Republican legislation that the Freedom Caucus insisted that Speaker McCarthy pass was to deprive revenue to the government by dismantling the IRS. The Democrat-led government hired IRS employees who could check the taxes of the wealthiest top 1 percent of individuals and companies. 

The Treasury Department’s 1921 notice said the “tax gap”—the difference between taxes owed and collected—totals around $600 billion annually and will mean approximately $7 trillion in lost tax revenue over the next decade. Charles Rettig, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, said, most of the unpaid taxes are the result of evasion by the wealthy and large corporations. 

This gap in collecting taxes would certainly contribute to our federal budget deficit?  Tax revenue is not flowing into public services but accumulating as private wealth. The Center for American Progress reported that the most recent Federal Reserve Board figures on U.S. inequality released this past March put the top 1 percent’s share of American personal wealth at 32 percent, expanding from 23 percent in 1989. 

This type of bill is just the beginning of the waterfall of bills that the right-wing of the Republicans will push in the next two years. If McCarthy attempts to pass bi-partisan legislation without Freedom Caucus approval, he’ll be shown the exit door. That’s because he consented to allow a single member to make a “motion to vacate the chair,” i.e., a vote that could oust him as Speaker.

Consequently, the House’s bills will find a graveyard in the Senate, and the nation will be treated to a Congressional stalemate. The bright side for the Democrats and traditional conservative Republicans is that the Republican reactionary faction will be visibly responsible for getting nothing done. They will also severely damage the Republican Party’s chance for electoral victories in 2024, but those defeats may embolden conservatives to save their party from the sway of this faction. 

The biggest looming legislative battle will be the right-wing Republicans holding their party to a no-compromise position on raising the nation’s statutory debt limit. They are demanding extraordinary budget cuts affecting every program but the military. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned on Friday that if the borrowing cap is not raised the nation will likely default by early June.

In response to this challenge and similar ones, Democrats need to do more than stir up anger from their constituency base. Instead, they must reach beyond their core constituencies to expose how the ideologically driven Republican legislation limits social freedoms for all Americans. And on the economic level, how it harms all those on incomes primarily limited to their jobs and not investments. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

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President Biden can and must Resolve America’s Immigration Crisis

President Biden is the only person in government who can break Congress’s record of failure. 

No pundit can predict what heated issue will dominate the presidential and congressional elections in 2024. However, aside from the Supreme Court making a historic decision to eradicate another established freedom, like marrying who you wish, regardless of gender or race, migration will remain a national issue.

Public opinion polls have consistently ranked controlling immigration as a significant concern for Americans. For example, a Gallup opinion poll taken in July 2022 showed that 38% of Americans wanted a decrease in immigration, the highest percentage since July 2016, when Donald Trump was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate.

But that concern is concentrated among the Republicans. A Pew Research poll showed that “around three-quarters of Republican voters say immigration (76%) is very important to their vote.” For Democratic backers, it was only 36%. 

Independent voters, who played a critical role in Joe Biden becoming president, could tip the scales to either party on this issue. They clearly see Democrats and Republicans having opposite positions on migration. The non-partisan company Morning Consult surveyed registered independent voters in July 2018. It found that independents deem Democrats more supportive of immigrants coming into the country by a 62-point margin than the Republicans. In effect, they see Democrats as owning the migration flow into America. 

If the Republicans continue attacking Democrats for having an open, unsecured border, more independents could support Republicans. That’s because 52 percent of independent voters singled out border security as their most crucial voting topic. The survey also discovered that when it comes to national security issues, independents heavily favor Republicans over Democrats, 45 percent to 22 percent.

Another constituency that Republicans have been trying to sway away from the Democrats is the Latinos. By hammering on the need for border security, Mike Madrid told NPR News that the Republicans are gaining Latino votes in communities along the southern border. 

In the two border swing states of Arizona and Nevada, Latino voters make up 24% and 20% of their state’s eligible share of voters. Across the nation, 66% of them chose Biden.  In Arizona, it was a little less, at 63%. Their Nevada turnout was 70%, although it was significantly lower than Hillary Clinton’s 81% in 2016. These are slight shifts toward the Republican party. Even a couple of percentage points lower from Latino voters could tip these states to a Republican presidential candidate in 2024. 

In 2024 the political game will again see the two parties repeating their past themes. One plays on fear, and the other on hope.

Republicans are for stopping the growing flow of asylum seekers and restricting the number of all immigrants. They tag those crossing from Mexico as potential criminals or drug dealers. According to America’s Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, more than 400 political ads tying illegal immigration to drugs were run in the 2022 election cycle. Often, they connect fatal overdoses of fentanyl and methamphetamines to a spike in migration at the southwestern border.

Republican strategist Madrid believes that the immigration border policy war between the two parties will continue until significant migration policy reform is achieved. However, the Republicans “want the issue to remain because it serves them politically. It appeals to their base.” Their use of visuals like caravans of immigrants trekking across Central America to pile up at our border is used as theater on TV to illustrate the border crises. Madrid sees this approach as wanting to “force the Democrats to increase border security which is unlikely without a comprehensive deal.”

Meanwhile, Republican potential presidential candidates, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, are pursuing theatrics instead of bipartisan solutions. They bus immigrants to Democratic strongholds like NYC and Wash DC., including Vice President Kamala Harris’s home. Those performances keep their names in the national headlines and in the minds of Republican primary voters as doing anything.  

Democrats highlight the human suffering that drives immigrants into our country, not the need for greater security. They appeal to our nation’s tradition of being a safe sanctuary for those seeking a better life. Nevertheless, the Democrats reluctantly recognize that the huge increase of immigrants seeking asylum is overwhelming our southern border staff for validating asylum requests and providing humane shelter facilities. 

Consequently, Biden administration officials have asked Congress for more than $3 billion to process the backlog of asylum claims and to move migrants off the streets or from packed warehouses into livable facilities. However, he will not get those funds from a Republican-controlled House unless he supports higher security measures that drastically reduce the number of immigrants. 

Biden is trying to show that he supports more security on the border. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced that the president had “23,000 agents working to secure the southern border.” That was an increase from just under 17,000 agents in 2022. 

However, that is not good enough for conservative Republicans who have suggested that the military secure our southern border with Mexico. However, even when President Trump ordered 800 Army troops to do that, a good portion included engineers to help construct tents and fencing and doctors for medical support. 

Governor Abbott deployed more than 500 National Guard troops along the Rio Grande in El Paso, blocking migrants with spools of concertina wire. But those troops did not stop migrants from entering the county. It was basically an exercise in “just redirecting the migrants to the only legal port of entry” as Maj. Sean Storrud, Task Force West Commander for the Texas National Guard, explained. 

The problem of securing the border is not simply deploying armed soldiers. It’s a much deeper and more complicated problem that the Republicans and Democrats must work to resolve. Both parties have spoken about the need for immigration reform as a long-term solution. But their solutions, to date, have been almost mutually exclusive. 

Republicans have only proposed increasing security measures, like completing the wall or hiring more border patrols. The Democrats will oppose those measures unless they are coupled with providing a fair system for vetting the needs of immigrants seeking asylum. Thus, the stage is set for nothing to pass Congress in the next two years.  

Gridlock on migration policy is the failure to even vote on major bi-partisan legislation. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R – NC), Kyrsten Sinema (D – AZ) of Arizona, and Maggie Hassan (D – NH) introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act in 2021. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) introduced a companion bill in the House.

The National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy non-profit group, analyzed the bill, characterizing it as a “positive step” that “furthers the conversation around much-needed reforms.” Democrat Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick also supported the bill’s framework, but the bill never got to a floor vote in 2021. 

In 2022, the bill was in play again, outlining an immigration proposal providing a path to legalization for 2 million undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as “dreamers.” In addition, the proposal, to garner Republican support, would provide at least $25 billion in increased funding for the Border Patrol and border security. And it would also extend Title 42 for at least a year. 

The more liberal and conservative wings in both parties killed it. The ACLU director of border strategies said that the billincluded “some positive provisions” but was “a step in the wrong direction.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who co-authored the 2021 immigration bill, said he “doesn’t think there’s any way we can pass immigration legislation without addressing the crisis at the border.” President Biden had publicly ignored the bill and kept his distance from influencing the meager negotiations to build support for its passage 

Another bi-partisan immigration bill was shelved and never came to a vote in 2022. Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the sponsor of the Eagle Act, wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing “great disappointment” that her legislation to revise green card caps was yanked from consideration on the House floor despite having been debated there. An earlier version passed both houses in 2019, but the chambers couldn’t resolve their different versions before the year ended. As a result, this year, fewer Republicans supported it, and there was a drop off in support from some Democrats and immigrant advocates. However, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, blamed opposition to the legislation on a “misunderstanding that somehow this is negative for certain communities.”

Given the failures to have even a floor vote for bi-partisan bills these last two years, it is doubtful that if it were just left for Congress to lead, no bipartisan bill would pass before the presidential 2024 election. Remember that Congress has remained gridlocked on immigration policy going back to 2001 when the first bill to legalize Dreamers was introduced. Since then, bipartisan efforts to change U.S. immigration laws have failed in 2018, 2013, and 2007. 

President Biden is the only person in government who can break that record of failure. But it would take more than negotiating skills. It demands the ability to hammer together sixty votes in the Senate forcibly and a majority of votes in the Republican-controlled House. Moreover, that effort would require him to appeal to the public. 

Multiple grassroots organizations could support him in a robust and vigorous campaign to push for an imperfect but doable solution. One that would visibly mitigate the immigration calamity that is only growing, not receding.

Suppose Biden fails to pressure Congress to pass a bi-partisan immigration policy. In that case, there will likely be a reactionary movement drawn to a “strong man” (or woman) presidential candidate in 2024 who will promise to stop the “flood” of immigrants crossing our southern border. And if that happens, more will be at risk than losing the presidency. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s free newsletterCitizenship Politics