Tag Archives: Claire McCaskill

Senate Proud To Sink California And The States

Both the Washington Post and the LA Times have stories today about the budget crises facing the states, where governors and legislatures have exhausted every gimmick and now must enact painful cuts that will work against the federal program to bring us out of the economic downturn.  The personal stories are significant:

Nevada resident Margaret Frye-Jackman, 71, was diagnosed in August with ovarian cancer. She had two rounds of chemotherapy at University Medical Center, the only public hospital in the Las Vegas area.

Soon after, she and her daughter heard the news on TV: The hospital’s outpatient oncology services were closing because of state Medicaid cuts. Treatment for Frye-Jackman and hundreds of other cancer patients was eliminated […]

“If this is what it’s like in Nevada, with cancer stuff closing, is it like that everywhere?” said Frye-Jackman’s daughter, Margaret Bakes, accompanying her mother to the doctor’s recently. “Are all the other states closing stuff too?”

The answer, in at least 39 states, is “yes” — or “soon.” With personal, sales and corporate income tax revenue plummeting, state governments — which recently trimmed their budgets to cover a cumulative $40.3-billion shortfall for the current fiscal year — are now watching in horror as a $47.4-billion gap opens for 2009.

And for fiscal year 2010, they will face a $84.3-billion hole, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The total shortfall through fiscal 2011 is estimated at $350 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

This article frames it as there being “no choice” but tough budget cuts or tax increases for states facing shortfalls, states that cannot print money or run budget deficits.  But that’s not entirely true.  There was a good deal of help being offered by the federal government in the House stimulus bill, which included $79 billion in state fiscal stabilization aid.  But among their other cuts, the Axis of Centrism cut that aid in half, by $40 billion dollars, and in so doing guaranteed additional layoffs to teachers and firefighters and cops and nurses and all sorts of other professions which rely on a state paycheck.

California law mandates that layoff notices to teachers be given out by March 15 for the next school year. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing $10 billion in education cuts. Republicans, which use our state’s rule requiring a 2/3 vote of the legislature to pass a budget, are demanding these cuts as the price of a tax increase to close the remaining $40 billion and ensure that the cuts aren’t bigger.

But all of us were hoping and expecting that the US Congress would come through with aid to stabilize state budgets, to help ameliorate the problem and save teacher jobs by providing stimulus money. It must be in the stimulus because, as I just noted, the layoff notices will go out within 5 weeks – there is no time to include it in another bill.

Now we are told that Ben Nelson and Susan Collins, two Republican Senators, have reached a deal to cut that education assistance and that the Senate is likely to accept it.

In short, what they have done is guarantee to my sister and to thousands like her that they will receive a pink slip within five weeks.

To call this fearmongering, as John Ensign did on Meet the Press today, just denies reality, par for the course for both Republicans and bipartisan fetishists like Claire McCaskill, who was at first giddy about cutting 600,000-700,000 jobs in the stimulus, and then passive-aggressively “defended” it by saying the alternative was no bill.

Claire McCaskill is now defending herself against Krugman on Twitter:

Just saw Krugman’s comments on reduction in recov act. Question for him. Would no stimulus act be better than one thats 800 B instead of 900.

She follows that up with

Compromise had to happen or we would NOT have 60 votes. Period.

And for further evidence of how much the bill is the same, she claims:

Original Senate bill was 60% appropriationss, 40%tax cuts. Compromise was 58, 42.Senate bill is 90% the same as House bill.

I’m glad that’s she expressing herself here, and that we’re able to somewhat have a dialogue. But I’m not sure how much in good faith it is. McCaskill began by stating how glad she was that they got a $100 billion cut out of the bill, that the “silly stuff” that Republicans didn’t like is now out. She then switches to a passive aggressive mode in defending the cuts – it’s basically the same bill and it wouldn’t have made it through the Senate – but glosses her own role in making the cuts. From the way she talks about the bill, wouldn’t she have been among those voting against the bill if the cuts hadn’t been made and new non-stimulative tax cuts hadn’t been added in?

McCaskill doesn’t want to admit her role in putting 600,000 Americans out of work on Friday, which will harm public safety and increase class sizes and shut down bus and rail lines and send the sick and uninsured looking in vain for treatment and a host of other inadvisable outcomes.  And there’s no rational economic reason for it, just that the Axis of Centrism choked on the price tag and had to compensate for the non-stimulative tax cuts the Senate tossed into the bill.  Massive job loss or increased property tax rates (as states compensate for the loss to education funds) is on McCaskill and Nelson and Collins and Spector’s hands.

The big question is what will come out of the House-Senate conference next week, whether the cuts, especially the state government relief, will be restored at the expense of things like the $70 billion dollar patch to the alternative minimum tax.  Larry Summers left that an open question on ABC this morning.

One of President Barack Obama’s top economic advisers forecast Sunday a difficult struggle with Congress over Senate cuts of $40 billion for state and local governments from the administration’s massive spending and tax cut package to stimulate the failing economy.

The $827 billion Senate version of the plan — designed to bring the economy out of the worst downward spiral since the Great Depression — was expected to pass the Senate on Tuesday. The House had already passed its $819 billion version of the measure.

And in the opening moments of This Week, an exchange between George Stephanopoulos and Larry Summers went like this:

STEPHANOPOULOS: …does that mean the President prefers the Senate version to the House version?

SUMMERS: No, the President feels that above all, we need a major program enacted very quickly that would create 3 to 4 million jobs. He believes we need to perfect it in every way we can.

If the cuts are restored, suddenly the sense of urgency works back in the direction of passing a bill more like the House version.  The Republican business lobby is urging passage.  I don’t think the moderates signed on to the bill could break ranks on the final vote if the changes in conference are limited to, say, swapping the state cuts for the AMT patch, combined with an assurance from the President that they will make that fix down the road.

The action needs to be entirely directed at the Speaker, who has spoken out against these cuts and ought to appoint conferees that will get the House version at least partially restored.  Being from California, she knows exactly how hard-hit the states are and what the consequences will be.  

Of Claire McCaskill and PUMAs

If there were any justice in the world, Claire McCaskill would be Presidential material.  So would Barbara Boxer.  As the PUMAs (all 30 or so of them) march around Denver making a far greater ruckus than their pathetic numbers would dictate supposedly on behalf of Hillary Clinton, lost in the drama is the fact that the glass ceiling silently preventing women from achieving the Presidential consideration so far denied to 50% of the population has been far more brutal to the likes of Barbara Boxer and Claire McCaskill.  These remarkable women, absent the latent sexism of our nation, would and should be under serious consideration for the Presidency by the Democratic Party and the United States of America.

Senator McCaskill has been a fantastic and tireless advocate for Barack Obama on the campaign trail, and her speech tonight is yet another example of her charisma, speaking skills, and ability to connect with the average voter.

America’s almost unique relationship with sexism means that unless a female politician can simultaneously project steely toughness and worldliness and a matronly presence that would seem just as at home caring for children and grandchildren while baking cookies and sewing a dress, she is rarely well-liked outside of a few blue-state bastions.  A sense of humor and a good fashion sense is also a near necessity.  Insofar as sexism did play a role in derailing Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it was Hillary’s inability (an at times quite intentionally fostered inability) to demonstrate this “down-to-earth”, inherently conservative quality to many voters.  It’s an unfair fact of American electoral life for women.

Claire McCaskill does have that quality, however.  Introduced prior to her just completed speech at the convention by her three children looking straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, she was the perfect (for the voting public) combination of charisma, resolve, and down-home matronly charm and humility.

She brought up her and her parents’ roots, and tied those humble origins to similar origins shared by Barack Obama; and in so doing, she reinforced tonight’s “One America” meme by showing how, even on very different sides of American life, a black boy from Hawai’i and a white girl from Middle America share the same truly American story: the ability to succeed by reaching out for the American Dream given the equal opportunity to do so.  It was a truly heartwarming and extraordinary speech.

But watching Senator McCaskill, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of irony in seeing this theme of “sameness” and “American unity” and “equal opportunity”.  While both Barack and Claire had the ability to become Senators, there is some question as to whether today’s America would be willing to give Senator McCaskill the same opportunity being afforded to President Obama.  There is no question that Hillary Clinton got as far as she did in large part due to the “Clinton” name; would America give Senators Boxer or McCaskill the same credit based solely on their abilities and the content of their character, without the advantage of the name recognition provided by a former President?

Time will tell.  If the PUMAs are serious about their mission, they will do well to focus not on a misguided campaign for misogynist John McCain, but on promoting the chances of such extraordinary individuals as Barbara Boxer and Claire McCaskill.

Senators Bond, Boxer, Obama, McCaskill Demand Fair Treatment of Combat Vets

Generally, we progressive Democrats have had little confidence in the Bush Administration to run an effective, fair, humane Federal government.  Over and over again, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condelezza Rice, and their cronies have promised one thing and then did little or nothing in follow-up.  Cases in point include protecting our borders from unrestrained immigration, rebuilding a hurricane ravaged New Orleans, protecting the health and welfare of the rescue workers at New York’s ground zero, and developing a cohesive, cogent plan to defend the United States against terrorism at our seaports, airports, power plants, water ways, and metropolitan areas.  Bush and his cronies are more interested in commercial profit than in preserving and protecting the Union.

The Bush Administration has done little to nothing in order to help our armed forces, National Guard, and Reservists.  First, they developed a piss-poor plan for the occupation of Iraq.  Second, the Bush Administration and their war machine did little to protect the troops in harm’s way.  Now, from the Walter Reed scandals onward, they have done nothing to process and assist returning Iraqi war heroes who are in dire need of psychological services.  I know from personal experience working in the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Brooklyn, as a summer psychology intern in 1995-96, that the Reagan Administration decimated psychological services at the DVA in an ill-advised attempt at eliminating cost in the Department.

People in the Bush Administration have, as elsewhere, been on a crash course to privatize the DVA and in its ill-conceived and anti-government pursuit, has left our brave soldiers, National Guard, and Reservists without adequate services.

Finally, with the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate, Constitutional oversight has begun.  As indicated earlier, in a Press Release, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kit Bond (R-MO), Barack Obama (D-IL), and John Kerry (D-MA) requested that Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, George W. Bush, so-called President of the United States, and the Department of Defense guarantee impartial psychological assessments of soldiers when needed.  Not ‘when needed’ from the Bush perspective, but from a common sensical perspective.

Now, Senators Kit Bond (R-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are urging Bush to create a Special Review Board for discharged troops and to place a moratorium on the DoD’s use of Personality Disorder Discharges.

It is a moral outrage that U.S. Senators have to urge a President of the United States of America to provide ‘fair treatment of combat veterans.’

The Press Release is below the flip….

“Bond, Boxer, Obama, McCaskill Demand Fair Treatment of Combat Vets

“WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kit Bond (R-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are urging President Bush to create a Special Review Board for discharged troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and to place a moratorium on the military’s use of Personality Disorder Discharges.

“”Our government has a lifelong responsibility to care for the brave volunteers who have served our nation honorably in combat, unfortunately, the government is failing some of our wounded warriors,” said Bond.  “It is critical that the government starts treating all of our troops’ battle wounds – physical and mental, visible and invisible.”

“”It belittles the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform when you punish-instead of treat-those with combat injuries,” said Boxer. “When our brave service members are injured in combat, we cannot deny them benefits, blame their conditions on a pre-existing disorder, or refuse them the care and support they deserve.”

“With thousands of American service members suffering every day from the less visible wounds of war, reports that the Pentagon has improperly diagnosed and discharged service members with personality disorders are deeply disturbing,” said Senator Obama.  “These heroes make incredible sacrifices for our country, and our brave men and women shouldn’t have to fight a second war at home to get the benefits and care they deserve. The President should halt this practice until the military can review its policies and establish a special review board to examine the cases in question.”

“”The horrors of war are bad enough without a service member coming home only to have to fight against the government they fought to protect,” McCaskill said. “I’m please to be fighting side by side with Senator Bond in requesting a review board to study personality disorder discharges, so that those men and women who bravely fought for us and returned home with the mental scars from war get a fighting chance to receive the benefits they so greatly deserve.”

“This bipartisan group of Senators has been examining mental health care for service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and leading the effort to end the military’s inappropriate use of personality disorder discharges.

“Much like the program created by President Carter to examine the records of Vietnam veterans discharged less than honorably, the Senators are urging the President to create a Special Discharge Review Program to look at administrative discharges for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If established, the Board would give service members who served honorably in combat but subsequently received a discharge that does not entitle them to benefits the opportunity to have their cases reviewed.

“This is particularly important for those who failed to receive an appropriate diagnosis of or treatment for Posttraumatic (sic) Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The Senators believe such a process will help reduce the stigma associated with such discharges and allow those who served our nation honorably to resume normal lives after their service.  

“The discharge review board will also look at cases where service members were diagnosed for personality disorders. In the past six years, more than 22,500 service men and women have been discharged with a “pre-existing” personality disorder.  The Senators have expressed concern that some of these discharges appear to be the result of misdiagnoses and are being used to force out troops who may instead be suffering from service-connected psychological injuries – like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury.  The use of a personality discharge can result in a loss of disability benefits and medical care from the VA, and can even lead to service members having to repay thousands of dollars in re-enlistment bonuses.

“The Senators continue to urge for the adoption of short-term, commonsense safeguards to protect service members. The Senators emphasize that just limiting the use of this discharge is not enough. A moratorium, which would temporarily suspend the Pentagon’s use of personality disorder discharges for those service members who have served in combat, is necessary until there is a comprehensive review of the current procedures and additional safeguard to prevent misdiagnosis.                  

“Bond, Boxer, Obama and McCaskill were joined by a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues including: Joseph Biden (D-DE), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbra Mikulski (D-MD), Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Bernard Sanders (I-VT).”

I am glad that the U.S. Senators are finally beginning to do their duty under the Constitution to provide oversight on an Administration that subverts the Constitution, suborns perjury, and fails to protect and defend the United States of America.  Kudos to the Democratic Senate and the emboldened moderate Republicans.