May 12, 2018 Allentown Morning Call Independents cut from process
Columnist Bill White and letters to the editor have been eloquent in their condemnation of state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe and Speaker Mike Turzai for working to torpedo the effort to reform Pennsylvania’s legislative redistricting process. But there’s one important aspect of their partisan shenanigans that’s being lost in the debate — the incredible disrespect the GOP leadership is showing toward independent and unaffiliated voters.
Before it was gutted by Metcalfe and the Republican members of his committee, House Bill 722 would have done something unprecedented in modern Pennsylvania history — it would have guaranteed a place in the redistricting process for voters who don’t choose to register as Republicans or Democrats. Metcalfe’s utterly partisan “substitute” will not just diminish the influence of the minority party and decrease oversight by the judiciary — it will also cut independent voters out of the process entirely.
Estimates show that independents are the fastest growing segment of the electorate, and are often the true difference makers in closely contested elections. These voters should remember Metcalfe’s insult — and the fact that GOP members of the Legislature have empowered him to insult them — when they enter polling booths later this year. Source
Upper Macungie Township
May 1, 2018 Inquirer Time to pop the cork on reform bills bottled up in Harrisburg | Editorial
Pennsylvania voters entrust state legislators with plenty of power. They can help or hinder people, industries, and special interests. They can also exploit that power, accepting gifts, side jobs, and unlimited campaign contributions.
Why do we put up with this embarrassment?
State senators and representatives can accept gifts of up to $249 in value without having to publicly report who paid for them.
Members of the nation’s largest full-time legislature can hold side jobs without reporting those salaries on their annual statements of financial interests.
Pennsylvania also is one of just 11 states with no limits for campaign contributions for state elected offices.
It’s all so cozy, with little to break the amorous embrace of legislators and generous gift-givers. And it comes in all sizes. Pennsylvania legislators have been tripped up in criminal cases for gifts worth thousands of dollars and, in one instance, $750 in money orders. It leaves the General Assembly with a sullied reputation for corruption.
Legislation to regulate gifts, increase scrutiny for side jobs, and limit campaign contributions were sent last year to the State Government Committees in the House and Senate. And then? Nothing.
The chairman of those committees, State Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) and State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), have bottled up those reform efforts. The two Republicans take different tacks when queried about a combined 10 reform measures stalled in their committees.
Folmer pleads a hectic committee schedule, and vows to move on the bills if he can find time before the legislative session ends in December.
Metcalfe, who blustered on Facebook on April 20 that he would never move substantive Democratic legislation, refused through spokesmen to even discuss the legislation, some of which was proposed by fellow Republicans.
These are important reforms with bipartisan support. If you agree, now is the time to tell Metcalfe and Folmer. Call Metcalfe at 717-783-1707 and Folmer at 717-787-5708. Source
Feb 12, 2018 Washington Post Opinions Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here’s what you should know about abuse.
By Colbie Holderness
Colbie Holderness was the first wife of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Sunday that she has no reason not to believe statements that Jennifer Willoughby and I have made about our ex-husband, former White House aide Rob Porter. I actually appreciated her saying that she at least did not not believe us.
Borrowing Conway’s words, I have no reason not to believe her when she says that Hicks is a strong woman. But her statement implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong.
I beg to differ.
Recognizing and surviving in an abusive relationship take strength. The abuse can be terrifying, life-threatening and almost constant. Or it can ebb and flow, with no violence for long periods. It’s often the subtler forms of abuse that inflict serious, persistent damage while making it hard for the victim to see the situation clearly.
For me, living in constant fear of Rob’s anger and being subjected to his degrading tirades for years chipped away at my independence and sense of self-worth. I walked away from that relationship a shell of the person I was when I went into it, but it took me a long time to realize the toll that his behavior was taking on me. (Rob has denied the abuse, but Willoughby and I know what happened.)
Telling others about the abuse takes strength. Talking to family, friends, clergy, counselors and, later, the FBI, I would often find myself struggling to find the words to convey an adequate picture of the situation. When Rob’s now ex-girlfriend reached out to both Willoughby and me, she described her relationship in terms we each found familiar, immediately following up her description with “Am I crazy?” Boy, I could identify with that question.
Then there is the just-as-serious issue of being believed and supported by those you choose to tell. Sometimes people don’t believe you. Sometimes they have difficulty truly understanding what you are trying to tell them. Both Willoughby and I raised our cases with clergy. Both of us had a hard time getting them to fully address the abuse taking place. It wasn’t until I spoke to a professional counselor that I was met with understanding.
Leaving and putting the pieces of your life back together take strength. Willoughby had to obtain a protective order as she was trying to extricate herself from her marriage. I had to take an extended leave from graduate school because I was depressed and unable to complete the work. When I finally left Rob for good, my self-confidence was so destroyed that I was too scared to apply to any jobs other than that of server at a restaurant. It has taken me years to get my professional life back on track.
Victims are often with their abusers for long periods of time. They marry them, become financially intertwined with them, have children with them. There are many reasons people find it difficult to leave. The bottom line is, it takes strength to pull yourself away and start over.
I never imagined myself in the situation I’m in now — no one could have. I’m not a partisan. I’m not an activist — far from it, in fact. Willoughby and I didn’t seek to tell our stories in such a public way. Rather, others sought us out in the course of investigating Rob.
I also never imagined I would be in an abusive relationship.
Being strong — with excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts — does not inoculate a person against abuse. It doesn’t prevent her from entering into a relationship with an abuser. Abuse often doesn’t manifest itself early on — only later, when you’re in deep and behind closed doors. The really ugly side of Rob’s abuse only came out after we married, following three years of dating.
Abuse comes in many forms. It is visited on the poor and the rich, the least educated and the most, people with a strong and deep network of friends and family and those without a support structure. And an abusive nature is certainly not something most colleagues are able to spot in a professional setting, especially if they are blinded by a stellar résumé and background.
Conway’s statements were made as she was trying to address the good wishes that President Trump sent to Rob, along with his tweets seeming to call into question the allegations and the #MeToo movement overall. Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders again declined to say whether the president believes Willoughby and me. While I cannot say I am surprised, I expected a woman to do better. But Conway and I definitely agree on one thing she said during that interview: “There’s a stigma and a silence surrounding all these issues. . . . Those who are in a position to do something about it ought to.” Source
Feb 11, 2018 time.com Jennie Willoughby: ‘President Trump Will Not Diminish My Truth’
Willoughby is a former school teacher whose passion is the resiliency of the human spirit. She writes atBorneBackCeaselessly.com
On Friday, a friend and I watched as the President of the United States sat in the Oval Office and praised the work of my ex-husband, Rob Porter, and wished him future success. I can’t say I was surprised. But when Donald Trump repeated twice that Rob declared his innocence, I was floored. What was his intent in emphasizing that point? My friend turned to me and said, “The President of the United States just called you a liar.”
Yes. And so he did.
On Saturday morning, following the overnight resignation of another White House staffer after his ex-wife came forward with her story of abuse, the President Tweeted:
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?
There it is again. The words “mere allegation” and “falsely accused” meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. That his professional contributions are worth more than the truth. That abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.
Everyone wants to talk about how the White House and former colleagues defended Rob. Of course they did! They valued and respected him. The truth would be dissonant to everything they believed to be true about the man they knew. The truth would be devastating. And denial is easier than devastation.
Everyone wants to talk about how Trump implied I am a not to be believed. As if Trump is the model of kindness and forgiveness. As if he readily acknowledges his own shortcomings and shows empathy and concern for others. I forgive him. Thankfully, my strength and worth are not dependent on outside belief — the truth exists whether the President accepts it or not.
I think the issue here is deeper than whether Trump, or General John Kelly, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or Senator Orrin Hatch, or Hope Hicks, or whether anyone else believes me or defends Rob. Society as a whole has a fear of addressing our worst secrets. (Just ask any African-American citizen). It’s as if we have a societal blind spot that creates an obstacle to understanding. Society as a whole doesn’t acknowledge the reality of abuse.
The tendency to avoid, deny, or cover up abuse is never really about power, or money, or an old boys’ club. It is deeper than that. Rather than embarrass an abuser, society is subconsciously trained to question a victim of abuse. I would call it an ignorant denial based on the residual, puritan, collective agreement that abuse is uncomfortable to talk about.
Amidst the recent rash of sexual assault revelations born of the #MeToo movement, even I found myself questioning the accuser. I almost allowed my societal conditioning to override what my heart knows to be true: Abuse is scary and demoralizing and degrading. It chisels away at your self-esteem and self-worth until you are unsure whether your version of reality is valid or not.
If someone finds the strength and courage to come forward, he or she is to be believed. Because that declaration only came after an uphill battle toward rebirth.
Ultimately, this is not a political issue. This is a societal issue, and the tone has just been reset by the White House. If the most powerful people in the nation do not believe my story of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence, then what hope do others have of being heard?
We are at a critical moment in history and there are three things I know to be true:
Where there is anger, there is underlying pain.
Where there is denial, there is underlying fear.
Where there is abuse, there is cover-up.
While I may have compassion for my ex-husband and recognize his need for help, I do not tolerate abuse. While I may understand President Trump and Gen. Kelly’s incredulity at such a counter-image of their golden boy, I do not condone their choice to support him.
In light of the President’s and the White House’s continued dismissal of me and Colbie, I want to assure you my truth has not been diminished. I own my story and now that I have been compelled to share it, I’m not willing to cover it up for anyone. And for any men, women, or children currently in situations of abuse, please know:
It is real.
You are not crazy.
You are not alone.
I believe you.
Jan 29, 2018 Northjersey.com Opinion: Under Trump, norms and boundaries eroding Preet Bharara and Christine Todd Whitman, USA TODAY
One year into the Trump presidency, it’s clear that the norms and boundaries traditionally guiding American political behavior have deeply eroded. That matters greatly. A workable democracy can thrive only when there are basic rules, often unwritten, that curb abuse and guide policymakers. Though the two of us are from different political parties, we both believe that now is the time to ensure the president and all our public officials adhere to basic rules of the road. It’s time to turn soft norms into hard law.
So far, President Trump has refused to divorce himself from his business interests, despite decades of tradition. He has repeatedly tried to influence federal criminal investigations. Policymaking processes have become haphazard. And we now see worrisome attacks on the independent press. All this shows just how easily a chief executive can ignore the unwritten rules that typically constrain presidents. We see similar erosion elsewhere in government, too. For example, a major tax bill, affecting the whole economy, enacted with no committee hearings.
Trump is extreme, but he is not the first president to breach core constitutional norms. Our system relies on checks and balances, constitutional commands that are implicit in our founding document but often not spelled out with specificity. Everyone in the political process must act as if limited by invisible guardrails to avoid abuse of power. But at moments of stress or executive impudence, what was assumed to be a solid restriction on improper conduct turns out to be flimsy, relying too much on goodwill or unspoken understandings. When that happens, reform often follows scandal and controversy.
Today, we’re launching an independent democracy task force at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law to holistically review these informal rules, which ones should remain guidelines, and perhaps which ones should be enshrined into law. We’ll examine norms surrounding financial conflicts, political interference with law enforcement, the use of government data and science, the appointment of public officials and any other issues that may arise in the coming months. We will be joined by experts and former officials from both parties. The goal is to issue a set of recommendations, policies that can be enacted that mend the gaps in our system and ensure we have a government that functions ably, competently and with the trust of the American people.
That’s how Americans have responded in other instances when norms have been breached. For example, George Washington’s decision to limit himself to two terms seemed like as solid a precedent as ever existed in American political life. Then Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for and won a third and then a fourth term, and we amended the Constitution to enshrine the two-term norm. After John F. Kennedy appointed his brother to lead the Justice Department, Congress passed an anti-nepotism law.
Richard Nixon’s many abuses, of course, led to a wide array of new laws, ranging from the special prosecutor law (now expired), to the Budget and Impoundment Control Act and the War Powers Act. Some of these were enacted after he left office. But others, such as the federal campaign finance law, were passed while he was still serving, with broad bipartisan support, over his veto.
So it’s not too early to begin mapping out needed change. The longer we wait, the more damage our system will sustain. Public confidence in our institutions is plummeting, and with an ever-quickening news cycle that turns on every tweet, we have to take on these challenges in short order.
Of course, we undertake this effort in a hyperpolarized and partisan political environment. But we believe, perhaps with more idealism than is merited, that there is a strong underlying consensus in both parties around these norms. There is ample precedent for bipartisan majorities to strengthen institutions in the wake of scandal, controversy or abuse. It’s also why we’re recruiting task force members from inside and outside government, Republicans and Democrats and independents, to join us.
Already some leaders — at least outside Washington — are having these conversations. Legislators in Massachusetts and California have proposed bills that would require the disclosure of tax returns to appear on the state’s presidential election ballots (though California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed one of those attempts). While we may not agree with their proposed solutions, the fact that states — our laboratories for democracy — are beginning to generate their own debates about norms gives us hope that there’s room to have these discussions on a national level.
It’s not enough to read news stories — or tweets — and fret. Our system is facing a challenge it has not faced in decades. These norms of liberal democracy are being pummeled around the world, as well. At a moment like this, perhaps it is a good thing to break the norm of partisanship.
Preet Bharara, a scholar in residence at the NYU School of Law, was U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. Christine Todd Whitman, president of the Whitman Strategy Group, was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003 and governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001. They are co-chairs of the National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy. Follow them on Twitter: @PreetBharara and @GovCTW. Source
Jan. 22, 2018 philly.com / Opinion Time’s up, Rep. Pat Meehan. Without ethics, you are nothing | Will Bunch
There are few — if any — members of Congress who started out like Rep. Pat Meehan of the Philadelphia suburbs, who got trained as a hockey ref by the NHL and spent three years punishing slashers and trippers in minor-league backwater arenas before he went back to school and earned his law degree. Since then, the Cheltenham native has forged a big-league political career for himself through his own brand of hockey-ref tough justice — and his specialty was handing down the game-misconduct penalty.
Just ask Corey Kemp, who was Philadelphia’s ill-fated city treasurer in the early 2000s. Inexperienced and naive, Kemp got sucked into a vortex of political sharks — his mentor Ron White, who died before he could be prosecuted on multiple corruption charges, and his boss Mayor John Street, who somehow escaped without sanction — and did some really dumb and bad things, accepting freebies like a trip to the Super Bowl. Ensnared in a sweeping city corruption probe when Meehan, a Republican, was the Philadelphia U.S. attorney, Kemp was sentenced to a whopping 10 years for those offenses, a draconian penalty whose severity shocked even those — this writer included — who’d been thrilled to see the feds finally coming down on the corruption that was once endemic in City Hall.
But that was the Pat Meehan brand — unrelenting and harsh when it came to corruption in the public sphere. A few years later, Meehan voiced anger when former state Sen. Vince Fumo — another probe launched by his office — was only sentenced to 55 months. “If I’m a citizen and a taxpayer, I’m asking a question today: Where’s the consistency in the justice?” Meehan asked the Daily News. That’s why Meehan went after powerful pols, he told us — not to advance his own career but for all the little taxpayers out there in the dark.
“The creation of a culture of corruption is a disservice to the legions of honest public servants who work each day in municipal government, and mostly to the taxpayers, who turn over their hard-earned dollars in trust,” Meehan declared on the day that Kemp was convicted. (Outraged emphasis mine.) And no one could argue that taking on graft in Philadelphia politics was long overdue. His success as a prosecutor propelled him to Congress in Pennsylvania’s freakishly gerrymandered 7th Congressional District in 2010, with constant talk of higher office.
But here’s the thing: A politician who lives by his ethics can die by his ethics.
Saturday’s stunning report from the New York Times (co-written written by Philly-area native and diehard Eagles fan Kenneth P. Vogel) — that Meehan’s office used thousands of taxpayer dollars to settle and thus keep quiet allegations by a young female former aide that Meehan had created a hostile work environment after she’d spurned his romantic advances — was like ripping the core Jenga block from the suddenly collapsing foundation of the congressman’s career.
The scenario laid out in the article — thoroughly reported with key details confirmed by as many as 10 people with knowledge of the situation — raises serious questions about the judgment and morals of the congressman, who is a 62-year-old married father of three. The woman — not named in the article — was reported to be a family friend who had seen the older Meehan as “a father figure”; devastated by the experience and by an aggressive pushback from Meehan and his representatives, she left her job and more recently has left the country.
Meehan hasn’t personally addressed the allegation, which seems to be par for the course for a congressman who also hasn’t had a public town hall meeting in his district in years. His spokesman said he “denies the allegations,” and certainly Meehan — like the many people he prosecuted over the years — is entitled to a defense.
But based on the Times’ reporting, Meehan — like other congressmen before him — benefited from a secretive system of quasi-justice that is stacked toward protecting the powerful, keeping their misdeeds secret from the voting public, and sticking taxpayers with the bill. In working out a settlement with the young woman before the Office of Compliance in Congress, Meehan was backed up by four representatives, including two lawyers.
We don’t know how many of our tax dollars were paid out because — incredibly — the process allows any payouts to be “disguised” as salary over a period of months. As Meehan was looking to run for a fifth term in November, voters wouldn’t have known about any of this were it not for dogged journalism by Vogel and his co-author Katie Rogers. This set-up that has allowed members of Congress to get away with acts of sexual harassment or worse sure sounds a lot like, to borrow a phrase, “a culture of corruption” — with suckers like you and me paying for it.
Meanwhile, Meehan was also one of the GOP’s chosen representatives on the House Ethics Committee, where he was tasked with investigating sexual misconduct by his colleagues in both parties like Reps. John Conyers and Blake Farenthold and never thought to disclose his own problems — and the potential conflict of interest.
This all comes, interestingly, in an age of Donald Trump that has raised all kinds of new questions about what it means to be an ethical member of Congress. Meehan professed during the 2016 campaign to be as repulsed by Trump’s antics as many voters in the 7th District (which went narrowly for Hillary Clinton), claiming that he cast a write-in ballot for Mike Pence. Then Meehan turned around and voted with the president a whopping 89 percent of the time.
The morality of those votes is dubious but at least debatable. But his actions towards his staff, as reported by the Times, are shocking and unconscionable, not to mention immature and unbecoming of a U.S. congressman. What’s more, it makes a mockery of his years of pious and — it’s now clear — hypocritical statements about public corruption, holding the powerful to account, and protecting the taxpayer from their outrages. Again, to quote Meehan himself, where’s the consistency in the justice?
Let’s be honest — Pat Meehan never sold himself to voters as a policy genius, or as someone deeply rooted in the community, or — given his lack of town meetings — as a beacon of transparency. His one and only selling point was his ethics, and without ethics, this congressman is nothing. It’s time to say goodbye to Congress and to the patriarchy that it protects with our money. Time’s up, Rep. Meehan. Source
Jan 20, 2018 New York Times
They Were Bad. He May Be Worse.
Historians have long looked to a few key criteria in evaluating the beginning of a president’s administration. First and foremost, any new president should execute public duties with a commanding civility and poise befitting the nation’s chief executive, but without appearing aloof or haughty. As George Washington observed at the outset of his presidency in 1789, the president cannot in any way “demean himself in his public character” and must act “in such a manner as to maintain the dignity of office.”
New presidents also try to avoid partisan and factional rancor, and endeavor to unite the country in a great common purpose. In line with their oath of office, they dedicate themselves to safeguarding and even advancing democratic rights and to protecting the nation against foreign enemies. They avoid even the slightest imputation of corruption, of course political but above all financial.
Donald Trump, in each area, has been a colossal failure. The truest measure of his performance comes from comparing his first year not with those of the best — Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt — but with those of the worst.
Over the decades, historians’ ratings of presidents have consistently consigned a dozen or so presidents to the bottom of the heap, including James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and, in recent evaluations, George W. Bush. Some of these presidents failed because they made disastrous miscalculations. Others were victims of circumstances not of their own making but whose decisions made things worse. Source
Jan 15, 2018 The Salt Lake Tribune Eugene Robinson: With a whites-only immigration approach, Trump rejects American ideals of diversity
Trump’s intent could not be more explicit: He wants immigration policies that admit white people and shut the door to black and brown people.
Washington • President Trump’s intent could not be more explicit: He wants immigration policies that admit white people and shut the door to black and brown people. That is pure racism — and the Republican Party, which traces its heritage to Abraham Lincoln, must decide whether to go along.
Silly me. The GOP seems to have made its choice, judging by the weaselly response from most of the Republicans who were in the Oval Office on Thursday when Trump made vile and nakedly racist remarks.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., heard the president clearly: Trump referred to African nations as“s—hole countries,” a shocked Durbin reported. At another point, discussing potential relief for groups of immigrants — including Haitians — who are losing their temporary permission to remain here, Trump reportedly said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”
According to Durbin, Trump asked why the U.S. wasn’t welcoming more immigrants from places such as Norway, whose prime minister had visited the White House the day before.
To Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the president’s message apparently came through. His colleague Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who was not at the meeting, said Graham told him that Durbin’s account was “basically accurate.” Graham himself would say only that “I said my piece directly” to the president and that “I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals.”
Other Republicans at the meeting cravenly claimed deafness or memory loss. Perhaps they simply agree with Trump’s race-based immigration approach.
Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., issued a joint statement saying they “do not recall … specifically” the “s—hole countries” slur; Perdue later went further, flatly denying the words were spoken. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she did not recall “that exact phrase.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. and Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., apparently have been stricken mute.
I mention them all because they deserve to be enshrined in a Hall of Shame.
I suppose I should also mention that Trump now denies making the statements, but there is absolutely no reason to believe him. On the subject of immigration he has been remarkably consistent: At another White House meeting last month, according to The New York Times, the president said that Haitians “all have AIDS” and opined that once Nigerians saw the United States, they would never “go back to their huts.”
Trump ridiculously told reporters Sunday that “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever interviewed.” In fact, his long history of racism is well documented, going all the way back to the 1970s, when he and his father were sued by the Justice Department — Richard Nixon’s Justice Department, no less — for refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans.
Without the support of Republicans, Lyndon Johnson never could have pushed through the landmark Civil Rights legislation that outlawed discrimination and put an end to Jim Crow. That was then; this is now, when minorities overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates because they perceive the GOP as indifferent or hostile.
There is nothing inherently racist about the free-market conservatism that Republicans cherish and advocate. But there is everything racist about the white ethnocentric theory of American identity that Trump champions with remarkable frankness.
That’s what the immigration battle is really about. When Trump and his allies say they want to end “chain migration” — in which family members sponsor other family members for entry — they mean they want to halt the influx of immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. When Trump says he wants to bar Haitians and Africans, he aims to admit fewer black people. When he pines for more Norwegians, he wants to welcome more white people. (Not that Norwegians, at the moment, are that eager to move to Trump’s America.)
Republicans say they want a “merit-based” system of immigration. That has a nice, neutral sound. Who can argue against merit?
But Trump has made clear that what he means to do is halt or reverse the demographic trends that are making this nation increasingly diverse — trends that are wholly consistent with American history.
A century ago, there were nativists who railed against Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigration, claiming that unwashed hordes from poor countries were “mongrelizing” the nation. We now have a president who rejects American ideals of diversity and inclusion in favor of racial purity.
Sens. Cotton and Perdue, Secretary Nielsen, Reps. McCarthy, and Goodlatte, do you want a race-based immigration system, too? Please don’t pretend you didn’t hear the question. Source
Jan 2, 2018 New York Times Opinion The Republicans’ Fake Investigations
NN R. SIMPSON and PETER FRITSCH
A generation ago, Republicans sought to protect President Richard Nixon by urging the Senate Watergate committee to look at supposed wrongdoing by Democrats in previous elections. The committee chairman, Sam Ervin, a Democrat, said that would be “as foolish as the man who went bear hunting and stopped to chase rabbits.”
Today, amid a growing criminal inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, congressional Republicans are again chasing rabbits. We know because we’re their favorite quarry.
In the year since the publication of the so-called Steele dossier — the collection of intelligence reports we commissioned about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia — the president has repeatedly attacked us on Twitter. His allies in Congress have dug through our bank records and sought to tarnish our firm to punish us for highlighting his links to Russia. Conservative news outlets and even our former employer, The Wall Street Journal, have spun a succession of mendacious conspiracy theories about our motives and backers.
We are happy to correct the record. In fact, we already have.
Three congressional committees have heard over 21 hours of testimony from our firm, Fusion GPS. In those sessions, we toppled the far right’s conspiracy theories and explained how The Washington Free Beacon and the Clinton campaign — the Republican and Democratic funders of our Trump research — separately came to hire us in the first place.
We walked investigators through our yearlong effort to decipher Mr. Trump’s complex business past, of which the Steele dossier is but one chapter. And we handed over our relevant bank records — while drawing the line at a fishing expedition for the records of companies we work for that have nothing to do with the Trump case.
Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right. It’s time to share what our company told investigators.
We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.
The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the president continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.
We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip: Reportedly, ours are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed.
We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals don’t seem to interest Congress.
We explained how, from our past journalistic work in Europe, we were deeply familiar with the political operative Paul Manafort’s coziness with Moscow and his financial ties to Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin.
Finally, we debunked the biggest canard being pushed by the president’s men — the notion that we somehow knew of the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower between some Russians and the Trump brain trust. We first learned of that meeting from news reports last year — and the committees know it. They also know that these Russians were unaware of the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s work for us and were not sources for his reports.
Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. But we did so without informing him whom we were working for and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?
What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president. Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it to the F.B.I.
We did not discuss that decision with our clients, or anyone else. Instead, we deferred to Mr. Steele, a trusted friend and intelligence professional with a long history of working with law enforcement. We did not speak to the F.B.I. and haven’t since.
After the election, Mr. Steele decided to share his intelligence with Senator John McCain via an emissary. We helped him do that. The goal was to alert the United States national security community to an attack on our country by a hostile foreign power. We did not, however, share the dossier with BuzzFeed, which to our dismay published it last January.
We’re extremely proud of our work to highlight Mr. Trump’s Russia ties. To have done so is our right under the First Amendment.
It is time to stop chasing rabbits. The public still has much to learn about a man with the most troubling business past of any United States president. Congress should release transcripts of our firm’s testimony, so that the American people can learn the truth about our work and most important, what happened to our democracy. Source
Dec 29, 2017 New York Times Opinion Donald Trump and the Limits of the Reality TV Presidency
As with most politicians, Franklin D. Roosevelt loved attention and approval in equal measure. Once, after watching himself in a newsreel, he remarked, “That was the Garbo in me.” On meeting Orson Welles, the president said, “You know, Orson, you and I are the two best actors in America!”
Reflecting on Roosevelt’s determination to seek a third and then a fourth term as president, Harry Truman observed, “I guess that was his principal defect, that growing ego of his, which probably wasn’t too minuscule to start with, though perhaps it was his only flaw.”
And yet Roosevelt had the gifts of self-knowledge and a compassion for the plight of others, saving graces that enabled him to become one of a handful of truly great and transformative presidents. As important as he believed popular leadership to be — the Fireside Chats, the careful cultivation of public opinion, the weekly press briefings — he understood, too, that less was sometimes more.
“I know,” he wrote in a 1935 letter, “that the public psychology and, for that matter, individual psychology cannot, because of human weakness, be attuned for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest note in the scale.”
Roosevelt’s first two years in office had been tumultuous as he launched assault after assault on the Great Depression. Now he thought the public needed something of a breather. “There is another thought which is involved in continuous leadership,” he said. “Whereas in this country there is a free and sensational press, people tire of seeing the same name day after day in the important headlines of the papers, and the same voice night after night over the radio.” A leader’s balancing act was to educate and shape public opinion without becoming overly familiar or exhausting.
As in so many other things, we are living through a new test of that old truth as 2017 becomes 2018. President Trump is ubiquitous — a leader who seems devoted to not only political but also cultural domination. Yes, his bottomless thirst for attention is abetted by broadcast and social media; many Americans are locked in a codependent relationship with a president who’s able to set new highs in lows on nearly a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. This month, The Times reported that before taking office, Mr. Trump told aides “to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.”
The presidency-as-production has been a good starter — Mr. Trump is, after all, the president of the United States — but history suggests that the means of his rise could be the means of his undoing. His understanding of the presidency is more informed by the values and folkways of show business (specifically, reality-based entertainment, from “The Apprentice” to professional wrestling) than by any larger sense of duty or dignity. And no show lasts forever.
Theatricality, it is true, is an essential element of power. Whether onstage or on a throne, whether in the Oval Office or the House of Commons, great leaders are often great performers, able to embody national purposes and hopes, projecting strength and resolve in moments that threaten to give way to weakness and despair. In the night before the Battle of Agincourt, Shakespeare’s Henry V is racked by doubt and anxiety and fear, only to emerge in the sunlight to transform his men into a fabled “band of brothers.”
Roosevelt’s point in his observation about the need to ration his exposure was that Agincourts should be the exception, not the rule. Dwight Eisenhower, who served in the years of the rise of television, used to make the same point. “I keep telling you fellows I don’t like to do this sort of thing,” he told advisers who urged him to go on the air more often. “I can think of nothing more boring, for the American public, than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half-hour looking at my face on their television screens.”
Presidents, as John F. Kennedy once observed, are subject to “clamorous counsel” — everyone, it can seem, has thoughts on how they could do the job better. When he was being told what to do and how to do it, Eisenhower — who, beneath his serene surface, had more than a bit of a temper — once replied: “Now, look, I happen to know a little about leadership. I’ve had to work with a lot of nations, for that matter, at odds with each other. And I tell you this: You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ — not ‘leadership.’” He went on: “I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion, and conciliation, and education, and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only kind of leadership I know, or believe in, or will practice.”
If Mr. Trump is averse to heeding counsel from President Eisenhower — who, as a general with a fondness for businessmen, should be a congenial voice — perhaps he might learn from his own late lawyer. One of Mr. Trump’s mentors from his New York days was Roy Cohn, who as a young man was chief counsel to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, whose Communist-hunting from 1950 to 1954 transfixed the nation.
The conventional view of Senator McCarthy’s ultimate fall turns on the Army-McCarthy hearings, when he showed himself to be dark and bullying. The iconic moment came when an opposing lawyer, Joseph N. Welch, asked, brilliantly: “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
In the popular mind, that question brought McCarthy down. But Cohn believed something deeper was also at work. “Undoubtedly the hearings were a setback,” he recalled in a 1968 memoir about McCarthy. “But there were other more fundamental reasons for his decline. By the time the hearings ended, McCarthy had been the center of the national and world spotlight for three and a half years. He had an urgent universal message, and people, whether they idolized or hated him, listened. Almost everything he said or did was chronicled.”
And that surfeit of attention, Cohn argued, itself contributed to McCarthy’s decline. “Human nature being what it is, any outstanding actor on the stage of public affairs — and especially a holder of high office — cannot remain indefinitely at the center of controversy,” Cohn observed. “The public must eventually lose interest in him and his cause. And Joe McCarthy had nothing to offer but more of the same. The public sought new thrills,” but “the surprise, the drama, were gone.”
To everything, in other words, there is a season, and McCarthy’s hubris hastened the end of his hour upon the stage. “I was fully aware of McCarthy’s faults, which were neither few nor minor,” Cohn said. “He was impatient, overly aggressive, overly dramatic. He acted on impulse. He tended to sensationalize the evidence he had in order to draw attention to the rock-bottom seriousness of the situation. He would neglect to do important homework and consequently would, on occasion, make challengeable statements.”
The urge to overstate, to overdramatize, to dominate the news, was costly. McCarthy, Cohn said, was essentially a salesman. “He was selling the story of America’s peril,” Cohn recalled. “He knew that he could never hope to convince anybody by delivering a dry, general-accounting-office type of presentation. In consequence, he stepped up circumstances a notch or two,” and in so doing he opened himself to attacks that proved fatal. He oversold, and the customers — the public — tired of the pitch, and the pitchman. For Mr. Trump, that’s a New Year’s lesson worth pondering. Source
Dec 29, 2017 splinternews.com Pat Toomey Is the Quiet Face of Republican Radicalism
Pat Toomey is the Milford Man of the U.S. Senate. (He even hails, coincidentally, from Upper Milford Township.) Senator Toomey has all the vigor of a can of beige paint. If the Koch brothers had ever discovered an ideologically sympathetic sea cucumber, that sea cucumber could easily have followed the same career path as Pat Toomey.
Unlike many of his pals in the G.O.P., Pat Toomey knows how to keeps his head down. He doesn’t showboat on the Senate floor. He hides from his constituents. He only goes on the Sunday talk shows when need be. And all the while, he continues to quietly wage class war on behalf of his party and its corporate benefactors.
It wasn’t Donald Trump or Paul Ryan who carried the Republicans’ loathsome tax bill into the end zone, but Pat Toomey:
The final tax bill signed by President Trump lowers the top individual rate to 37 percent from 39.6 percent, reflecting one of many triumphs for the “supply-side” economic doctrine Toomey has relentlessly promoted through more than two decades in politics over the more populist ideology of Trump’s campaign.
Behind the scenes, according to aides, lobbyists and fellow lawmakers, Toomey played a major role in shaping the Republican tax overhaul — pushing not only for a cut in the top individual rate but also helping slash rates for corporations and repeal a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.
Because of the simple fact that he is a total bore, Toomey sometimes passes for a Moderate Republican. The beltway press has branded Toomey a “fiscal hawk,” because apparently “investment banker-turned-Club For Growth stooge who looks like one of the anti-mutant senators in a 2000s X-Men movie” is too long an honorific. Of course, as a fiscal hawk, whose purported main concern is getting the federal deficit in line, Toomey was instrumental in crafting a tax reform bill that explodes the deficit through massive tax breaks aimed squarely at rich people and corporations.
In a way, you have to admire Toomey. While his showboating colleagues were reading Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor, Toomey was lying in wait, biding his time until the next Republican president took office. He never took his eye off the prize: quietly, politely stripping away social protections for vulnerable Americans while further enriching himself, his peers and the donor class.
And let’s give him some credit. He knows exactly what the result of his tax policy will be:
It’s easy to get outraged at the Donald Trumps and the Ted Cruzes of the Republican Party, because people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have a desperate, unfillable pit in their souls that makes them seek out negative attention at every turn. They are cartoonish villains, who use intentionally inflammatory and at times radically authoritarian rhetoric. But the real face of Republican policy radicalism is Pat Toomey. Quiet, polite Pat Toomey.
Voters aren’t outraged by Toomey, and his radicalism isn’t labeled as such by most of the press, because at the surface level, he is an utterly inoffensive human being. And if Pat Toomey has his way, he’ll keep his nose down, hiding from his constituents, not making any waves, not offending anyone. He doesn’t want you to get angry at him because he wants to keep his job. He wants to keep helping his friends, and he certainly doesn’t want you to notice him doing it.
Dec 20, 2017 chescotimes GOP Congressman laud tax bill, Democrats decry ‘gift’ for wealthy, donors
The U.S. Senate last night passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — a sweeping revision of U.S. Tax code, that depending on who is talking is either a spark for job and wage growth or a massive, deficit busting giveaway to the rich, political donors and corporate America.
The House voted Tuesday to approve the package, but will have to revote Wednesday because of three provisions in the original bill that would not pass muster for a Senate reconciliation vote. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill this week, with the new tax rules taking effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
The Chester County Congressman who all voted for the package — U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello (R-6), U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-7) and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-16) — said they see it as a job and economy booster in comments immediately after initial passage of the legislation.
“Every American deserves the opportunity to pursue his or her own version of the American Dream, Smucker said in a statement. “Today, our complex and outdated federal tax code leaves families feeling like they’re doing everything right, but still struggling to make ends meet. The status quo on taxes is failing the middle class.
“Throughout this past year, I have been hearing from constituents about what tax reform should do for them and their families. They want a simpler, more honest federal tax code that lets them keep more of their paycheck and restores American competitiveness – and that’s what this bill does.
“I have also had conversations with constituents about specific provisions in our tax bill that have been good for our community. Our older population has been able to reduce its tax liability because of the deduction for medical expenses. Cities like Lancaster, Reading, and Coatesville have taken advantage of the New Market and Historic Tax Credits to jumpstart economic activity and put people back to work. I fought to retain these important provisions to help ensure this tax plan works for our district.”
One of Smucker’s would-be Democratic opponents — Christina Hartman — said she saw the bill in a different light.
“With overwhelming evidence and independent analyses showing that this tax bill will leave America’s middle class out in the cold, the GOP and Rep. Lloyd Smucker have redoubled their efforts to enrich the top 1% and huge corporations,” Hartman said in a statement. “Here in the 16th District, middle-class families will get tax hikes so that Rep. Smucker can shower his donors with massive tax cuts.
“This misguided adventure would be amusing if it didn’t impact the life and livelihood of nearly every American. From the beginning, Democrats have called for transparent, thoughtful legislation that simplifies the tax code, doesn’t further increase the national debt, and gives tax cuts to those who need it most—the middle class and small businesses, not corporations and the 1%.
“Unfortunately, Republicans in Washington have other priorities, and putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Pennsylvanians isn’t one of them. As we move closer to the GOP endgame, it’s clear that Rep. Smucker isn’t concerned with this tax cut scheme’s long-term negative consequences for Pennsylvania.
“Rep. Smucker, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – your vote for this travesty is unacceptable. The people of PA-16 deserve better, and those who sent you to Washington know that the blame will rest squarely on your shoulders.”
Meehan, though, strongly defended the bill.
“This bill brings needed tax relief to middle-class families,” said Meehan. “It doubles the standard deduction, meaning the first $24,000 a married couple earns will be tax free. It lowers rates overall and it doubles the size of the child tax credit. The end result will be a lower tax bill for the vast majority of middle-class taxpayers.”
“Importantly, the compromise reached between the House and Senate preserves deductions for state and local property or income taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable contributions. I’m particularly pleased that this bill preserves and makes more generous the deduction for medical expenses – so important to many Pennsylvania seniors with expensive medical bills. It also repeals Obamacare’s harmful ‘individual mandate’ tax, which disproportionally hits working families. In Pennsylvania, 83% of taxpayers hit by the individual mandate penalty earned less than $50,000 a year.”
“This legislation doesn’t just mean more money in the pockets of middle class families. It means more jobs, too. It’s the most significant revamp of our broken business tax code in decades, and it will bring thousands of jobs back to our shores from overseas. It also gives small businesses a tax cut. One study, by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, indicates the bill will generate more than 13,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.”
One of Meehan’s potential 2018 opponents, Drew McGinty, strongly disagreed with that argument.
“Patrick Meehan’s continued support for the tax bill is an early Christmas present for corporations and the wealthy at the expense of middle-class families in Pennsylvania and our children and grandchildren’s future,” McGinty said. “I support simplifying our tax system and decreasing the burden on families in the Commonwealth, but this scam accomplishes the opposite and is the perfect example of gross fiscal negligence. As the author of this bill, Patrick Meehan owns the repercussions of this bill and come November 2018, Patrick Meehan should be held accountable for his ‘YEA’ vote. When I defeat Patrick Meehan, I promise to work tirelessly on behalf of middle-class families for a fairer tax system.”
Costello argued that the bill had been unfairly characterized in the media and that working people will see the benefit of the plan.
“American workers are the lynchpin of a healthy economy,” he said in a statement. “Employers provide the capital and take the risk to create value in services and products. Families are the backbone of our society. For all of them, we need an economy that invests in people and rewards hard work. To start, and to be clear, this tax bill cuts taxes for low income Americans, and it does so by doubling the standard deduction. Middle income families will benefit from lower rates and doubling the child tax credit to name just a few policies. And for those itemizing on their tax return, up to $10,000 is still able to be deducted from property and income taxes, along with the mortgage interest deduction; when you combine this with lower income tax brackets and higher income thresholds, the overwhelming majority of my constituents will get a tax cut. This means hard earned money back in your wallet to be saved, invested, and spent at businesses in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I believe hardworking taxpayers deserve a tax cut and that is why I’m proud to support this tax relief bill.
“On the business side, small businesses will have more capital to invest – in their workers – through higher wages and with more job creation – and in their equipment and machinery, which will also have a positive economic impact. This bill will create jobs. And a tighter labor market means companies compete for workers and wages rise. We are losing jobs and investment to other countries. Today, the U.S. corporate tax rate remains at 35 percent while the worldwide average corporate tax rate is 22.5 percent. Did you know that the average rate among U.S. trading partners, the vast majority of which have converted to territorial tax systems, is 24.6 percent? This tax bill makes us competitive for future investment and growth in the global economy.
“There are so many myths that persist, and I would like to clear up a few of them. The teacher supplies deduction remains. The child tax credit has been expanded. The charitable deduction continues and expands. We have maintained the earned income tax credit. We have improved savings accounts for education. Tuition waivers for graduate students will remain untaxed. We have preserved the medical expense deduction and even expanded it for two years. We have lowered individual tax rates across the board to zero, ten, 12, 22, 24, 32, 35, and 37 percent respectively, which benefits all Americans. A typical family of four earning the median family income of $73,000 will receive a tax cut of $2,059. The average single mom in America makes around $41,000. Under this legislation, she will receive a tax cut of over $1,300.”
But Chrissy Houlahan, the Democrat who appears likely to take on Costello for his seat next year, both disagreed and said that a number of things that the Congressman said were inaccurate or disingenuous.
“Representative Ryan Costello and this dysfunctional Congress just passed a historic tax scam that is wrong for our nation and wrong for our constituents,” said Houlahan. “Costello’s vote will hike taxes on many middle-class families and add trillions to our deficit all to give tax breaks to the super wealthy who need it least.”
“I have helped grow businesses and non-profits here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and I know we need a simplified tax code that eases the burden on the middle-class and small businesses. This bill was not the solution, and Costello needs to explain why he voted for this bill to help his donors and hurt his district.”
Houlahan disputed a number of items in Costello’s statement on the tax bill including the following bullet points as issued by her campaign:
1 . Costello said “this tax bill cuts taxes for low income Americans […] middle income families will benefit.”
Houlahan’s campaign replied: The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that by 2023, the average taxpayer at every income level under $30,000 sees a tax increase; by 2027, the average taxpayer at every income level under $75,000 sees a tax increase [Joint Committee on Taxation, 12/18/17]
Costello said “There are many myths that persist, and I would like to clear up a few of them. The teacher supplies deduction remains […] Tuition waivers for graduate students will remain untaxed. We have preserved the medical expense deduction and even expanded it for two years.”
Houlahan’s campaign replied: These are all provisions that Costello previously voted to eliminate – hurting teachers, students, and people with medical expenses – when he voted for the House version of this tax bill.
Costello said “I have listened to everyone”
Houlahan’s campaign replied: The Daily Local News reported Monday that Costello’s West Chester office is now closed to the public: “The door was locked and demonstrators were not allowed to enter Costello’s office, which recently was closed to the public, except by appointment only. Demonstrators were asked to sign a log at a table outside the office. Kori Walter, district director, told protesters that the door was locked because demonstrators had become a distraction and were a security risk.” [Daily Local News, 12/19/17]
A similar divide exists between the state’s two U.S. Senators, Pat Toomey (R) and Bob Casey Jr. (D).
Toomey expressed satisfaction after the Tuesday night Senate vote:
“Tonight the Senate passed the most historic reform to our tax code in over three decades,” Toomey said in a statement. “In doing so, we’ve achieved two major accomplishments for the American people.
“First, we lowered the tax burden on hardworking individuals and families. The vast majority of lower and middle-income taxpayers will pay less in federal taxes. Second, we fundamentally restructured the business tax code which will enable American workers and businesses to compete globally, encourage a surge in economic growth, and create better paying jobs. This bill fundamentally shows that we believe in the capacity of the American people to restore the vibrant economic growth that we used to take for granted.
“I thank Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Chairman Hatch, and Chairman Brady for their leadership throughout this process and my colleagues in the Senate for their hard work and perseverance. I am excited the President will soon sign this bill into law, making good on the promise we made to the American people.”
Casey, on the other hand, was not so charitable.
“This is an insult to the many middle class families in Pennsylvania who will pay more in taxes under this scheme while the super-rich and big corporations get a windfall,” Casey said. “Congress should be working in a bipartisan way to make our tax system simpler and fairer, but the Senate Republican plan does just the opposite. In 2019, the country’s 572,000 richest households will see $34 billion worth of tax cuts, while the 90 million Americans making under $50,000 a year will see a fraction of that. That is both obscene and grossly unfair.
“The bill rewards companies who outsourced jobs by giving them a big tax cut and may actually encourage more outsourcing in the future. What’s worse is that this tax plan will trigger $25 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare unless Congress acts. Now, after creating a huge hole in the deficit by giving tax cuts to the super-rich, top Republicans are saying they are planning to go after Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Adding insult to injury, the bill also includes a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which will result in 13 million Americans losing their health care while premiums increase for families across Pennsylvania by an additional 10% per year. That’s wrong and I will fight against it.
“The Republican tax plan that just passed the Senate rewards companies who outsource jobs and ends tax deductions that help the middle class. I will continue to fight for real bipartisan tax reform that helps the middle class. What passed today is a big Republican giveaway to corporations and Republican corporate donors.” Source
Dec 19, 2017 post-gazette Bob Casey and Tom Ridge: Don’t disempower fellow citizens Americans with disabilities deserve a chance to work and live in their communities
SEN. BOB CASEY AND FORMER GOV. TOM RIDGE
We are two Pennsylvanians, members of two different political parties, but with a number of principles we whole-heartedly agree upon. Among them: Government should empower its citizens; political leaders should be servants to those who elect them; those who govern must be responsible stewards of public monies; and government should expand people’s freedom and enhance their right to self-determination, providing the means to take advantage of the great opportunities our state and country provide.
All of these principles are true and necessary for the trust and confidence of Pennsylvanians and Americans, but the last one is especially true for those with disabilities. Whether they are born with a disability or acquire it from disease, accident, age, or service to our country, our government should ensure that supports and services are in place so that citizens who have a disability are able to go to school, earn a living, live independently, and be full contributors to our communities.
That is why the two of us are concerned about the tax bill that was reported out of the congressional conference committeeon Friday and will now work its way to a final vote in the Senate and House of Representatives.
We both believe in a reasonable tax burden for all Americans and for American business. We also believe that the tax code, like budgets and spending plans, is a document that communicates the values and priorities of our country.
The tax bill being considered for final passage does not value people with disabilities and certainly does not prioritize them. The most worrisome aspects for those with disabilities is the plan to raise the budget deficit by at least $1 trillion, triggering required reductions in spending that will gut or eliminate critical programs that allow people with disabilities to gain or maintain jobs.
These include programs such as Vocational Rehabilitation and Medicaid, the latter of which is the largest funder of employment supports for people with disabilities, 80 percent of whom currently are not in the workforce. These important programs help people with disabilities work — both to contribute to and take advantage of the great opportunities our country provides.
The cuts will mean great pressure to reduce spending at the national, state and local levels, reductions that will further jeopardize employment prospects, health care and quality of life for people with disabilities. In fact, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other political leaders already have said they are planning to cut the primary programs that support people with disabilities: Medicaid and Medicare. For Americans with disabilities, these programs enable them to work, earn, save and live in their communities — and to pay the very taxes that are being cut.
By cutting funding to those programs, not only is health care for people with disabilities put at risk, but also the ability for people with disabilities to live in their own homes and work in their communities.
As a current and a former elected public official, we take seriously the stewardship of public funds. In our view, the current tax plans are not responsible to those with disabilities and they are not fiscally responsible either.
It is dramatically more expensive for individuals with disabilities to live in institutions than in their own communities. According to the University of Minnesota Residential Information Systems Project, the average cost of supporting persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities in community settings was just over $44,000 a year, compared to more than $134,000 a year in institutional settings, which rob them of opportunities to work, earn, live and contribute to their communities. Yet the cuts being proposed to Medicaid and Medicare are more likely to push people with disabilities back into institutional living. No one benefits from this scenario, least of all Americans with disabilities.
The two of us don’t always agree on the role of government, but on this issue we stand united. As the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives consider what could soon be the law of the land, we urge them to consider the negative impact these policies will have on the opportunities for Americans with disabilities to work and be active members of our communities.
Bob Casey is a Democratic U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania. Tom Ridge is a Republican former Pennsylvania governor and was the first U.S. secretary of homeland security. He chairs the National Organization on Disability. Source