“Pride and Purpose” is the slogan for Hofstra University. It could also be the slogan for the “new” Democratic party, exuded by New York State Democrats at their convention, held at the university’s stadium in Nassau County last week. There were not taking a backseat to Cynthia Nixon and the Working Families Party progressive values. Instead, Hillary Clinton, Tom Perez, Joe Biden, and Andrew Cuomo, himself schooled them on the art of pragmatic progressivism: getting progressive policies enacted.
Not the ideals, the hyperbole, the theory, not that hot air balloon that raised Bernie Sanders and still fills the Bernie Bro’s and those who attach to him, like Cynthia Nixon who has no clue at all how to achieve or change any of the wrongs. Hillary Clinton, in one of her debates with Bernie Sanders, noted that “politics is the art of the possible.”
The theme for the first day was “Moving Forward,” – a slap at Republicans cynical actions to move the clock back to a time when women, minorities, the disabled and vulnerable were subjugated without consequence. The theme for the second day, when Andrew Cuomo gave his acceptance speech, was “Fighting Back.”
Taking the podium in the same venue as the first 2016 presidential debate where she showed the presidential pretender, Donald Trump, to be the fool he is, Clinton answered the question constantly posed to Democrats (but not Republicans): What do Democrats stand for? Well, it may not fit on a hat, but Clinton provided the answer:
“Look around this room: people who stand for an economy that works for everybody, universal health care, and even better, people who have plans to get us there. You’ll see defenders of civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, rights of people with disabilities. I don’t believe these are minor issues –they matter to millions and millions of New Yorkers, Americans.
“So much of the progress we see in the United States is because we Democrats pushed open doors to opportunity for people who have been shut out. And we, my friends, are not going back.”
At a time when income inequality is the greatest since 1915, she said, “I think it’s a bold idea that everyone in this country should have a decent standard of living and a good job to pay for it…That everyone deserves the best possible start in life..Quality health care throughout and a safe, secure retirement. Even bolder is to have plans to make those realities, the way Democrats do.
“Let’s remind ourselves: Democrats are the party that rescued country from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; passed, then saved, the Affordable Care Act; helped keep Planned Parenthood’s doors open. We’re the party that will save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from persistent Republican attacks. We are the party that will keep fighting every day to achieve universal health care and universal job opportunities. So don’t let anyone tell you differently.
“If you want an economy that works for you and your family, you have to vote for Democrats…..quality health care….protect and expand the rights of all Americans, not just the top 1%, you have to vote for Democrats.
“If you believe in woman’s right to make her own health care decisions …in well funded public schools, colleges, and the resources so that teachers can succeed.. If you believe in actual commonsense gun safety laws to help save lives…understand that we are facing a real crisis with Climate Change…and believe we can stand up for our values and keep our country safe, you have to vote for Democrats.
“If you believe in comprehensive immigration reform and protecting Dreamers …… getting money out of politics and getting all voters to the polls..if you believe that standing up for evidence and reason and respecting the rule of Law is critical for our democracy, you have to vote for Democrats.”
“Now more than ever we need leaders who will stand up for progressive values and up against to those who will turn neighbor against neighbor and sow seeds of division. Most of all, we need leaders who believe in producing results and getting things done – leaders like Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul.”
Indeed, Cuomo has chalked up quite a record in his 7 years that align perfectly with the progressive agenda:
Erased $10 billion deficit, added 1 million private-sector jobs to a record number of 8.2 million; raised the minimum wage to $15, passed the strongest paid family leave policy in America; stood up to protect a woman’s right to choose, and defended access to the state’s version of Obamacare; implemented marriage equality and stood up against racism and sexual abuse.
Implemented commonsense gun safety laws, promoted criminal justice reform and created a mechanism to investigate deaths by police. Put affordable college education in reach of every New Yorker, making the state the first in nation to provide tuition-free college for low and mid-income students.
He’s unleashed the most massive overhaul of infrastructure since Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor, to the tune of $100 billion that has seen new bridges, mass transportation improvements all across the state (built with union labor), invested in innovation and business incubators. Much of this is also to realize the target of 50% of the state’s energy needs coming from renewable by 2030, and he has backed it up by shutting down coal-fired plants, investing in offshore windpower.
He has stood up for Dreamers and for immigrants, creating a legal fund so that those who Trump and Sessions would race to deport have the benefit of due process enshrined in the Constitution and a stable of American values.
And Hochul, probably the hardest working Lt. Governor in the nation, has done an outstanding job to promote gender equity.
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” former Vice President Joe Biden told the audience. “They are not who we are. They are not who America is. What they are doing is sending a vision of America around the world that is distorted. That is damaging. That is hurting us… this phony populism, this fake nationalism…. It’s time to say ‘no more.'”
We have seen how the Republicans govern: pulling back on rights for workers, women, voting rights, overturning environmental, consumer and financial protections (how is that helping working people?). Doing nothing to expand access to affordable health care, rather, doing their best to destroy Obamacare and watch as health care premiums rise.. Doing nothing to make college affordable, address student debt; nothing to address the opioid crisis or address spiraling rise in drug prices that put life-saving drugs out of reach. And that $1.5 trillion infrastructure fantasy? As Biden said, Trump gave it away to the 1% in the GOP tax scheme.
“This election isn’t just about winning, though win we must,” declared Jay Jacobs, chair of Nassau Democrats. “It’s about the soul of America – what nation we are, who we will about moving forward.
Here’s the tidy slogan that Democrats should embrace and it even fits on a hat: Justice. Fairness. Opportunity.
Governors of New York and California and the Governor-Elect of New Jersey and California joined forces to condemn the Republican tax plan as a “stake in the heart” of the nation’s economic engine, a cynical ploy to punish Democratic-majority states, and only the first-step toward generating such an increase in the national debt to justify cuts in Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, CHIP and other social programs, and threatened to challenge the legality of elements of the tax plan should it become law.
In a joint press call, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Governor Jerry Brown and New Jersey Governor-Elect Phil Murphy and using phrases such as “evil,” “nefarious” and “cynical,” raised issues of the legality of elements of the Republican tax plan, which shifts $1.5 trillion in wealth from middle class and working families to the wealthy – indeed, 50% of the tax cuts go directly into the pocket of the top 1% – through lowered tax rates, elimination of the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax), reductions if not elimination in the Estate Tax (which only impacts 2 out of 1000 families now), and new rules enabling the wealthiest to shelter tax through pass-throughs.
But the Republicans pay for the cuts by largely eliminating or significantly reducing the deductibility of state and local taxes, including property taxes, effectively double-taxing, something that has not existed since income taxes were first implemented in 1913, which disproportionately targets 12 states that happen to vote Democratic and also happen to be the donor states that account for 40% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). A similar effort during the 1986 Reagan tax reform effort was defeated by both Republicans and Democrats. The governors say this may be challenged as unconstitutional double-taxation.
Other provisions, such as establishing a legal framework for “personhood” may also be challenged as unconstitutional.
The way the Republican tax plan is structured, it shifts wealth from the 12 “donor” (Democratic-majority) states, to the rest of the country, by eliminating or dramatically reducing the tax deductibility of state and local taxes, including property taxes. In effect, it makes those states structurally uncompetitive by effectively increasing taxes by 20-25 percent for homeowners, may reduce home values by that amount, as well as make it difficult for schools (which account for 60-65% of New Yorkers’ property taxes and 40% of California’s) to raise the revenue they need to property function. But while individuals lose the deductibility of SALT, corporations do not.
In a further blow to public education and stripping away of the separation of Church & State, the Republicans would allow the tax-exempt 529 funds, created to fund college, to be used for K-12 education for parochial and private schools, even homeschooling. (This is on top of repealing the Johnson Amendment, opening floodgates of “charitable” contributions to religious institutions to become political PACs; a particularly insidious breach of the Constitution’s Establishment clause because the religious leader preaching from the pulpit has a special ability to coerce.
The governors held at the hope that the wildly unpopular Congress (only 13% approval) and the most unpopular president in history (33% approval), will recognize the tax plan is similarly wildly unpopular, with barely 20% support, and that Republican Congressmen who have to stand for election in 2018, will do what is best for their constituents.
The Senate version, which eliminates the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), would result in 13 million more people without health insurance by 2025, and 10 percent annual increases in premiums on everyone else.
The bill also “pays” for the tax cuts to the richest Americans and corporations by eliminating the deductibility of student loan interest, tax credits for renewable energy, and opens the way for drilling in the Arctic National Refuge, and other provisions which help the upward mobility of working families and middle class striving to achieve the American Dream.
The governors held out a glimmer of hope that enough of the Republicans (the only ones who voted in favor of the tax plan) would vote for their constituents’ interests.
“The tax plan that passed Senate, the House, and is headed to reconciliation, is a long way from done. It is a fraud on the American people. They talk about tax cuts for middle class and working people, but what it is, is tax cut for the rich – 50% of the tax cuts go to the top 1%. That’s an inarguable fact. Their theory isn’t new or novel. It’s ‘trickle down’ on steroids.” He argued that instead of corporations taking their tax cuts to raise wages for workers or create more jobs through investment, corporations in the past have pocketed the extra cash or used it to buy back stock (raising the share prices) or paying dividends.
“To add insult to injury,” Cuomo said. “the tax cut is then targeted at 12 states that happen to be Blue States where they target eliminating state and local deductions. People don’t understand what that will do, but it will be devastating for states. In essence, it is an increase in property taxes and state income tax only on those 12 states. It puts us at a structurally competitive disadvantage because structurally our taxes will be higher.” That gives residents additional complaint about their government (Republicans even now charge that New York’s taxes are high because of mismanagement, or lavish spending on services). Cuomo countered the claim by Republicans that the poorer states somehow subsidize the public services of the richer states. New York, California and New Jersey are donor states, which means we put more into the [federal] till than we take out. This aggravates and enhances the injustice where we are subsidizing the other states, and now you’re using New York and New Jersey as a piggybank to finance tax cuts in other states.
“That amounts to political retaliation through the tax code. That’s why they passed it with only their own votes,” Cuomo charged.
California Governor Jerry Brown assailed the Republican tax plan saying, “the most immediate evil of this cynical maneuver called the tax bill is to further divide America when we are at one of our most divisive periods in history. The idea that a president and representatives only in the majority would use that power to penalize 12 states – most of which voted strongly against this president– is not going to bring country together. We are divided while some of our most important competitors are getting more unified, authoritarian. We need to come together. This will further divide blue states from red, Democrats from Republicans. It is evil in the extreme. It exacerbates inequality….It’s not right. It won’t stand.”
New Jersey Governor-Elect Philip Murphy further expounded on the devastating impact in terms of widening inequality and continuing down the awful path of us vs Washington leadership.
“It is based on the trickle down theory, which we have seen time and again doesn’t work. Executives get paid better, the gap between the top of corporate food chain and bottom widens; shareholders benefit from buybacks while working people are neglected. It is a scam at the ultimate extreme. On more than one occasion we all heard, when asked for the rationale, the awful answer [from Republicans] was ‘it is our donors, our donor base will dry up if we don’t.’ We saw the chaos Friday night, literally lobbyists hand-writing in pen, amending the bill. This is as bad as it gets.
“But in a ‘glass half full’ sense, as Governor Cuomo stated, It’s not over yet. This is the ninth inning. Each of our states have Republican House members. This is beyond Republican, Democrat; it is a clear question of whether you are representing the constituents who elected you. Black & white.”
“The changes in the SALT deduction, are particularly problematic, Murphy said. “That’s been part of the tax code since income tax became legal in 1913. For over 100 years, Congress realized taxing people twice is unfair. We are the biggest odnor states in terms of the federal money we give. This will only make it worse.
“The stronger we are together, the more numbers, the more locked arms, we fight together as a team. There is a lot to be said for that. I am honored to be with you.”
Asked what actions, beyond political pressure on Republican members of Congress, the governors might take, they said that just as the Republicans, the day after Obamacare was signed into law, pledged to repeal and replace, they would also take whatever means – even court challenges– to repeal and replace this tax law.
“We’re looking at the legality now. [SALT deductions] has been in the tax code since it started over 100 years ago. This is double taxation – they are taxing taxes, this from the party that’s against taxation, redistribution [or what Republicans used to condemn as “class warfare”]. This is redistribution in an exponential form –taking from richer states and subsidizing a tax cut in less wealthy states. Hypocritical. Everything they said were against: double-taxation, taxing tax for first time, redistribution state to state, so may well be illegal, unconstitutional. We’re looking at it.”
“There may be some legal action but this is a quintessentially political challenge,” Governor Brown stated. “Our job is to communicate the fraudulent and nefarious character of this tax bill – the way it proceeded, which John McCain said follows no normal pathway. We want to make sure our members of Congress know they are hurting New York, California, New Jersey but also hurting America. We are the key elements of America’s engine of prosperity, and when Trump and his allies attack New York, New Jersey, California, they are attacking the vital seams of the American economy. That’s stupid. They will regret it, and we will do everything we can to convince our Republican representatives that the right thing to do is defeat.
Murphy said they are working with state Attorneys General “to tear up all the floor boards, to the fullest extent of law, and challenge this. There are 500 pages of amendments, a lot handwritten. I am betting there are flaws, holes. If we don’t succeed in the next few days, we will have to take this to the limit.
“This is double taxation and I’m not sure it’s legal,” said Cuomo. “We will find out if it is. But Governor Brown’s point is that it is counterproductive. These 12 states are 40% of GDP. If you say this will help the American economy, how do you do that by assaulting 12 states that are 40% of GDP: this will be negative for our states and regional economies. No doubt about that.”
“Attacking the innovation of NY, CA, NJ and others is just a dumb move, only explained by the desperate situation the Republican leadership find themselves,” Governor Brown added. “This president is the most unpopular is history. They are riding a dead horse in this tax bill, acting irrationally, not in interest of country, throwing a wrench into engine of economy.”
“The more people understand, the more people understand how unfair, divisive and harmful it is to them individually,” Cuomo commented. “The problem is, there is so much news, so much happening. This is so complicated – elimination of state and local taxes but the more people understand it, the more they are against it. Congresspeople and Senators ultimately have to go home, and if they vote for this, they are voting against the interests of their constituents, and they have election next year. Ultimately democracy works. A congressperson who votes for this, there’s no going home again.
“I’m an optimist for the simple reason that we all believe in a different America than this bill articulates,” Murphy said. “The more people understand what’s in this thing, the more actively they push back. What it will do for higher education by repealing tax deduction for student loans, stripping credits for renewable energy, opening Arctic to drilling, on and on –repealing the individual mandate in ACA – the more people realize what’s at stake, the more collectively they say this can’t go forward.
Largely eliminating the SALT deductions, Cuomo said, contradicts the Republican claim their tax plan is supposed to spur the economy. “But targeting 40% of GDP, then saying that’s how you are going to spur economy, by putting arrow into economic heart of these 12 states? There are predictions it will drop the value of homes in our states because property taxes in effect will go up 20-25% over night. If you drop the value of homes, disrupt the whole financial system. Mortgage foreclosures. I don’t think they understand what they are doing.
“We talk about [eliminating SALT deductions] as if it were a new concept,” Governor Cuomo said. “It’s not new. They proposed eliminating SALT during Reagan’s time. At that time, Democrats and Republicans both said it was wrong and defeated it. The difference now is the political extremism and their willingness to divide, and the political extremes they will go to.
“This is only step one of their plan – we know what their plan is, because not new, we’ve seen the playbook. Step one is tax cuts for the rich. Step 2, is to drive up the debt, the deficit, and then come back and say we have $1.5 trillion debt that we created (by cutting taxes for rich), and now we have this debt, we have to address it by cutting government spending. Where will they go? The right to Medicaid, healthcare for poor people. The right to CHIP for poor children, Right to housing programs, food stamps, etc. That’s inevitable. They are creating the debt that will then justify their philosophical step to cut government spending to hurt the poorest Americans.”
“Look at this in its entirety, beyond SALT,” Murphy added. “This is their way to cut Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. It is the height of hypocrisy from the so-called deficit hawks. Look at higher education and student loans, Obamacare individual mandate, Seen result of trickle down. Pass through. Taken in its entirety, the Republican tax plan is exceedingly damaging not just to our states, but entire country.”
“Republicans saw Obamacare passed and the next day they started Repeal & Replace,” Cuomo said. “If they do this, the next day, we will start the repeal and replace of the divisive Tax Act.”
None of them mentioned, but should have, the increasing pressures on the federal government for disaster relief from climate catastrophes (hundreds of billions of dollars in 2017 alone), the need to address the opioid crisis, and to rebuild and mitigate infrastructure.
The Republican tax plan (scam) – whether the House or the Senate version or whatever will come out of conference – would be devastating to New Yorkers in particular, but the nation as a whole. More than 50 percent of American households will wind up paying more in taxes, with the various cuts in deductions for all the things that enable upward mobility – home mortgage, local property taxes, education loans, medical costs.
Instead of simplifying the tax code and eliminating loopholes, the Republicans have only cut taxes for the wealthiest and corporations without eliminating the loopholes that enable profitable multi-nationals like Apple shelter profits from US tax. There is no incentive for corporations or wealthy individuals to invest in the US, or to create jobs, or even to raise wages. Instead, the Republicans would cause the biggest transfer of wealth from the poorest and middle class to the wealthiest, at the same time, creating a new American aristocracy of wealth and political power. It would intensify the already growing gap between rich and poor – the greatest gap since the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons – hollow out the middle class. Meanwhile, the poor and middle class would be living with heightened insecurity because of loss of access to affordable health care.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its report which clearly shows that the federal government would be raising taxes on those making less and generously benefiting those making more. For instance, Americans making less than $30,000 in 2019 will pay $2,580,000,000 more in taxes – while those making over $200,000 will pay $118,550,000,000 less in taxes in 2019.
“The Republican tax plan [which eliminates the deductions for state and local taxes] would be devastating for Long Island,” Congressman Tom Suozzi, Democrat of Long Island told a Town Hall attended by 150 people in Great Neck. “The current tax bill passed by the House and proposed by the Senate would be bad for the country but especially bad for New York State and Long Island. Devastating…. It will cause people to move out – make people move away – not just the billionaires and millionaires making oodles of money, but people who are just making it.”
Housing values will likely fall because the tax deduction of the mortgages – $1.5 million is average home cost for New York City – will be eliminated. Houses will be even less affordable.
The Republican tax plan is “structured in a way to take money out of the middle class to pay for tax cuts for the very wealthy and corporations. They had to find revenue to pay for tax cuts – they couldn’t go over $1.5 trillion deficit over 10 years in order to pass the bill with only 51 votes in the Senate.” They came up with the biggest reduction in deductions – eliminating the deductions for SALT (state and local taxes), which if they put back in, can’t give the tax cuts to corporations.” It is even questionable if it is constitutional, since it would essentially double-tax that income – first at the state and local level and then again at the federal level.
“It’s a conscious decision that affects states like New York, New Jersey, California, and a few others” – states with high state and local taxes which also are “donor states” sending far more to the federal government than comes back in federal aid., which also happen to be “blue” states. It’s also part of the strategy to “shrink the federal government” and attack the social safety net put into place since FDR’s New Deal that came out of the Great Depression and continued by LBJ’s Great Society: Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid because budget deficits will trigger mandatory reductions in spending – $25 billion worth in 2018 alone.
“This is the issue we have to shut down the government on,” said a town hall participant, Howard Weitzman who was a village mayor and member of the Nassau County Board of Assessors. “They cannot destroy the economic engine of this country – all this tax money going to government. They are willing to destroy this area to give tax cuts to people who don’t need them. [Budget Director Mike Mulvaney charged, “Why do people in Alabama have to support New York” but the opposite is true: he knows very well that New York sends $48 billion more to the federal government, which go to states like Alabama. “Shut down the government.”
Democrats would be right to shut down the government. And the Donor States like New York, California, New Jersey (not coincidentally which are Democratic), should withhold the excess revenue to the federal government, much like a tenant-landlord dispute, putting the money into escrow for use to accomplish the infrastructure projects and transition to clean-energy economy that would have been federally funded. (See: Republican Tax Plan is Attack on Blue States; Fight Back by Holding Money ‘in Escrow’)
Trump and the Republicans intend to bankrupt the nation, to justify $25 billion in cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid next year, and billions more thereafter. Their tax policy would saddle the nation with $1.5 trillion more in debt while doing nothing to pay down the $20 trillion in debt we already incur – that interest payment alone, unless Trump defaults as he has on his own debt, will amount to 5% of the annual budget, more than $200 billion worth each year.
The Republican tax plan would raise taxes on the 59 million households that make $50,000 or less; and by 2027 the 86 million households who make less than $75,000. Trump appealed to the suffering masses whose salaries haven’t kept up in the 40 years since the Reagan “revolution” – but as Suozzi said, “the world is dramatically changed because of globalization and technology. We need to figure out how to get more companies to locate in US and create jobs where people make a decent living –enough to buy a house, educate their children, have health insurance and retire without being scared.” But the Republican plan will “starve the beast” and break the “engine” of economic growth by cutting off revenue that would pay for education, infrastructure and health care, while increasing the national debt which will raise interest rates. It is a cycle of destruction.
NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo Reacts
Here’s New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s response to Senate Budget Committee’s 12-11 vote strictly along partisan lines:
“The President and Republican members of Congress appear determined to pass a tax plan before the end of the year because after an otherwise entirely fruitless legislative year, they are in desperate need of an accomplishment. They must believe in the old adage that “doing something is better than doing nothing.” In this case, that could not be less applicable.
“The GOP tax plan is not just a marketing fraud. It is a schizophrenic hybrid of extreme conservative political ideology and crass electoral politics. The House and Senate have different plans, but both have the same DNA. Both plans pretend to offer tax relief to the middle class, but in reality the policy they advance is just old, discredited trickle-down economics on steroids: disproportionate and large cuts for the rich and the big corporations that are then supposed to result in economic growth that is magically passed on to the workers as wage increases. This is a purely ideological concept that lacks data to support either the idea that the economy will be stimulated or that higher wages will result.
“Both the Senate and House plans are financed in large part by the particularly obnoxious, and possibly illegal, elimination of deductions of state and local taxes (referred to as the SALT deduction). The GOP plan eliminates the deductibility of state and local taxes which is a direct attack on the states with higher state and local taxes. New York and California top the list of the twelve states that will most directly face hardship if SALT deductions are removed. Curiously, all twelve are “blue” states and if this change to accepted tax law passes, these states will be at a competitive disadvantage to other states with lower local taxes.
“The deductibility of state and local taxes has been a sacrosanct principle of tax law for the past one hundred years. It is the underpinning of the economic system for state and local governments. Republican ideology that has always espoused “state’s rights” now tramples on that theory with the elimination of this provision. And anti-tax conservatives are now proposing the first ever double taxation – to tax the taxes an individual pays locally. There is a serious legal question as to whether this double tax is constitutional.
“The elimination of the SALT deduction is the ultimate redistribution of wealth making conservatives who vehemently oppose this philosophical concept all the more hypocritical and disingenuous as they now support it. Eliminating the SALT deduction will redistribute wealth from richer states to poorer states. New York and California will effectively serve as piggy banks to finance tax cuts for other states. Our loss is their gain.
“In New York, six of nine Republican Congress members opposed this plan. The three who stood in support, voted in opposition to the interests of their constituents out of sheer party loyalty. Their justification for supporting this plan is flawed factually and ideologically. If New York raises taxes on the rich and corporations, people and business will leave the state for lower tax states and the remaining tax burden will fall to those left behind. The deduction of state and local taxes is not a federal subsidy for New York.
“New York State is the number one donor state in the nation, sending $48 billion dollars more to Washington than we get back. Eliminating SALT will compound the Federal taking adding approximately $18 billion to the $48 billion now taken. If the Republican Congress returns the $48 billion that New York sends to Washington, then I would be open to discussing eliminating the SALT deduction.
“And to make matters worse, the Senate GOP version proposes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, another legislative promise that the GOP controlled Congress has failed to achieve. It is just healthcare policy masquerading as tax reform. The reality is that lower income Americans won’t have access to health insurance and the individual tax cuts that are set to expire in 2027 will result in half of American households paying higher taxes than they would have if the Senate bill had never passed.
“The Republican Congress is correct that the American people expect action from their government. But in their attempt to save legislative face, they should heed the old adage: “do no harm.” It’s true in medicine and politics. This tax reform plan hurts the country’s poor, working and middle-class families and will have a devastatingly negative economic impact on the twelve states targeted by Washington.
“To be this reckless and dismissive of the economic interests of so many Americans, the Republican’s political assumption must be that they have lost the “blue” states anyway. That is no way to govern or – dare I say – to prepare for mid-term elections.”
(MINEOLA, NY) –Nassau County Democrats are raising alarms about what repealing the Affordable Care Act would mean for county residents and appealed to County Executive Ed Mangano to compile a comprehensive report that would quantify the impact on residents and the county’s budget.
Minority Democratic Leader Kevan Abrahams and Legislator Laura Curran stood with their democratic legislative colleagues, along with local healthcare advocates including Long Island Progressive Coalition and Nassau County Planned Parenthood calling upon the Nassau County Executive, commissioners, and administrators to compile a comprehensive report that measures the impact of what looks like the inevitable repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
According to a report issued by New York State’s Office of the Governor on January 4, 2017, Nassau County stands to lose $17,866,829 in direct funding which “goes directly to counties and helps to lower property taxes”.
Under the ACA, Nassau County saw a 33% decrease in the number of uninsured according to the most recent U.S. Census. The number of uninsured people on Long Island has declined rapidly over the last decade, while the proposed GOP healthcare bill will undo that work by putting 24 million at risk of losing coverage, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The American Health Care Act proposed by the Republican Party may affect more than 1 in 4 Nassau residents. Those at risk of coverage changes include, but are not limited to, the 204,681 Nassau seniors enrolled in Medicare and 133,324 residents who enrolled on the Affordable Care Act’s open marketplace.
“After making inroads for more affordable healthcare access, the proposed law could force counties to choose between supporting low-income residents who rely on Medicaid for health services,” said Minority Legislative Leader, Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
“President Trump is leading us down a very dangerous path and County Government is going to be left holding the bag while taxpayers’ costs could skyrocket. Trumpcare is no longer a campaign talking point but an imminent threat to the financial and physical health of our community, and we must be prepared,” said Legislator Laura Curran (D-Baldwin). “Repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with Trump’s alternative is going to drive a massive hole in the County budget while leaving more residents uninsured and without the benefits of preventative care. So that the County is prepared for these massive changes, County Executive Mangano, County Commissioners, and Department Administrators must immediately start preparing a report that outlines the real impact of losing the Affordable Care Act and what it will mean for Nassau taxpayers.”
Today, Nassau Democratic Legislators called upon the Nassau County Executive, county commissioners and department administrators to prepare an impact study that outlines the real impact losing the affordable care will have on Nassau County residents and the services they receive.
Such a study was just announced by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and is being undertaken by county governments all over the country, Lisa Tyson, Executive Director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said.
“The repeal of the Affordable Care Act will deprive Long Islanders’ access to affordable healthcare that can be a matter of life-and-death. Nassau County residents deserve to know how losing the Affordable Care Act might affect their family both financially and physically,” she said.
The repeal of the Affordable Care Act. could be detrimental to citizens of Nassau most in need: low-income families, young adults, seniors and those in need of mental health care and substance abuse treatment. All these programs are at risk of being affected as the legislation currently stands.
“Repealing the Affordable Care Act will have real consequences for our community and we need to know how many of our neighbors will be affected and what costs will fall to the County. Obvious questions are whether our Medicaid costs will rise, and by how much; how increased emergency room visits will affect Nassau University Medical Center; whether the workload and costs of the County’s Department of Health will skyrocket; whether the County’s drug abuse rates are likely to soar due to diminished treatment options; the projected costs that will result; and many more. Governor Cuomo estimates that 133,000 Nassau residents (one out of ten residents) would lose coverage, and that should serve as a chilling wake-up call to every stakeholder in government and healthcare. Our taxpayers deserve to know exactly how much they will be affected by Washington’s costly decisions, and the County’s planning must start now,” said Legislator Curran.
Older residents will see a rise in healthcare premiums, with a projected 20-25% increase for those in their early 60s, given the current proposed GOP tax credit structure, which does not take income into account. For Nassau’s poor and working families, the halting of Medicaid expansion coupled with rising premiums will disintegrate any chance of affordable healthcare.
“Repealing the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood will mean that many women – across the country and right here in Nassau County –who receive their care at Planned Parenthood health centers won’t receive care at all. We are calling on congress to stop these political attacks, but, until they do, Planned Parenthood will leave no stone unturned in fighting back for our patients and ensuring that our doors stay open,” said PPNC President & CEO JoAnn Smith.
For Long Islander Rachel Siehs, not having healthcare at a most crucial time in her life could have been a matter of life-and-death. After Rachel was laid off from her job in October 2015 she battled the very same conflict so many do when they lose their health insurance – in this case, she gotten it from her previous employer. “I was on the fence if I should buy health insurance? I couldn’t afford Cobra. Plus, I am young and healthy and thought I could wait to start a new job and acquire insurance that way,” said Rachel Siehs. “After discussing the issue with my parents, they encouraged me to find coverage on the Affordable Care Act marketplace and thankfully I did – I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma only two months later and would fight cancer for most of 2016.”
Since then, Rachel, 28 years old, has successfully fought Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was able to see doctor because she had health coverage through the Affordable Health Act. Like many Americans, she risks losing health insurance again after the repeal.
“I don’t know if I would be here today if I didn’t seek coverage on the ACA marketplace. I would start a new job in January 2016 but my health insurance would not have kicked in until April. But also, who knows if I would have scheduled the doctor appointments if I would have had to pay completely out of pocket for them. The impact is real here in Nassau. Health care is important. It needs to be well thought out and studied and shouldn’t be a rushed vote. This is people’s lives,” said Rachel Siehs of Melville.
While County Executive Mangano has already indicated his disinterest in undertaking such a study, which he decried as purely political, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo did provide some indication of the impact on New Yorkers of the American Health Care Act – 2.7 million New Yorkers would face substantial loss in their health care coverage from what they have now, while quality and availability of health services across the state would be jeopardized. Also, an amendment just introduced by Chris Collins, an upstate Congressman (and Trump spokesman) and John Fasio, which would apply solely to New York State, would ban federal reimbursement for state Medicaid funds for local governments outside of New York City, cutting Medicaid for these local governments by $2.3 billion. When added to the $4.5 billion cost of the ACHA over the next four years, the total cost to the State would rise to $6.9 billion.
Tom Suozzi’s town hall, his first as the Congressman representing New York’s 3rd District, was Standing Room Only, but he handled it with grace and aplomb, managing to organize what could have been an unruly outpouring of frustration, consternation, anger and anxiety into a productive discussion.
He presented the four key issues he believed most people wanted to discuss – Obamacare (Affordable Care Act), Trump-Putin ties and conflicts of interest, the travel ban, immigration and the environment – then held it up to a vote to ask if that met with approval. Then he picked four or five people to ask questions before moving on to the next topic.
Who wants to stay until 8:30? 9:15? 9:30? All night? 9:30 was the decision.
That’s how it went throughout the night with a return to key points: this is what democracy looks like. Let’s be realistic: I’m a junior Congressman from a minority party. And finally: it is up to you. Your voice. Your activism.
Most ingenious of all: he divided up his 3rd Congressional district into 16 neighborhoods – “The Third Will be Heard” – and tried to recruit people to join committees to stay active – write letters to local newspapers (the media with the most trust, he said), go door to door if necessary, engage in conversations with friends, family and others, instead of that old-saw of politics being a taboo subject.
Whenever someone introduced themselves as an expert – such as the scientist with Feinstein Institute who is a member of a newly formed Science Advocacy of Long Island (who have much to be concerned with as the Trump Administration destroys data on climate change and looks to shut down NASA’s Climate monitoring activities) – he would recruit them onto the committee. The high school fellow too young to vote whose friends are completely apathetic? You’re recruited. Get your friends engaged.
“Take that energy, that excitement and use it in a constructive forum to win the battle,” he said.
With the debate swirling over whether Democrats should be as obstructionist as the Republicans were during Obama’s presidency, Suozzi clearly appreciates that “politics is the art of the possible” (as Hillary Clinton said, much to the consternation of the Bernie Sanders ultra-left progressives who likely were among the 92 million voters who did not come out and vote, handing the reins of power and policy to the exact opposite of Obama/Clinton).
Indeed, Suozzi as Congressman is functioning exactly as he said he would during the campaign: as someone who prefers to find common ground in order to accomplish something.
He told the packed audience that filled the room to capacity that he is a member of a newly formed (can you imagine?) Problem Solvers Caucus, consisting of 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. They are trying to find some consensus on issues such as infrastructure and tax reform (good luck with that).
Interestingly, when Suozzi asked for a show of hands of people who had never been politically engaged before, an estimates 40% of the room raised hands.
Some of the questions and comments were extremely moving: the woman whose husband is being treated, thanks to Obamacare, for cancer “he’s on the verge of being cured, but if Obamacare is repealed, he would have a preexisting condition”; the son whose father has advanced Parkinsons, who lost his job and if Obamacare is repealed, faces the dilemma of providing quality of life for the father or the family.
A woman speaking haltingly because of her disability, fearful of proposals to cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and instead to send money to states to use as a block grant, a fear echoed by parents and of siblings of disabled people, who declared “I’m tired of people characterizing us as lazy”.
An immigrant man whose college-age son can’t get an internship because of his status; the woman who migrated from India 28 years ago as a 15 year old, who described the “extreme vetting” then, which has only gotten more intense under Obama; and people who asked what can be done to alleviate the anxiety in their communities over sweeps.
Suozzi noted that as Glen Cove Mayor he fought against having local police become defacto ICE agents because of the importance of the community having trust in its government and law enforcement and the value of “community policing”.
He also acknowledged when someone brought up something that he was not aware of – like the problem with a local pre-school that serves special needs children which has to negotiate individually for grants from state and county government, and has seen only a 2% increase in funding over the last six years.
“The Third Will be Heard”
Suozzi did not disguise the surprise at the turnout, noting that in his years as an elected official (Mayor, Nassau County Supervisor) well accustomed to holding town halls, he has never seen anything like this.
He asked what groups were represented: a number were newly formed in response to Trump’s election including several Indivisible groups, who came with pre-printed signs “Agree”, “Disagree” (an effective mechanism to communicate with the Congressman. Others included Reach Out America, Moveon.Org, Science Advocacy of Long Island, Long Island Together, Every Child Matters, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, 10100, NY Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, NOW of Nassau-Suffolk, Code Pink Long Island, Long Island OptOut, Huntington Democrats, among others.
One of reasons Democrats lost is because they didn’t mobilize locally, he said, which is why he hopes to try to keep the energy going, and why he kept going back to the need for the people to get the change they want.
He started off with some of his own comments:
Travel Ban? We are less safe, he said, and putting the ramifications of the Muslim ban and curtailment of immigrants and refugees, he said. “There are 80,000 people worldwide in organized terror groups. There are 65 million refugees, due to climate change, civil war, feminism. This is a nation of immigrants, a nation dedicated to two propositions: all men and women are created equal and entitled to respect and dignity.”
The enhanced sweeps of undocumented immigrants (unfurled in a way that shows the lie of only going after the “bad hombres”) “makes us less safe when communities distrust their local police force. People turn to gangs for protection when they are afraid of law enforcement.”
He was asked about the Stop Arming Terrorists Act that Tulsi Gabbard has proposed. “I have to research further,” he said honestly, adding, “It’s true the US funded Osama bin Ladin against the Russians, and Saddam Hussein, and funded the Syrian regime before, and we are still funding the Saudis who fund terror groups. We did it to have access to oil.
“But, for the first time 50 years we are not dependent on oil from the Mideast. This is an opportunity that is not likely to be seized on by the Trump Administration.”
Had Trump not reversed all the Obama policies that bolstered homegrown, clean renewable energy, the US could have said to these dictators, “We don’t want your land your oil. But we need to move more to clean energy to make this happen.” (Trump, in his speech to the CIA the day after the inauguration, as the Women’s March was going past the White House, said that he thought we would have a second chance at taking Iraq’s oil, because he had been taught that “to the victor belongs the spoils.”)
Obamacare: Mend It Don’t End It
On the first topic, Obamacare, a man said he was walking proof of the problems, because his wife suffers from cancer, and over the past two years, one insurance company after another pulled out, until the hospital where his wife was being treated said they would not treat her because there was no carrier in the exchange. Now, his wife has a pre-existing condition.
Suozzi said, “There are problems with ACA. But we need to mend it, not end it.” He said he supported single-payer (essentially Medicare for All), but that wasn’t possible under Obama, who instead bent over backwards, even picking up on the right-wing Heritage Foundation’s model that preserved for-profit health insurance companies as the intermediary for obtaining health care which had been put into place in Massachusetts under Governor Romney. Obama was unable to get a public option. But even after bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, not a single one voted in favor of ACA, but instead, spent six years voting 60 times to repeal it, even forcing a government shut down.
People raised concern about the proposal to tax people differently for health care based on age, not income, a scheme to cut $216 billion in spending ; of capping how much employers give to employees for health insurance which then would be taxed as income.
“It’s time to get out the Uzzi and go after Price [the new Secretary of Health & Human Services, whose 2015 bill repealing Obamacare is the most likely model]. Go after Republicans for raising taxes.”
A young man described how his father had advanced Parkinsons and then was laid off and lost his health insurance. Now he has a pre-existing condition. Repealing Obamacare, he said, “would force our family to choose between my father’s well-being and our family’s.”
Suozzi responded, “This is real life, the devastating effect of repealing Obamacare.”
Turning next to the Trump-Putin and conflicts of interest topic, Suozzi said he would support a bill to require Trump to release his taxes, and would support an independent (not just bipartisan) commission to investigate his ties to Russia and possible collusion of his campaign with Russian agents to swing the election.
“This is why you are so important,” he said. “I don’t want you to understate what you are doing. It’s working. We need reasonable Americans to put country ahead of party. Since McCarthy, Republicans have tried to paint Democrats as unpatriotic. This is a generational opportunity to change that dynamic.”
Travel Ban: Guns Kill, Not Refugees
A man noted that none of the 7 countries under Trump’s ban has had anything to do with terrorism in the US since 1975 (on the other hand, terrorist acts were committed by people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and none of these were included in the ban), using the premise of public safety. But 34,000 people are killed each year by gun violence.
“Guns kill, not refugees,” a woman said.
Suozzi said that even when he brought together gun rights advocates with gun control advocates, there was general consensus on the need for universal background checks (instead, the Republicans just overturned Obama’s requirement for mentally ill people receiving services from Social Security to be included in the database). The reason there is no commonsense gun regulation is the same that reasonable health care is blocked: moneyed interests. “It’s always about the money.”
But the focus on Trump’s use of fear and under the guise of “national security” push through anti-democratic policies (such as his threat to “send in the feds” to Chicago and use military precision to round up undocumented immigrants with expedited review so that their cases are not properly adjudicated, his attacks on free press and an independent judiciary and reestablish private prisons) prompted a woman to remark, “Be afraid. The America you know won’t exist in 15 years. Republics disappear. Commitment is important. We should be afraid that America will slip away from us, we must persevere.”
This raised the issue of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering and voter suppression. Suozzi confessed his inability to significantly change any of that, but that it is up to the people to get people out to vote, which is another compelling reason for his neighborhood-based activism. He said his office would be engaged in voter registration campaign.
Rachel Carcalelli of Great Neck Plaza, an environmentalist, noted that Superstorm Sandy cost $75 billion. “We need to rebuild infrastructure in sustainable ways – public transportation, water systems, renewable energy, sanitation.”
Instead, Nassau County will see $6.5 million cut in bus service.
In each case, Suozzi went back to his go-to – that people need to stay active and engaged, to join his neighborhood teams in order to spread the word.
Challenged by a Sanders supporter to reject everything the Republicans propose, Suozzi said, “I’ve been in politics 20 years. I won a lot, lost a few. JFK described himself as an idealist without illusions. I’m not a sucker. I still believe in this country, the power of people. Politics is a noble profession. I will remain an idealist as long as I can, but with eyes wide open.”
A woman noted that many in the audience “are new to politics, to this forum” and might be helped to have more realistic expectations of what Suozzi and the Democratic party, being essentially powerless in the House, can achieve.
Indeed, Suozzi offered a dose of reality to many of the speakers, such as when he was asked to solve the eons old problem of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering. “Nice idea but it’s not realistic for junior member in minority party,” he told one speaker. “All the stuff coming over transom – there’s no free time.” He listed what he is engaged in so far: foreign affairs committee, armed services committee,. “I want to focus on important things in the district- the Northport VA, the North Shore plume (the Navy and Grumman are the responsible parties to clean up a 40-year old site estimated at $500 million to clean up); airport noise in northeastern queens, two major research centers (Cold Spring and the Feinstein Institute), a Coast Guard facility. I decided to make the Problem Solvers Caucus one of my big focuses –if I could get Republicans interested in campaign finance reform and gerrymandering.”
The youngest speaker of the evening, Zachary, about seven years old, stood on a chair to say, “Impeach Trump. He’s messed up. How did we get into this mess?”
One of the older speakers of the evening, Harry Arlin, wearing an Army baseball cap, said, “I lived briefly under Hitler, had to run; lived under Mussolini and was incarcerated, then under Stalin and had to flee… Now I am living under Trump. Impeach Trump. I’m too old to run again.”
Though the issue of the alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country since Trump’s election was not specifically raised in this Long Island community with a significant Jewish population, Suozzi acknowledged at one point that the town hall was being held in a Jewish Community Center in Plainview, and JCCs have received over 50 bomb threats in recent weeks.
Suozzi periodically would stop and poll the audience again to get their sense of whether to move on to the next topic. It was remarkable to see how he could actually offer a wide opportunity for people to air grievances, questions, comments in such a large and energized group and have something constructive come out of it: namely, a better understanding of issues and concerns, and also to gauge where constituents are on these key issues.
It wasn’t even close: the 3rd Congressional district wants to retain and improve Obamacare, overturn the travel ban but okay to vet, end the terror and insecurity in immigrant communities and provide a path to some kind of legal status, protect the environment, protect the integrity of the election from foreign influence while protecting the ability of people to cast their ballot.
Gabby Giffords Mocks Republicans Dodging Town Halls
Suozzi’s town hall was very different from what many Republican Congressmen are experiencing around the country – Long Island’s Peter King didn’t even hold one during this President’s Week when traditionally Congress members return to their districts to hear from constituents. Trump and his sycophants have accused those coming out in force to protest the repeal of Obamacare as “paid liberal activists” or, as Trump told CPAC, “the losing side” (neglecting to mention there were 65 million voters, three million more than his side).
And ironically, many of the Republicans are citing fear of their constituents as the reason, prompting Gabby Giffords, who was a Congresswoman until she was shot in the head while holding a public availability at a shopping center in Tucson, to write:
“As a member of Congress, I believed that listening to my constituents was the most basic and core tenet of the job I was hired to do. So I was a little surprised yesterday to hear Congressman Louie Gohmert invoke my shooting as a reason not to face his constituents at a public town hall.
“I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning my offices were open to the public. Ron Barber – at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead – held town halls. It’s what the people deserve in a representative.
“So to Congressman Gohmert and others who are abandoning their civic obligations, I say this: Have a little courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.
“Many of the members of Congress who are refusing to hold town halls and listen to their constituents’ concerns are the very same politicians that have opposed commonsense gun violence prevention policies and have allowed the Washington gun lobby to threaten the safety of law enforcement and everyday citizens in our schools, businesses, places of worship, airports, and movie theaters.
“In the past year, campaigning for gun safety, I have held over 50 public events. And if I am still willing to do it, they should be too.”