I Am My Brother’s Keeper

It’s a good time to discuss “entitlements.” The Republicans in the US House just tried and failed to pass a budget act cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid to pay for their 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Democrats believe in both fiscal responsibility and being our brother’s keeper. It’s a matter of setting priorities.

VeteranAn “entitlement” is a government program that by law guarantees benefits to specific people. Federal entitlement programs include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, most Veterans Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as “food stamps”), and agricultural price supports.

Cash assistance for the poor, sometimes called “welfare,” is provided through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It is NOT an entitlement program because no law guarantees benefits to those who qualify.

How did these programs come about? Federal government assistance began in the 1930s after the Great Depression threw millions of Americans into unemployment. Farmers went bankrupt and lost their farms while people in cities had no food.

elderly facePresident Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, passed the New Deal to assist the unemployed, elderly, and farmers. It included Social Security to lift the elderly out of poverty. President Lyndon Johnson built on this foundation with his Great Society initiatives, including Medicare and Medicaid to provide healthcare to the elderly and disabled adults and children. Nutrition assistance programs began during the Great Depression and were revived by President Johnson in the 1960s.

Many of us benefit from these programs:

  • Kids at lunch45 million receive Social Security; 20% are disabled workers (NASI, June 2017)
  • 58.5 million receive Medicare (CMS, 2017)
  • 72.3 million receive Medicaid; 62% are elderly, disabled, or children (CMS, 2017)
  • 42 million receive SNAP. In Texas, 4 million; 80% children, 26% elderly and disabled, 54% working families (CBPP, 2017)

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid account for about 50% of the federal budget, with SNAP at less than 1% (CBPP, 2017).

Last week, US House Republicans, including District 21 Rep. Lamar Smith, proposed slashing Social Security and Medicare benefits to address the $1.5 trillion deficit caused by their tax cut. Democrats embrace these programs and find solutions. For example, when Medicare was facing a funding crisis with the wave of baby boomers reaching retirement age, the Affordable Care Act shored up funding through a 0.9% tax on people earning more than $200,000/year.

Elder with CaneSocial Security is also facing funding challenges. Did you know that payroll taxes, including contributions to Social Security, are not collected on earnings above $128,400/year? Democrats have introduced the Social Security 2100 Act, which requires that everyone pay their fair share. This enables Social Security to raise benefits and ensures solvency for our children and grandchildren, all without raising taxes or adding to the deficit.

Americans deserve real solutions from honest, bipartisan negotiations. Continued cover ups of failed Republican policies and vilification of retirees who receive benefits is counterproductive. Join us in supporting Democratic Party initiatives that provide real solutions for Americans.

Terry C

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Reagan Changed His Mind

The following column appeared in the Johnson City Record Courier on April 12, 2018

Assault RifleLet’s consider the First Amendment to the Constitution, which encompasses many of the most important tenets of our democratic republic: freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Despite their importance, there are limits on these freedoms.

Limits on freedom of speech include prohibitions against libel and speech that incites violence. Pornography is protected speech but child pornography is not. Why? Because the courts ruled that children are a special class of citizen needing protection from sexual exploitation.

Similarly, there are existing limits on the Second Amendment. Prohibitions include registration of fully automatic weapons. Convicted felons cannot own guns. Federal law requires a background check for gun sales from licensed dealers.

In 2008, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit challenging a state ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, saying they are not protected by the Second Amendment.

You might be surprised to learn that I voted for Ronald Reagan, who appointed Scalia. I recall the assassination attempt on Reagan’s life in 1981. Reagan, his press secretary, a secret service agent, and a police officer were shot.

In the 1980s, particularly after this assassination attempt, there were calls for regulation of handguns. President Reagan opposed such regulation and even called for the abolition of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which enforces federal gun laws.

But after leaving the presidency, Reagan changed his mind. Perhaps he was inspired by the work of his former press secretary, James Brady, who was shot in the head leaving him partially paralyzed. Brady advocated for stronger regulation of handguns, leading to the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993. This federal law mandates background checks on gun buyers and imposes a five-day waiting period on purchases.

Reagan endorsed passage of this law. And in 1994, Reagan led an effort to regulate sales of assault weapons. He did so because he became concerned about the move by gun manufacturers to sell what he called “weapons of war” to the general public. He wrote, “We can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.” Since the 10-year ban on sales of assault weapons expired in 2004, mass shootings involving assault weapons have increased every year.

Vigorous debate on this issue is long overdue. It’s time for us to find common ground. I am inspired by the young people who have participated in marches and school walkouts because they are advocating for themselves and their safety from gun violence. Let’s support them. Join me in calling Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Rep. Lamar Smith to demand that they support closing the gun show loophole and banning the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Now is the time to act.

Terry C

Three Steps to Winning in November

blobs talkingEverything I’m doing between now and election day in November is focused on electing Democratic candidates to represent us. Why? Because forward looking, progressive thinking has been marginalized. We are forced to stand by and watch as our values are being ripped out of national policy.

A friend recently started making bumper stickers with a call to action, “Make America Like America.” I like it because it encourages us to reverse the backward-looking movement that started in 2017. This isn’t what Americans want – it’s happening because of the theft of political power. Radical conservatism has stolen our power. Money has become more politically powerful than people and our votes have been further devalued by gerrymandering. As a result we now have oligarchs in positions of political power who simply promote their own self-interests.

More than two centuries of progress toward achieving the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution has suddenly been turned into a money making scheme. It’s not hyperbole to assert that this is a critical crossroad for American democracy and the highest priority of our time. How can progressives win elections and begin to take our power back? I offer the following three steps.

FIRST: Let’s be proud of our values and share them at every opportunity. I’ll share my values. Maybe they’re similar to yours. If not, perhaps they will help you to summarize your own.

  1. Americans are diverse in every way and diversity is our strengthOutline People Talking
  2. We all deserve an equal opportunity to achieve the American dream
  3. We are prosperous when people are educated, healthy, and treated with dignity
  4. Our children are our most precious resource and we must protect them from harm
  5. America must continue to be a beacon of hope for the world
  6. We have one planet and it is our duty to care for it and protect it

Values state what we believe. Values are not political rhetoric or policy. This distinction is essential. People can connect on values even when they may disagree on policy. Where there is connection, there can be dialog. Dialog creates the possibility that we can reach agreement about what is important and elect people who share our values.

SECOND: In November we must vote for every Democratic candidate. Fight like hell for Blobs votingyour favorite now but if your candidate did not win in the primary or does not win the runoff, then thank you for being involved in democracy. Now, support the Democrat who did win. Not voting cannot be an option. Voting for someone outside the Democratic party is not an option. That does not work. Democrats, progressives, and independents outnumber Republicans in Texas and the nation, but Republicans dominate because they vote as a block. We need to learn from that and vote for our candidates!

THIRD: Let’s act locally. The Blanco County Party needs you. Become a precinct chair or assist in your precinct by block walking, writing postcards, and making calls. We need Outline Audiencevolunteers to help with public events and to raise money. Longer term, we also need local candidates who share our values. They must be identified, encouraged, elected to office, and held accountable. These candidates could be your neighbor, a local business owner, your niece or nephew, or you. Help us to find them.

Talk to your neighbors about who Blanco County Democrats are and what we stand for. If they lean Democratic, show them we have a chance. If they’re not with us now, show them there is a choice. We can move forward, not backward. Truly, democracy depends on this.

Need more information? Go to Blanco County Democrats.

Terry C.