Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hawaii: A Bastion Of Progressivism-- Let's Keep It That Way


Hawaii's primary is August 9, a week from Saturday. Saturday? Sure, that's how to encourage voter participation in a democracy-- have the elections when people aren't working. Conservatives are generally terrified at the prospect of more people voting-- especially working class people-- so they tend to block legislation like Hawaii's. Hawaii is a pretty progressive state, first to mass a $10.10 minimum wage, first to start the process of marriage equality. The Republican Party is pretty moribund there and the Democratic Party has been in charge since 1962. In recent times Bill Clinton won twice, George Bush lost twice and Obama won twice-- with over 70% both times. There are no Republicans in federal office, only one Republican state senator (out of 25) and only 7 Republicans in the 51 member House. In the last U.S. Senate race, pitting progressive Democrat Mazie Hirono against conservative (not extremist) Republican Governor Linda Lingle, Hirono beat Lingle 269,489 (63%) to 160,994 (37%).

That's not to say Hawaii doesn't have a powerful conservative faction working against the interests of working families. The problem is that they're smart enough to embed themselves in the Democratic Party and tell lo-info voters that they are also "progressives." So you wind up with shady career politicians like Ed Case, Colleen Hanabusa, Mufi Hannemann, Donna Mercado Kim, Mark Takai, who would be Republicans in any other state, festering as Democrats in Hawaii. Donna Kim, for example, is the state Senate president but just voted against increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 and against marriage equality for Hawaii's big LGBT community. And now she wants to bring her right-wing bigotry to Washington to replace fellow conservative Colleen Hanabusa, the anti-Social Security New Dem who is being pushed by EMILY's List against progressive Senator Brian Schatz.

Schatz, who has been endorsed by President Obama, Elizabeth Warren and every senator who has endorsed in the race, is the lead sponsor of the Strengthening Social Security Act, which would increase benefits by an average of $65-70/month and extend the viability of the Social Security system by removing the wage cap on Social Security, so that all Americans pay their fair share, even rich people. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare endorsed him because of this bill and because of Hanabusa's awful vote in favor of the Simpson-Bowles budget framework and her eagerness to "compromise" away hard earned benefits for working people and seniors, primarily by raising the age of retirement and by recalculating down the cost of living adjustments for retired and handicapped people, which is the Republican position, not the Democratic position.

Hanabusa and her shady lobbyist supporters have been trying to deceive voters in Hawaii by claiming that Schatz's vote on the Bipartisan Budget Act in 2013 cut Social Security benefits by extending provider cuts under Medicare for 2 years. This is total nonsense, and Hanabusa is trying to misrepresent her vote in opposition to the BBA as a vote to protect Medicare and Social Security. Although the BBA was not perfect, it rolled back sequestration cuts and Democrats would not agree to any deal unless Social Security and Medicare benefits were not touched. That's exactly what happened in the deal. As a result, every Senate Democrat and President Obama supported the legislation. Essentially, Hanabusa joined Senate Tea Party Republicans like Ted Cruz on this vote. On top of that, the "cuts" to Medicare/Social Security that Hanabusa is squawking about are actually decreases in provider reimbursements under Medicare that were extended from 2021 and 2023. These provider decreases were actually established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 which Hanabusa neglects to mention that she voted for. Essentially, she voted to establish sequestration and Medicare reimbursement cuts, spent all of 2013 complaining about the negative impacts of sequestration, and then when she had a chance to help fix the worst aspects of sequestration that she helped create, she voted against BBA in a thinly veiled effort to create a difference in position between her and Schatz.

And it gets worse since Hanabusa also bitterly complained that the BBA cut military retiree pensions. Senator Schatz and other Democrats didn't like this aspect of the legislation, and after the BBA passed, Schatz introduced legislation to eliminate that portion of the BBA. This repeal passed-- with Hanabusa and other conservatives voting against the repeal. Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America said this about Hanabusa's Republican posture on Social Security:
Hanabusa has been desperately trying to evade responsibility for her vote to cut Social Security and Medicare. At a recent debate, Schatz looked directly at Hanabusa and asked if she regretted her vote for the Simpson-Bowles plan to cut Social Security. She tried to say her vote wouldn't have cut benefits or raise the retirement age.

Schatz then pulled out his trump card. He read out a letter the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare wrote to her, pleading with her to vote against the Simpson-Bowles plan that would have cut benefits and raised the retirement age. The facts are clear-- Hanabusa can't be trusted to protect Social Security.
Hanabusa's claim that Schatz voted to cut Social Security benefits because he voted to extend Medicare reimbursement cuts by two years is typical, sleazy Beltway garbage. Medicare and Social Security are separate programs with different funding and trust funds, so it is absolutely false that Schatz voted to cut Social Security benefits. He's been endorsed by all the organizations voting to protect and expand Social Security. She's backed by conservatives like herself. "The Republicans in the House and the Tea Party," said Schatz, "seem bound and determined to undermine Social Security and I think it's important that for we Democrats in the Senate to stake out a position that not only are we not entertaining cutting Social Security, but we ought to be thinking about ways to enhance the program-- both for the beneficiaries and for the trust fund to be healthy over the long run."

Although EMILY's List promised Hanabusa they could "deliver" Elizabeth Warren's endorsement if she ran against Schatz, Warren not only refused, she enthusiastically endorsed Schatz. In a stunning rebuke to EMILY's List and Hanabusa's deceitful campaign, this week she told her supporters that "I am proud to stand with Senator Mazie Hirono, Senator Brian Schatz, and a growing number in Congress who are committed to protecting and expanding Social Security benefits. The most recent discussion about cutting benefits has focused on something called the Chained-CPI. Supporters of the Chained-CPI say that it’s a more accurate way of measuring cost of living increases for seniors. That statement is simply not true. Chained CPI is just a fancy way of saying cut benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has developed a measure of the real impact of inflation on seniors. It’s called the CPI-E. If we adopted it today, it would generally increase benefits for our retirees-- not cut them. In the end, this is not just about math. It’s about our values. If we want a robust middle class-- a middle class that continues to serve as the backbone of our country-- then we must take the retirement crisis seriously."

As we've discussed before, Hanabusa was one of the congressmembers from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party who refused to sign the Grayson-Takano Social Security pledge or to back Schatz's Strengthening Social Security Act. And on the same Saturday voters in Hawaii are choosing between Hanabusa and Schatz, they are also picking Hanabusa's replacement for the first congressional district (basically, Honolulu). Blue America, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, DFA and People for the American Way have all endorsed Stanley Chang against two well-funded conservative Democrats, Donna Kim and Mark Takai. Chang, who was one of Elizabeth Warren's students at Harvard Law, has backed the same ideas for strengthening and extending Social Security as Schatz. When we asked him this morning, this is what he told us:
I categorically oppose all cuts to Social Security and I am proud to have repeatedly pledged support for the Grayson-Takano Letter, which reads in part: “We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits-- including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.” For me, this promise is the first step in bold strategy to not only protect and defend Social Security, but to expand its critical benefits so that all of our kupuna can retire in dignity after a lifetime of work.

Social Security is the bedrock of the safety net our seniors have earned. The common-sense progressive solution that will ensure Social Security’s solvency for decades to come would be to “scrap the cap.” Currently, only the first $117,000 of income is taxed for Social Security, but if we eliminate this loophole, we will have the necessary funds to ensure that our seniors remain healthy and financially secure.

I am opposed to using so-called “chained CPI” to calculate cost-of-living adjustments. This is merely another way to enact deep, harsh cuts to Social Security, which keeps 22 million seniors out of poverty.
You can help Stanley Chang with his crucial get out the vote effort here and you can do the same for Brian Schatz here. They're both from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

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