Thursday, November 14, 2013

Healthcare 101

Obamacare i.e. The Affordable Care Act i.e. The ACA

Here are the facts:
  • Almost 50 million Americans are currently uninsured.
  • Starting next year, all Americans will be required to have health insurance. If they are not already covered through a job or government program, they have the option to buy a policy through an insurance marketplace (also known as an exchange).
  •  The marketplace is an online system where people can view, compare, shop, and purchase insurance plans (as if you would shop online on
  • Although each insurance plan listed in the marketplace is offered by private companies, the online marketplace, itself, is run by either your state government or the federal government. Specifically, states can choose to manage the exchanges themselves or hand the task over entirely to the federal government.  
  • As of today, 16 states have opted to run their own marketplace programs, and 27 have handed over the responsibility to the federal government.

Here are 2 most recent, and most publicized, problems:
  • FIRST - Some individuals have had their private insurance plans cancelled as a direct result of the ACA
  • SECOND - Fewer than expected have signed-up online for coverage

The ACA has set new standards for health insurance plans, in the same way that the Department of Transportation has set standards that require every vehicle to have adequate brakes, working tail lights, and functioning seat-belts.

As such, those health insurance companies that do not meet the new standards (and continue to have plans that offer little coverage and impose substantial out-of-pocket costs) are forced to either improve their policies or cancel them all together. However, those Americans who have such plans cancelled are STILL able to enroll themselves in the online marketplace and shop for better, cheaper, and more adequate plans.

In short, the law is forcing the health-insurance industry to improve, in the same way that laws and federal regulations have forced the automotive industry to improve.

Additionally, the law has made significant changes that would also not have been possible without its existence:
  • Your insurance company can no longer drop your coverage if you become sick
  • Your insurance company can no longer limit the coverage you receive over your lifetime
  • Your insurance company can no longer deny coverage if you have a pre-existing condition
  • Your insurance company is now required to spend at least 80% of your premium payments on medical care, instead of on administrative costs such as advertising and executive salaries.
  • By 2014, everyone will be required to have health insurance. This means that more people will have access to preventive care, instead of waiting until they have to go to the emergency room. With the average emergency room visit costing hospitals $1,000, these costs will no longer be transferred to taxpayers.
  • According to the American Journal of Medicine, medical debt due to lack or loss of health insurance accounts for almost 60% of all bankruptcies. With the ACA, gaps in coverage are either reduced or improved, ensuring access to affordable and quality healthcare for every American.

Americans want affordable and quality healthcare. It is a demand that, until recently, had very insufficient supply. However, without the proper knowledge and access to enrollment, people will continue to face obstacles with the marketplace exchanges.

Yes, the federal marketplace website needs to be repaired quickly. But the major problem with the enrollment process goes far beyond a simple website. It stems from the fact that Republican leaders are refusing to cooperate or assist in the process.

The Affordable Care Act is a very bipartisan law.
  • Major provisions of Obamacare have been closely modeled after Republican ideas - a private-sector, free-market system.
  •  It is not a government-run, single-payer system, but one that creates competition in the health insurance market. It gives the uninsured, under-insured, and insured the choice of choosing multiple insurance companies, who will now compete for these people’s business. 
  • It also gives states the full opportunity to run each marketplace exchange themselves, removing the federal government from the enrollment process.
Ironically, 22 of the 27 states opting for federally-managed exchanges are run by Republican governors. More problematic, however, is that these leaders have become obstructionists. They have only attempted to repeal and defund the ACA; tried to invalidate the law by going to the Supreme Court; refused to set up their own state-based exchanges; encouraged residents not to enroll; and have misled consumers about the benefits of the law.

In states that have accepted the law for what it is and have worked with its requirements (like California and Kentucky), the enrollment process has been fairly optimistic. However, with most of the uninsured living in Republican states, the only way to ensure the program works as it was intended is to truly put politics aside and work together.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Shutdown

More than 15 days ago, the Republican-led House of Representatives shut down the U.S. Government over their unwavering disapproval of the Affordable Care Act (ie. Obamacare).

Ironically, their decision to shut down our government is costing us more, and doing far worse damage, than their assumptions of Obamacare would have.

Although it is true that Republican members of Congress put forward bills to reopen the government, their proposals have all insisted that President Obama first make concessions on a 3-year-old law: a law that Congress passed, the President signed, the Supreme Court upheld, and the American people support (the last election overwhelmingly proved this).

Major provisions of Obamacare have been closely modeled after Republican ideas - a private-sector, free-market solution that encourages individuals to take more responsibility for their personal lives. It is not a government-run, single-payer system, but one that creates competition in the health insurance market. It gives the uninsured, under-insured, and insured the choice of choosing multiple insurance companies, who will now compete for these people’s business, which will, in turn, lead to lower premiums, lower costs, greater efficiency, better care, and an improved industry.

Yet, regardless of how they feel about Obamacare, Republican leaders have no right to hold our entire economy at hostage. Because shutting down the government is not how you make the government work. We have a lot of issues to fix, but that’s all on hold because the government is closed and we’re on the verge of default.

The President has time and time again proven his ability and willingness to negotiate and compromise, even when members of his own party disapprove. But his decision to stand up for democracy and refuse any deal that would reopen the government at the expense of paying a “ransom” is the right one.

“Think about it this way, the American people do not get to demand a ransom for doing their jobs. You don't get a chance to call your bank and say I'm not going to pay my mortgage this month unless you throw in a new car and an Xbox. In the same way, members of Congress, and the House Republicans in particular, don't get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs. And two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America's paying its bills. They don't also get to say, you know, unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I'm going to cause a recession.

And you know, I've heard Republicans suggest that, well, no, this is reasonable, that this is entirely appropriate. But as I've said before, imagine if a Democratic Congress threatened to crash the global economy unless a Republican president agreed to gun background checks or immigration reform. I think it's fair to say that Republicans would not think that was appropriate.” 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Good Republican Program

The Congress passed it; the President signed it; the Supreme Court upheld it; and the people need it.

The Affordable Care Act (ie. Obamacare) is one of the most important in our nation’s history. Yet for all the misinformation and misdirected negativity from the Republican leadership, the most ironic fact is that it was their idea in the first place.

It is no mystery that Obamacare was closely modeled after Romneycare: a private-sector, free-market solution that encourages individuals to take more responsibility for their personal lives. Before that, the individual mandate was proposed by Republican Congressional leaders as an alternative to President Clinton’s single-payer option. Before that, President Reagan ensured access to healthcare regardless of one’s ability to pay via the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

Yet for some reason, Republican leaders today are doing everything in their power to defund this law. They are even willing to shut down the government over it. We deserve better. 

 “Competition is a good thing”, and with the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured, under-insured, and insured will now have the choice of multiple insurance companies who will be competing for their business. This, in turn, will lead to lower premiums, lower costs, greater efficiency, better care, and an improved industry.

With just 5 days until the open enrollment process begins, it is crucial that people educate themselves and find out how the Affordable Care Act help them.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Make-A-Wish Event

My name is Ashwani Jain....and I am a 10 year cancer survivor.

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Because my doctors found my tumor at its early stages, I only had to undergo 4 months of chemotherapy. I say only 4 months because every other child I met while getting treated at the Children’s Hospital in DC experienced far worse conditions than I did. Many of them were not only younger than I, but also had to undergo more surgeries and harsher treatments for longer periods of time. 

And although their physical conditions made them very weak, their spirits were unbelievably strong. It was from their courage and exceptionally optimistic outlook on life that I was inspired to give back. 

I learned from them that no matter how bad things are, a negative attitude can always make things worse. At the same time, it is often within your power to make things better and find opportunity in every difficulty.

So, I stayed true to the UPS slogan, “what can brown do for you” and I got to work.  

So after I finished my treatment, I began performing charity magic shows for the Children’s Hospital, the Children’s INN at the NIH, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I took to heart what Mark Twain once said, and learned firsthand that “the best way to cheer yourself up is to try and cheer someone else up.” 

Today, I am now a volunteer Wish Ambassador and Wish Grantor for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, helping to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In 2005, after my cancer treatments were over, the Foundation gave me a trip of a lifetime. It was early morning, and the foundation sent a limo to pick my family and me up. It was the first time I ever rode one. In fact, I didn’t really understand what to do, so I actually rode in the passenger’s seat in front....for those of you who aren’t laughing, let me tell you a secret: You’re not supposed to ride a limo like that. 
Anyway, we then boarded a train to New York City, where we were greeted by a Wish staff member, who gave us a tour of the city and tickets to the Broadway show: Julius Caesar. 
After the show, they took us back stage, where we met the whole cast and crew. Then something happened that made my heart leap. I saw my reflection in the mirror.

But then I got a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around, it was none other than the man I had wished to meet: Denzel Washington.

Needless to say I was awe-struck. He took us to his dressing room, where he spoke with us for about 15 minutes. And for those 15 minutes, nothing else mattered. Cancer was just another word in the dictionary. 

My parents weren’t thinking about the fact that they had almost lost their son; my sister wasn’t thinking about all the pain she saw her older brother go through; I wasn’t worried about all the scars and pain my surgeries left behind. All I was able to focus on was that very moment, and how my dream was coming true.

But that couldn’t have been possible without the strong support and love from groups like BAE Systems. And it is because of the tremendous work and dedication of people like you, by simply showing up to events like this, which make this foundation such a huge success, and keeps ME motivated to stay active. 

I want you all to imagine if we can provide the amount of joy that I had, to ALL children suffering from these types of life-threatening medical conditions. If we can do that, then there is nothing that these kids cannot overcome. And I know that from experience.

I’ve been through a lot in my short life. But I continue to stay positive and optimistic. Not in spite of my previous medical conditions, but more so because of them.

And anytime I’m feeling down on myself, I think, “Today is still better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be even better than today.”
And that’s all thanks to events like this, and people like you. 
So, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you all for giving me hope and inspiration, and for helping dreams come true. Thank you!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Diary of an Optimist

“I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much.”- Mother Teresa
Ok, I'll admit it. I'm a diehard optimist.
Sure - I have my moments where I think my world is falling apart; when I start to fear the future; when I get afraid that I, or God-forbid, someone I love deeply, will get sick or have some medical condition that will forever change them. But then I look back at my life and realize that everything always works out for the better.
When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that is rarely found in children (At the time, I was one of only 25 children in the country with the disease).
When I was 21 years old, doctors found a very rare heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW). The doctors deemed my diagnosis to be a "special case" because only a very small percentage of people with this rare condition develop symptoms at such a young age.  
And now, at 23 years old, I found myself back in the operating room after doctors discovered that my WPW resurfaced - a recurrence of the disease after treatment occurs in less than 1% of patients.
In each of these situations, whether it was with my diagnosis or with the surgeries that proceeded, I was that rare anomaly you hear about in the brochures: I was that "less than 1% of patients"; I was that medical liability.
But I continue to stay positive and optimistic. Not in spite of my previous medical conditions, but more so because of them.
Throughout my short time here, I have experienced and learned a great deal. Enough for a lifetime. 
I've learned to be thankful and appreciative for everything I've been blessed with, because it can all so quickly be taken away.       
I look at one of our close relatives who has Parkinson's Disease. For him, the very act of getting out of bed is troublesome; walking is nearly impossible; even lifting a spoon of food from the plate to his mouth becomes a workout.
So, yes:

I've learned that people are more important than things, because nothing in life is guaranteed with the exception of the love from your family and friends.

I recently lost my uncle, a father-like figure in my life, to pancreatic cancer. Things were bad. His health was rapidly deteriorating. Doctors gave him only a few weeks to live.
For those last few weeks, my family and I were constantly visiting him in the hospital, spending endless nights scavenging to find sleeping space in waiting rooms. Each time I walked over to his room, I passed by another patient with a similar condition. Yet, in the three weeks my uncle was in the hospital, not once did I see a single visitor in the other patient's room. Not once.
We were not visiting him because we "had" to. Never once did my uncle ever ask us to do anything for him. We were there because we wanted to be. Because we truly loved him. 
And THAT was always a guarantee.
I've learned not to compare my life, struggles and all, to anyone, because as easy as it is to find someone who's doing better, it's even easier to find people who are doing far worse. 
During my first chemotherapy session, I remember feeling really down about myself and the situation I was in. I thought about the other kids my age, as well as my friends and classmates. "Why can't I be like them? Why do I have to go through all this. It's not fair." But as soon as I turned my head and looked around the hospital room, I saw nine other children, younger than I, undergoing harsher treatments for longer periods of time. Then it hit me. 
"Wow, I am the luckiest kid in this hospital."
I've learned that the best way to help myself is to help others. 
I remember a doctor once came into our chemo room (or as it was ecstatically referred to by us patients as our "kicking butt center") dressed as a clown. He went around to each of our beds, made some jokes, and performed some small magic tricks. And that's precisely the moment I fell in love with the art. 
With magic, the impossible becomes possible. I saw things that I didn't understand or know why or how it happened (just like my cancer), but I knew that there was some reason behind it all. But if magic could provide me, a kid who was deemed "the lucky one" by my nurses, that sense of hope and inspiration, then it should also be able to help others. So I perform charity magic shows, share my story, and try to give back every second I can.   
Because no one in this life should get a free ride. If I'm lucky enough to have blessings, I have an obligation to pay it forward.  Besides, when things get rough, I know I need others to help me out. If this past week has reaffirmed anything, it's that life is much more difficult, near impossible, without the help of others. So I should, at least, better my karma and place a down payment on my future.
I've learned to be thankful for all my struggles, because they always serve as a constant reminder for me to be thankful and appreciative; to live in the moment; to appreciate the big things, but even more so the small things.
As I laid curled up in my parents embrace the night before my most recent surgery, I realized how lucky I am to have the love and support of two of the greatest parents a child could ever have. This week, I realized how fortunate I am to have brothers and sisters that I can call my best friends, and best friends that I can call my brothers and sisters.
Sometimes we take our loved ones for granted. We forget just how great our lives are, and how much there is to appreciate. Thankfully, my experiences have allowed me to constantly reevaluate my life and have the ability to literally count my blessings. 
I've learned that you have to stay positive, because, in the end, that is the ONLY thing we really have any control over (so might as well use it!).
It's not always easy to stay positive. We each have our own struggles, our own battles, and our own unique experiences. But no matter how different mine may appear from yours, we can all learn from one another. 
From me, I hope people can understand that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. I think having this perspective can allow you to not only live in the moment and appreciate what you have, but also take on whatever challenges you come across in a much stronger, more positive, and more effective manner.
I'm learning and improving every day. I have traveled a long way thus far, and have a much longer journey ahead. But whenever I start to get overwhelmed, I do what I do best...
I get in my car, roll the windows down, and blast some Disney music. Now THAT is living!
 "For everything this disease has taken, something with greater value has been given - sometimes just a marker that points me in a new direction that I might not otherwise have traveled. So, sure, it may be one step forward and two steps back...but I've learned that what is important is making that one step count." - Michael J. Fox

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Implementing Healthcare Reform

I am a cancer survivor, member of an ethnic minority, a recent college graduate, and a first generation American. My parents are small business owners, victims of gun violence, beneficiaries of student loans and unemployment benefits, and have lived through almost every socio-economic sector of our economy. 

We understand the potential this country has to offer. We understand that government can be seen as a partner of business, a promoter of economic growth, and a protector of justice. We understand that regulation is not always bad, and that capitalism can serve to benefit the middle class. We understand that this country needs equality of opportunity, not outcome.

And that is precisely why we are such strong supporters of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

As most of the major provisions begin to phase in within the year, it is even more important to understand the law and its significance.

First and foremost, this reform treats healthcare as a business by putting customers first.

One of the biggest problems in our healthcare system was that it forgot about its customers: the patient.

Even though Obamacare helps doctors (which is why organizations like the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American College of Surgeons endorse it) and insurance companies (by adding over 30 million new clients to their system), its primary purpose is to help those who need medical care the most and are unable to afford it.

And it does just that:

- 3 million young people under 26 are now able to stay on their parents’ insurance, and an additional 3 million are now able to join their parents’ plans after previously having no insurance

-17 million children with pre-existing conditions now have insurance that couldn’t before

-Prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage (previously over 10,000 people a year had their policies rescinded after getting sick because they reached their lifetime caps)

-About 71 million people now have access to free preventative care, keeping them healthy (which also saves taxpayers in ER costs)  

-Private insurers are required by the law to spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenues on actual healthcare, or must pay a rebate. In 2012, insurers had to pay $1billion in rebates, an average of $150 per family.

After all that is said and done, politics is very personal. And the laws passed by our lawmakers, whether we agree with them or not, affect real people. We must, therefore, take time to learn and understand the laws for what they are, and realize the significance they have in our lives. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

USA before the NRA

“90 percent of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea.  But it’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea.”

Yesterday, we saw the true power of special interests in our political system. It was not only disgraceful but, to a greater degree, very discouraging.

Although 90% of Americans support expanded background checks for all gun purchases, the bipartisan measure failed at reaching the 60 votes needed to pass in the United States Senate.

With 50 Democrats and only FOUR Republicans voting in favor of this bipartisan, common sense proposal – drafted by two Senators who both have “A” ratings from the NRA –the bill failed to pass because the power of special interests outweighed the power of millions of American voices.  

As the President mentioned in his statement yesterday, “no single piece of legislation can stop every act of violence and evil...but if action by Congress could have saved one person, one child, a few hundred, a few thousand -- if it could have prevented those people from losing their lives to gun violence in the future while preserving our Second Amendment rights, we had an obligation to try.”

For that reason, despite how discouraging the process may seem, I’m not giving up. In fact, I’m even more inspired and motivated to stay active.

Stay active for all the innocent victims of gun violence. 
Stay active for the victims of Tucson, and Aurora, and Sandy Hook.
Stay active for my parents. 

Because the alternative of doing nothing –of sitting on the sidelines and remaining silent—is far, far worse.

“We will not be defeated.  We are not defeated, and we will not be defeated.  We are here now; we will always be here because we have no other choice.  We are not going away.  And every day, as more people are killed in this country because of gun violence, our determination grows stronger."

Right now, volunteers across the country are joining Organizing for Action (OFA) to contact their members of Congress and make their voices heard. We're going to show the special interests that we will not be silenced, and that the victims of these heinous crimes will be honored. Will you help? 

Friday, March 29, 2013

It Makes No Sense

Maybe it’s because I’m a “crazy liberal”, but I’m having a very difficult time understanding why Republican leaders act the way they do. I’d love to learn why.  

It makes no sense why Republican leaders would support a massive government intrusion on a couple’s decision to get married, even though they are “very strong on liberty and small government.”

It makes no sense why they would favor keeping certain tax cuts and loopholes for the rich if they knew that, in order to expense these benefits, they would either need to A) cut programs – like student loans and unemployment benefits and/or B) raise taxes. It’s simple economics.

It makes no sense why Republican leaders claim that balancing the budget is the key to creating jobs, when the reverse is actually true (take the years during the Clinton Administration, where investments in job creation led to a balanced budget and reduced debt). Why would they argue against government borrowing money to spend on improving the quality of life for its citizens when an average American borrows money all the time to buy a house or a car?

It makes no sense why they would say they’re the biggest proponents of the free market, when they have voted almost 40 times to repeal a set of reforms to our healthcare system (Obamacare) that serves to protect consumers, reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and prevent monopolies in the health insurance industry.

It makes no sense to me why Republican leaders would heavily criticize Obama and the Democrats for “reckless government spending” when most of them argued against ending the Iraq War (which cost taxpayers $3 trillion and 4,500 American lives).

It makes no sense to me why Republicans don’t complain about the rich “mooching” from the government via tax loopholes, but cry foul when a student needs help paying for college, or a cancer patient needs access to affordable healthcare.

We’ve seen the progress that can occur as soon as Republican leaders start listening to their constituents – leaders like Congressman Paul Ryan (who accepted federal stimulus dollars in his district), or Florida Governor Rick Scott (who has stopped withholding Medicare savings from his state via Obamacare).

We can only hope more do the same. But as President Obama recently said during his trip to Israel:

"Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see." 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Liberal Test

Are you one of those pesky liberals? Answer these 4 easy questions to find out:

1. Do you believe in the free market?

If you answered yes, you might be a liberal! Prior to Obamacare, health insurance companies locked in consumers while concurrently raising their premiums. Insurance companies did not have to compete for consumer business and, therefore, provided mediocre care. If a consumer wanted to search for a different insurer, they were denied coverage. Furthermore, when the consumer fell ill, they were often denied coverage and dropped from their insurance plans despite having paid for service. 

2. Do you think interracial couples should be allowed to get married?

If you answered yes, you might be a liberal! Until recently, interracial marriage was just as illegal as gay marriage is today in most states. Banning one type of marriage over another is not only hypocritical, but denies individuals of civil rights and Constitutional rights as Americans. This is not about gay rights, but about human rights. Furthermore, government should not “infringe upon our liberties” by dictating who we should and should not love in the privacy of our lives.

3.  Do you think all employees should be free from all forms of discrimination by employers?

If you answered yes, you might be a liberal! Prior to President Obama’s repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, members of the military were discriminated against and discharged from duty if they admitted to being gay. Just as we did not accept the notion of “separate but equal” with our African American brothers and sisters, we should not accept it with our LGBT brothers and sisters.

4. If a large corporation was on the verge of bankruptcy, do you agree that it would take some time and targeted investments to recover? 

If you answered yes, you might be a liberal!  When President Bush left office, our economy went from a $230 billion surplus to a $1.4 trillion deficit. We lost over 750,000 jobs per month. The housing market busted. Financial institutions were out of cash. The U.S. auto-industry was going bankrupt. The nation was in a panic.

Four years later, because of reforms and stimulus passed by President Obama, we have created more net new jobs than President Bush had in the seven years before the crisis. We have almost 3 years of consecutive job growth, added 6 million jobs, reduced unemployment from its peak at 10.2% to 7.7%, strengthened our financial system, stabilized the housing market, and lowered the cost of living – while improving the quality of life – for all Americans.

And for all those Republicans who falsely accuse the President of reckless and excessive government spending, they somehow are ignorant of their very own silence that prevailed when President Bush passed expensive tax cuts for the wealthiest few and engaged in two costly wars.

The problem with the Republican mantra of “smaller government is always better government” is that it disregards the idea that government can actually be seen as a partner and promoter of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Government can strengthen the fundamentals of capitalism by increasing consumer demand, preventing fraud, encouraging fair competition, and freeing up capital to stimulate a weakened market.

Government can be a lender of last resort when no private entities are able or willing to do so. 

Government can promote the safety and well-being of our citizens by outlawing discrimination, enacting regulations that prevent smoking on a plane, inspecting the food we eat and cleaning the air we breathe.

Government can provide education and resources to those in need, while providing incentives and benefits to those more fortunate. 

Government can make necessary investments in the future of our nation, just as a business would to increase its long-term success (even if its investments mean lower short-term profits).

All in all, government’s role is not to punish those who are successful but, rather, to ensure that everyone is given a fair shot and that everyone plays by the same rules.

THAT is the true essence of our democracy.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Party of Lincoln

In Governor Romney’s interview yesterday, he once again highlighted the major flaw with the Republican Party – the mentality that American society consists of two groups of citizens: the givers and the takers.

We often hear Republican leaders make the claim that there are a group of people who are completely dependent on big government and, consequently, fail to take responsibility for their lives. They take advantage of government services like welfare and healthcare, and continue taking from society without giving back.

But this only proves that the Republican Party is simply blind to the struggles of most Americans. And that’s why they lost this past election in such a huge and devastating way.

They need to understand that, in addition to having the best organized grassroots campaign in history, the primary reason President Obama won by a landslide is because of his persistence to helping the driving force of this economy: the middle and working class.

The middle and working class of this country are the true engine of economic growth. They are the true job creators because they are the ones that end up spending money. They are the ones that create demand for a business’s products. They are the ones that use the services a company provides. When they prosper, as evidenced in the '90s, we all prosper.

The basic, underlining point – one that today’s Republican Party fails to understand – is this: No one in this country is completely self-reliant. Therefore, we need to government to ensure equality of opportunity (not outcome). 

And that’s exactly what President Obama proposed in his deficit-reduction plan.

In 2011, the President went farther than the political middle  by compromising into law targeted spending cuts that amounted to $2 trillion  (via entitlement savings in Healthcare, Medicare, and Student Loans) without including any revenue increases in order to win Republican support.

But as every economist understands, you need a balanced approach of both spending cuts AND revenue increases to spur economic growth.

Last week, however, when it came time for Republicans to hold up on their end of the deal, they refused to increase revenues from the wealthiest few.

These individuals (the “givers”), Republicans claim, should not be forced to pay their fair share, even if that comes at the expense of programs that serve to benefit the middle and working class (the “takers”).

This is unacceptable.

When a business chooses to invest in a new machine, pay its employees higher wages, or purchase more merchandise, everyone understands that – even if these choices result in lower short-term profits – the long-term success of the company is dependent on such decisions.

In the same way, our government cannot cut our way to prosperity.  

My mother came to America when she was 18. She worked a full-time job at a nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour) while enrolled full-time at a community college. To help pay for her education, she also took student loans. After graduating, she got married to my dad and found work for a meager salary of $20,000 a year. While I was born and my father continued struggling to find work, my mother became the head breadwinner of our family. She also needed to take advantage of certain tax breaks aimed at working families, such as the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit. After seven years of working hard, however, her company laid her off because of downsizing. She then had to survive off unemployment benefits for 6 months as she had her second child, my younger sister. 

Today my parents are both successful small business owners. They are the “job creators” who “built that”. But they understand that they needed “big government” every step of the way.

The sooner Republican leaders understand this, the sooner they will return to “The Party of Lincoln.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fighting the Same Fights

This Friday, a series of harmful, across-the-board cuts (known as the sequester) are scheduled to take place unless Congress takes action.  

Although the President has offered a balanced approach to solving our nation’s economic problems –one that includes a combination of spending cuts AND revenue increases – Republican leaders are continuing their refusal to compromise, even if it sends our nation into default.

But if history tells us anything, it’s that we cannot cut our way to prosperity. After all, as we learned in the 1990s, nothing grows the economy faster than a strong middle-class.

When the middle-class goes, so goes the nation.   

We need to stop fighting the same battles and ask Republican leaders to start putting the nation ahead of politics.  How? By quickly accepting programs that work, regardless of which party proposed it.

EX #1) Stimulus: Although Republicans are vehemently opposed to any increase in government spending, almost all House members (including “budget-aficionado” Congressman Paul Ryan) begged for federal stimulus dollars in their states after learning how important they were to stimulate weak economies.  

EX #2) Obamacare: Although Republicans voted over 30 times to repeal the law and campaigned vigorously against it, many (including Florida Governor Rick Scott and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) are reversing their oppositions after realizing how important the law is to curb healthcare costs.

EX #3) Reducing our Deficit: Time and time again, the President has proven his ability to compromise, sometimes even angering some in his own base. When he argued for a Stimulus –which Republicans have traditionally agreed to – they all voted against it. When he argued for the Individual Mandate in Healthcare –which was a Republican idea in the first place – they all voted against it. And when he tries to reduce our deficit in a responsible manner, Republicans signed a tax pledge that benefited only the wealthiest few.

The President has already made important and targeted spending cuts via entitlement savings in Healthcare, Medicare, and Student Loans (which the CBO estimates will reduce spending over $2 trillion over 10 years).

The President has already passed the largest tax cuts in history with the American Recovery and Investment Act (ie. the first stimulus). And unlike the Bush-era tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest few, the Obama tax cuts were successfully targeted at working and middle-class families. Furthermore, he passed the payroll tax cuts that put an additional $1000 in the pockets of middle-class families, extended unemployment benefits to those who need assistance, and lowered the costs of living for all Americans by saving the U.S. Auto-Industry and passing Wall Street reform, Student Loan reform, and Healthcare reform.

All he is asking for, in return, is to close tax loopholes that grant breaks to the wealthiest individuals, especially when these breaks come at the expense of the middle-class.

"If Congress allows this meat cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness, it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research. It won't consider whether we're cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day,” (President Obama).

Call your representatives TODAY and tell House Republicans to take action.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Win for the Middle Class

President Obama ran his last campaign on the central premise that, in order to truly achieve economic stability and fully recover from the Great Recession he inherited, we must ensure that everyone plays by the same rules and everyone pays their fair share.

As we start off the New Year, thanks to the steadfast leadership of President Obama, this campaign promise has become reality.

Although Congressional Republicans tried to delay a vote (which would have led to deep cuts in programs that benefit the middle-class, raised taxes significantly for 98% of families and 97% of small businesses, and provided a serious blow to our growing economy) around 11pm on New Year’s, the House finally voted to pass the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012”.

In sum, the bill provides much needed stability and fairness to our tax code, keeps in place important investments in education, infrastructure, and healthcare, strengthens the middle-class, and helps to reduce our deficit.

Here are some specifics (additional information can be found here ) :

= The bill permanently extends all of the Bush tax cuts for incomes below $450,000, while reinstating the Clinton-era 39.6 percent tax rate for income above this

= The bill permanently sets taxes on investment income (capital gains and dividends) at 20 percent for income above $450,000, while keeping the rate at 15 percent for everyone else. This is especially important since, as discussed previously in the Buffet Rule, the wealthiest have enjoyed significantly lower tax rates since most of their incomes come from these investments.  

= The bill extends certain middle-class tax credits that came as part of the President’s 2009 Stimulus Package. These include the America’s Opportunity Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit

= The bill extends long-term unemployment benefits (for those 2 million + unemployed for longer than 26 weeks).

= The bill averted a scheduled, steep drop in Medicare payments to physicians

Although Congressional Republicans tried to continue putting millionaires ahead of the middle-class by holding our economy hostage until the very last minute, we must ensure that this new Congress puts the American people above politics and partisanship.

This was a long and hard-fought battle and, luckily, the American people won. Happy New Year!