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Why Is Sen. Ayotte Holding the Vacant Supreme Court Seat For Donald Trump to Fill?

By Lindsay Jakows

Lindsay Jakows

Lindsay Jakows

Soon after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. Kelly Ayotte said that she will support him in the general election. Since Sen. Ayotte has repeatedly indicated her opposition to providing fair consideration to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, she has now made clear that her position is that the Supreme Court vacancy should be left open until a President Trump can fill it. I find this to be deeply troubling.

Our judicial system is meant to be above partisan politics, and our Founders laid out a clear process for filling Supreme Court vacancies when they occur. Article II of the Constitution is straightforward about the duties of both the president and the Senate: the president nominates a judge and senators provide “advice and consent.” There is no asterisk in the Constitution to say this does not happen during the final year of a presidency. There is no asterisk saying this does not happen when the Senate is controlled by a different political party than the president and the majority leader prefers for his party to do the nominating. That is simply not how the system works, and for good reason. 

Senate Republicans’ insistence on casting aside a well-established, Constitutional process is threatening the functioning of our democracy and the promise of an impartial judiciary — a fact that should be concerning to all of us. 

Nonetheless, Republican senators, including Sen. Ayotte, are doing just that, blocking the fair consideration of a nominee who is universally known to be even-tempered, hardworking, eminently qualified, and committed to the unbiased interpretation of our laws. Chief Judge Merrick Garland has more federal judicial experience than any prior Supreme Court nominee. He has gained the admiration of people across the political spectrum, including Republican senators like Orrin Hatch who once called Garland “a consensus nominee.” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a former colleague of Garland’s on the D.C. Circuit, once said that whenever Judge Garland disagrees with you, “you know you’re in a difficult area.” Former Solicitors General from Democratic and Republican administrations alike, spanning the ideological spectrum, agree that Judge Garland is “superbly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.” 

This is the judge President Obama has put forward: a moderate and exceptionally qualified nominee. On the other hand, if Donald Trump were to be elected, he would be the one making nominations, which is a truly frightening prospect. Trump’s proposals can be described as erratic and dangerous, at best. This is a candidate who has advocated killing the family members of terrorists, despite the Geneva Convention; supports a “total and complete” ban on Muslim people coming into the country; wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants by force; and has pledged to “open up” libel laws in order to attack news organizations. The list he released recently of his potential Supreme Court picks only underscores just how dangerous it would be for Donald Trump to be the person nominating our high court’s justices. 

It also makes it all the more distressing that our state’s senator has taken a stance against giving Judge Garland fair consideration, instead working to hold the seat open for our next president, who she hopes will be Trump. 

I believe Americans deserve better than this. Without a fully-staffed Supreme Court, the justices will likely continue to deadlock in 4-4 split votes, leaving important legal questions unresolved. Creating a precedent of unnecessarily obstructing Supreme Court nominees is harmful for both the Court itself and for Americans who should be able to rely on a working democracy. Sen. Ayotte should fight for a fully-functioning judiciary, not attempt to delay filling the Supreme Court vacancy so that a President Trump can do so.

Lindsay Jakows is the New Hampshire Campaign Organizer with People For the American Way.

UPDATED: NH’s Congressional Delegation Is Outraged Over The Hobby Lobby Decision (Well Most Of It Anyway)

In a very unsurprising decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.  The case was to determine if Hobby Lobby could be forced to have an insurance plan that would cover contraceptives that the Green family – the evangelical owners and operators of Hobby Lobby – say they disagree with on religious grounds.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that because Hobby Lobby was a privately owned corporation that is run by a small group of people who have the same religious beliefs that forcing their insurance plans to cover certain types of birth control infringed on their closely held religious beliefs.

“Americans shouldn’t be forced to comply with government mandates that violate core principles of their faith,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte. “This case is fundamentally a matter of religious freedom, and this ruling affirms Americans’ religious liberties as protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

This ruling means that the religious rights of the employer are more important than the personal rights of the employees.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lashed out in an epic dissent:

“The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”  She continued by stating, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

This case is also chalk full of hypocrisy.

I guess “God’s will” only matters when it affects a woman’s right to choose, and not when it affects a man’s inability to perform.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is incredibly disappointing,” stated Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. “The debate over birth control was seemingly settled decades ago, and most companies and institutions had been offering birth control coverage as part of a health care package without controversy. This decision will only make some women’s lives even more difficult, and leaves me wondering what’s next from this activist Supreme Court.”

“Women should be making decisions about their health care with their doctors, not their employers,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “Today’s Supreme Court decision unfortunately jeopardizes basic health care coverage and access to contraception for a countless number of women and I’m very disappointed by the ruling. Blocking access to contraception will have economic and public health consequences that our country cannot afford.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision on the Hobby Lobby case is a step backwards for New Hampshire women and their families,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “Not only will this decision limit access to health care coverage for Granite State women, it will allow some employers to dictate a woman’s health care choices – something that can and should only be decided by each individual woman for herself. We must ensure that all women have access to comprehensive health coverage, and that they have the freedom to make choices about their own individual health care needs.”

The Affordable Care Act pushed insurance companies to fully cover preventative care for women – including contraception, when prescribed by a medical provider.  It also prohibits insurance companies from charging higher premiums for women than for men.  Before Obamacare, insurance companies could – and did – discriminate against women.  Charging women $1 billion more than men each year – and then giving them less coverage – was unfair and discriminatory.

One of the birth control options that Hobby Lobby disagreed with is the Internal Uterine Device (IUD). An IUD prevents a woman’s egg from implanting on the uterine wall, which prevents pregnancy.  Hobby Lobby makes the claim that this is abortion, because “life begins at conception.” But conception does not occur until after the egg is implanted.  So if an IUD prevents implantation, it prevents conception – and that means it’s contraception, just like the pill and condoms.

An IUD is extremely effective and has very low risk for women who choose to use it, although it can be expensive.

“It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage,” wrote Justice Bader Ginsberg in her dissent.

“Access to family planning services is critical for the health and economic security of women and families, as contraception costs are one of the biggest health care expenses for women and their families,” said Governor Maggie Hassan. “While today’s Supreme Court decision is disappointing, I’m optimistic that employers will continue providing coverage for family planning services because it’s the right thing to do for workers, it will help businesses attract high-quality employees, and it will strengthen the economic security of working families.”

This attack on women’s reproductive rights is nothing new.  Conservatives have been trying to limit a women’s right to choose since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade over 50 years ago.  When Republicans took control of the New Hampshire House in 2011, a new firestorm of attacks on women’s right was initiated.

“In 2011, the Executive Council took the radical step of eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, blocking access to health services for thousands of Granite State women,” stated Executive Counselor Chris Pappas. “That was the wrong decision for New Hampshire families then just as the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is wrong now.  Access to contraception and basic family planning services is critical for women’s health and economic security.  As an employer and owner of a family-run business, I know first-hand that important health decisions must be left up to women and their physicians.” (Emphasis added)

It continues to show that this Supreme Court and their conservative majority are out of touch with real working families, and are basing their rulings on their ideological positions.

More and more, it seems that the majority of the Supreme Court better represents the interests of the Chamber of Commerce than it does the values and aspirations of working Americans. Workers’ rights should not depend on whether their employer—while buying and selling to everyone regardless of religion—wants to limit their reproductive rights based on privately held religious beliefs,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “That this decision, which disproportionately affects women, coincides with the Harris v. Quinn decision, which limits rights of home healthcare workers in Illinois—the vast majority of whom are women—is a throwback to another age. Working families, especially working women, have lost here.”

There is no doubt our national healthcare system was broken.  The Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, fixing some of the major wrongs.  An insurance company can no longer deny coverage if you get sick; they can no longer deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition; their profits are limited by the 80/20 rule; and many more.

In my opinion the problem is that we are still relying on private insurance companies for health care.  For-profit institutions are making decisions about what our healthcare should be.  The problem is only compounded by our reliance on employer-supplied healthcare.

In Justice Alito’s decision, he implied that if the government truly wants to find a way to cover all of these contraceptives then the government is going to have to find a way to pay for it themselves.

To me, the solution is simple: Medicare for all.  If everyone were on Medicare, or any other version of a single payer system, the opinions of an employer would be moot.  An employer would never be able to restrict coverage for its women employees (or its men employees, for that matter).

Arnie Arnesen, a local radio personality summed it all up perfectly, “If Medicare is good enough for a 65 year old man, then why is it not good enough for a 6 year old girl?”

NH Needs Two Senators Who Are Willing To Stand Up For Recent College Grads

Who Supports College Grads 2One New Hampshire Senator is standing up for students…

….while the other Senator is “not voting.”

“Across the country people are struggling with the increasing costs of higher education and that’s hurting our students and our economy,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has said. “This is especially true in New Hampshire, where an estimated 74 percent of students graduate with debt averaging nearly $33,000. Our plan represents an important step toward addressing the student loan crisis by helping borrowers refinance their student loans and pay down their debts.”

Where’s New Hampshire’s other Senator, on this issue? Can’t really tell; there seems to be some kind of a “Where’s Waldo?” thing going on.

When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren filed her “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act” – which would drastically reduce the burden of debt for college grads – New Hampshire’s Sen. Shaheen was quick to co-sponsor the bill.

Sen. Warren was outraged that the federal government collects over “$66 billion in profits from student loans originated between 2007 and 2012.” “The government should not be making profits off the backs of our students,” she told the Huffington Post. “Period.”

“That is wrong. It is morally wrong. That is obscene,” Warren stated. “Let’s give [students] the same great deal that the banks get,”

But the Senate can’t act on the bill because of a filibuster.

Last week’s vote to end the filibuster came up four votes short. Sen. Shaheen voted to allow the Senate to consider the bill. But where was New Hampshire’s other Senator? While she could have been helping “get government off the backs” of debt-burdened students?

Here’s Sen. Shaheen’s statement, after the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act” failed to overcome the GOP filibuster.

“I am disappointed that the Republican leadership in the Senate blocked a plan to help young people and families in New Hampshire and around the country see some relief from overwhelming student debt. Allowing eligible borrowers to refinance their student loans is the right thing to do for them and for our economy, and I will continue to fight for ways to make college more affordable and to help students get out of debt.”

Here’s what the Concord Monitor had to say: “Sen. Kelly Ayotte did not vote.”

And the Boston Globe: “Ayotte was in New Hampshire for a family event, her office says.”

And this is where it gets confusing.

According to her Facebook Page and her press releases, Sen. Ayotte was meeting with “David Lahme, President of TradePort USA, to discuss her ongoing efforts to protect businesses in New Hampshire.”

But then there are the roll calls. According to the US Senate,

Yet during that very same day, she was reportedly in New Hampshire for a “family event” and met with David Lahme at her office in Washington, D.C.

Got a really good travel agent? Racking up frequent flyer miles? Teleportation? In two places at once?

Or is it possible that just maybe Sen. Ayotte was purposely avoiding this vote?

Does Sen. Ayotte care at all about college students in New Hampshire, which ranks second highest in student loan debt?

I can’t help but wonder why Sen. Ayotte – who up until recently had one of the best voting records in the country – has missed seven votes within the last three months. That’s as many votes as she she had missed – total – in the three years between taking office and April 2014.

Senator Ayotte is not up for reelection until 2016. But between now and then, people should remember which Senators sided with millionaires over students, and which Senators were willing to let the federal government “pocket an additional $185 billion in profits on new student loans made over the next 10 years.”

Last week, one New Hampshire Senator stood up for students – and against using them as a source of federal revenue.

But where, exactly, was our other Senator?

Senators Introduce Legislation To Protect Motorcycle Riders Rights

Motorcycle rider (image Philo Nordlund)Bipartisan amendment would prohibit
motorcycle-only checkpoints for one year
 

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today introduced a bipartisan amendment to the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill that would prohibit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from issuing grants to states for motorcycle-only checkpoints for one year. The amendment is similar to legislation introduced by the Senators earlier this year. The NHTSA initiated the Motorcycle Law Enforcement Demonstration Program in 2009, which provides states with funds to conduct discriminatory, motorcycle-only checkpoints where riders are specifically targeted by police to check that their vehicles meet state standards for noise, handlebar length, tire condition and a range of other legal requirements.

The bipartisan effort would block federal resources for one year from being used to fund these types of discriminatory motorcycle-only checkpoints. Currently, motorcycle riders are already subject to state registration, inspection, licensing and helmet laws and must stop at sobriety check points like all other motorists.

“Laconia Motorcycle Week in New Hampshire is a perfect reminder of how important motorcycles are to our state’s identity and economy,” Shaheen said. “These checkpoints unfairly discriminate against motorcyclists who already must comply with registration and inspection requirements like all motorists.”

“I often hear Wisconsin motorcyclists refer to their passion for the ‘freedom of the road,’” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, those freedoms would be severally, and I would argue unconstitutionally, hindered by the presence of federally funded motorcycle-only checkpoints. Bikers should not be stopped, searched and inspected by law enforcement solely because they’re on two wheels and not four.”

“Requiring bikers to drive through motorcycle-only checkpoints is not only an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars, but it also raises legitimate questions about discrimination against motorcyclists,” Manchin said. “In West Virginia, bikers travel near and far to drive on our winding roads and enjoy the beautiful scenery, which attracts tourism and helps boost both our local and state economies. As a Harley owner myself, I am pleased to work with my colleagues on this bipartisan legislation that simply would prohibit yet another senseless and unreasonable federal regulation which could harm states’ economies.”

“With motorcyclists from across the region in New Hampshire this week for Laconia Motorcycle Week, we renew our opposition to the use of federal funds to pay for discriminatory motorcycle-only checkpoints,” Ayotte said. “Motorcyclists shouldn’t be unfairly targeted just because they’re driving a motorcycle and not a car, and our amendment would protect their rights to abide by the same laws as other motor vehicles.”

Evidence suggests that motorcycle-only checkpoints do not effectively reduce motorcycle injuries or fatalities and do not address the factors that are the main contributors to motorcycle accidents. Accordingly, NHTSA does not list the practice in its own 2013 Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Offices, which details policies and activities that the agency considers effective at reducing crash injuries and fatalities.

NOAA Announces Deal On Distribution Of Fishery Disaster Funds To New England States

U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today welcomed an announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the New England states have reached a compromise on how to distribute $32.8 million in federal fishery disaster funds. The funds are part of $75 million in disaster relief resources that were secured earlier this year. The compromise outlines how the funds will be distributed between the states and will support New Hampshire’s fishing industry.

New Hampshire will receive more than $2 million in funds with more than $900,000 going to direct assistance for New Hampshire fishermen. More than $1.1 million will be used at the state’s discretion.

“Today’s announcement by NOAA that an agreement has been reached to distribute fishery disaster funds is welcome news for New Hampshire’s fishing industry and the seacoast economy,” Shaheen said. “This means that funds will be distributed more quickly to those struggling and that New Hampshire will receive its fair share of the disaster resources to help protect and preserve this historic industry. I will continue to work with NOAA and stakeholders to protect the long term sustainability of New Hampshire’s fishing industry.”

“This agreement is welcome news and will help provide short-term relief to New Hampshire’s fishermen. But more importantly, our struggling small-boat fleet needs relief from onerous federal regulations so New Hampshire’s fishermen can continue to make a living. I will continue to urge federal officials to work toward a more sensible regulatory climate,” said Ayotte, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Shaheen and Ayotte have been strong advocates for New Hampshire’s fishing industry which has been struggling under onerous catch limit regulations and consequent economic losses, and earlier this month the Senators sent a letter to NOAA advocating for the incorporation of local ideas and prompt distribution of disaster funds. Earlier this year, they successfully called on the Commerce Department to waive the state matching requirements for federally declared disaster relief funds for the Northeast Multispecies Groundfish Fishery. They also met with federal officials to discuss disaster relief and ways to protect the fishing industry.

Granite State Rumblings: 1 in 5 Children Are In Poverty, Now Is The Time To Raise The Minimum Wage

Child in poverty (Image Tim Grable FLIKR)Right now, more than 46 million people are living in poverty in America, including more than 1 in 5 children; another 60 million people are just a single hardship away from falling into poverty. This is the sad news from a new collaboration of poverty experts called TalkPoverty.org.

Here are the numbers:

  • U.S. poverty (less than $18,284 for a family of three; less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent of U.S.
  • Poorest age group: children, more than 34 percent of all people in poverty are children.
  • Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent of all children under 18.
  • Poverty rate among children in single parent families: 42 percent.
  • Number of married parents in poverty (raising minor children): 5.8 million.
  • Number of never married parents living in poverty: 4.6 million.
  • Educational attainment of adults in poverty: approximately 70 percent have a high school degree or above.
  • Costs of child poverty: $550 billion per year, or 3.8 percent of GDP.
  • Households without sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income, 2011: 25.4 percent.
  • Jobs in the US paying less than $35,100 a year: 50 percent.
  • Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four (less than $23,000 annually): 25 percent.
  • Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
  • Economic gains since 2009: 95 percent to top 1%; 60% to top .1% (people with annual incomes of more than $1.9 million.)
  • Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers—not raise since 1991)
  • Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation for past 40 years: $10.86.
  • Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains since 1968: $18.67
  • Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06

Source: http://talkpoverty.org/basics/

In April the United States Senate had an opportunity to do something positive for the millions of children living in poverty and their hard working low-income parents, by supporting Senator Tom Harkins’ (D-Iowa) bill to Raise the Minimum Wage. But they failed when they could not reach the  60 votes needed to even debate the measure. Both Senator Ayotte of NH and Senator Collins of Maine were among the 42 Senators casting votes to quash the debate.

And over in the House of Representatives, leadership has shown little interest in giving a vote to the bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)

Economists and other researchers investigating the minimum wage agree that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty. That’s the conclusion of a major paper by UMass Amherst economist Arin Dube  titled “Minimum Wages and the Distribution of Family Incomes.”

A February 2013 poll conducted by PEW Research found the following:  Public Support for Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

  • 71 percent of Americans support a federal minimum wage increase to $9.00 per hour including
    • 87 percent of Democrats
    • 68 percent of Independents
    • 50 percent of Republicans

A March 2014 report by the Center for American Progress found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and tying it to inflation, could reduce federal spending on food stamp benefits by $46 billion over 10 years. Also, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that by putting more income in low-wage workers’ pockets, the higher minimum wage would cut back their reliance on public assistance, to the tune of $4.6 billion annually. That amounts to roughly 6 percent of current food stamp spending, or about a tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.

So, if economists and researchers conclude that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty and the dependence on government assistance programs, and 71 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage, why has it met such resistance from some of our elected leaders?

During a February 2014 town hall meeting in Cheshire County, Senator Ayotte was asked if she would support an increase to the minimum wage.

Senator Ayotte responded that her concern with the federal government raising the minimum wage is that it would cut young people out of the workforce who seek entry-level positions. Instead of increasing the minimum wage, she would like to see Congress work together on policies that would put the country in a position to have better jobs.

Would raising the minimum wage cut young people out of the workforce who seek entry-level positions?

No. A recent rigorous study by economists at the University of California examining the impact of minimum wage increases on teen unemployment found that even minimum wage increases implemented during times of high unemployment – such as the recessions of 1990-1991, 2001 and 2007-2009 – did not result in job losses for teens or slow employment growth.

Critics like to suggest that the last increase in the federal minimum wage in 2009 caused a spike in teen unemployment.  But as a NELP report demonstrated in 2011, teen unemployment rises faster than adult joblessness during every recession – whether or not the minimum wage goes up. This is because teens are the last hired, and so are always the first fired when the economy shrinks and adults compete with them for scarce jobs.

Senator Collins was hoping to find support from fellow Republicans to support a minimum wage increase under the proposed $10.10 per hour, but was unable to do so.

“I’m confident that the votes are not there to pass a minimum wage increase up to $10.10 therefore it seems to me to make sense for senators on both sides of the aisle to get together and see if we can come up with a package that would help low-income families with causing the kind of job loss that the Congressional Budget Office has warned against,” she said.

What impact would raising the minimum wage have on our struggling economy and businesses?

Raising the minimum wage right now is more important than ever. Minimum wage increases stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending, without adding to state and federal budget deficits. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy, and increasing demand is key for jumpstarting production and re-hiring. A raise in the minimum wage puts money into the pockets of low-income consumers, who immediately spend it at local businesses.  The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, would generate $22 billion in new economic activity in communities across the country. Strengthening the minimum wage can help build a sustainable economic recovery – without increasing costs for taxpayers.

And more families than ever are relying on low-wage and minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. This is because job losses during the Great Recession hit higher-wage sectors like construction, manufacturing and finance hard, while new job growth has been concentrated disproportionately in low-wage industries. Fully 58 percent of all jobs created in the post-recession were low-wage occupations, according to a 2012 report by the National Employment Law Project. This is not a short term trend – six of the top ten growth occupations projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for next decade are low-wage jobs, including home health aides, customer service representatives, food preparation and service workers, personal and home care aides, retail salespersons, and office clerks. Raising the minimum wage would boost pay scales in these types of jobs where millions of Americans today spend their careers.

The most rigorous economic research over the past 20 years shows that raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay without causing job losses – even in regions where the economy is weak or unemployment is high. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reviews the past two decades of research and concludes that raising the minimum wage had no adverse impact on employment.

What can you do and what is the message?
Make phone calls, send e-mails, apply pressure.

Create better jobs Senator Ayotte. Build a package to support low-income families, Senator Collins. But at the same time, dignify work for those who want to work, by making it pay. No person working 40 hours a week or more, should be earning poverty wages.

 GROWING UP GRANITE

Those who know me well will tell you that I am passionate when it comes to the subject of poverty, especially child poverty. I am privileged to work for an organization that allows me to invest my time and energy in advocating for children who live in poverty, working on solutions to poverty and the programs that serve our most vulnerable population, and educating our elected officials and the public about the hazards of growing up in poverty.

Sometimes I go to bed wondering why this work has chosen me as there are many days that I feel burned out and frustrated and powerless. But then I see the smiling face of a child in a Head Start program when he proudly shows me how he has learned to write his name, or I listen to a mom who is struggling to find a job that will pay her enough to keep food on the table and a roof over the head of her children, and the fire ignites once again.

There are a lot of great people who work on this issue. They proudly wear their orange badges in the Legislative Office Building and State House of New Hampshire. They sit in committee hearings, testify on bills, call and meet with legislators and the Governor’s office, meet and strategize with others who are working on the issues, and rally the troops.

Others do their work outside of the legislative process, working in the departments, agencies, and programs that serve children and families. Their dedication to those families and their willingness to share their knowledge with advocates and others is essential to the process.

As the New Hampshire legislative session comes to a close, I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the work they do. I also want to thank all of you who have answered our requests to write letters, call your representatives, talk to your friends, co-workers, and neighbors and have gotten involved. We could not do our work without your assistance.

We also could not have done our jobs without the voices of those who have been willing to tell their personal stories. They are the true heroes.

They often open themselves up to stereotyping and mockery from some of the people who have been elected to serve them. Their voices are important and necessary, as they speak with the knowledge and urgency that an advocate who has not walked a mile in their shoes can even approximate.

The Legislature has formed several study committees that will be looking at some of the programs and issues that affect vulnerable populations and we will be sharing the information with you as they progress this summer.

One of the issues that will be studied this summer is the use of Electronic Benefit (EBT) cards. Three bills from this session are being wrapped into this study, SB 203, HB 1213, and HB 1299.  It is our hope that the voices of those who rely upon these programs will have an opportunity to be heard in these committee meetings as well.

The First In The Nation (#FITN) Campaign Is Underway (InZane Times)

Image by Arnie Alpert

Image by Arnie Alpert

Senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum took to lecterns on opposite ends of Manchester yesterday to test the waters for potential presidential runs.  At the NH Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders engaged in spirited  back-and-forth with 200 progressive activists on topics including campaign finance, excessive military spending, and the need for a “political revolution.”  Meanwhile, the Americans for the Prosperous Foundation and Citizens United hosted a parade of right-wing Senators and others trying out their stuff before an audience of several hundred conservatives at the Executive Court. 2014 04 12 freedom summit 005

Outside the conservative event, progressive activists – mistakenly identified with the Democratic Party by the Concord Monitor – held signs lambasting proposals to weaken retirement security.

It was perhaps the first in what will soon be a typical day on the trail to the 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary.

The conservative event was tickets-only, but I got my request in early enough to get a seat and hear speeches from leaders of Citizens United and Americans for the Prosperous, followed by NH Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Mike Lee, Do2014 04 12 freedom summit 008cropnald Trump, and a couple of local pols.  While Trump was entertaining, audience response to Senatorial speeches about low taxes and the evils of Obamacare drew tepid responses.  The speakers were ushered to the stage from behind a curtain, gave their prepared speeches, and disappeared again behind the curtain without taking any audience questions or comments.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, who seems to be on lots of lists of potential VPs, quoted former Governor Meldrim Thomson, equated freedom with low taxes, and equated the Affordable Care Act with freedom’s opposite.  Applause were somewhere south of excited. Senator Lee was teacherly and likewise failed to excite the crowd.

Trump was different.  Speaking without notes – and criticizing politicians who  depend on speech-writers and tele-prompters – Trump wandered from point to2014 04 12 freedom summit 028point, some of which departed from standard AFP scripts.  For example, he defended Social Security and Medicare in an apparent dig at proposals coming from Congressman Paul Ryan.  He said we need “to come up with a humane solution” to the country’s immigration system, but then drew applause for ridiculing Jeb Bush’s recent “act of love” statement and said he could build a physical barrier that would keep immigrants out.  Trump said we had spent $2 trillion on the Iraq war, “for what?,” but then implied maybe it would have been worth it if we had taken2014 04 12 freedom summit 020 over the country’s oil.

With no candidate Q&A, the event was rather boring.  My colleague Addy and I left during the introduction of Congressman Louie Gohmert and headed across town.

Senator Sanders had already finished his speech and was talking about Harry Truman when we arrived at the Institute of Politics.  The mood felt different, and it wasn’t just that we were in politically comfortable surroundings.  The seats were all filled, except for ones emptied by people standing in line to get their turns at microphones on the left and right sides of the stage.  Sanders handled questions comfortably, clearly at home in a town hall meeting environment.  Decrying “a Congress largely dependent on corporate2014 04 12 bernie sanders nhiop 011money,” Sanders called for development of a grassroots movement to demand change and then hold politicians accountable.

Sanders, a socialist who ran as an Independent and caucuses with the Democrats, is giving active consideration to a presidential run without saying whether he would run as an Independent or take the fight inside the Democratic Party.  “Somebody has got to be talking about these issues,” he told a group of labor activists who met with him in a small conference room after the main event.

We could have returned to the Freedom Summit and perhaps would have been able to hear Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but I had had enough for one day.  I would have liked to hear Senator Paul criticize corporate welfare at a Koch-fueled forum.  But I’m pretty sure all these wannabe Presidents will be back, as will the progressive protests, grassroots activists, and the reporters who love to take it all in.

Shaheen Highlights Opposition to Administration’s Base Realignment and Closure Proposal at Armed Services Subcommittee Hearing

Shaheen: White House BRAC Proposal Would Weaken National Security, New Hampshire Economy

(Washington, DC) – Citing the proposal’s potential impact on national security and New Hampshire’s economy, this morning U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reiterated her strong opposition to the White House’s request for a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017.  While chairing the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support this morning, Shaheen also highlighted the Defense Department’s failure to explain the cost of the last BRAC round as another reason to avoid another round in 2017; according to nonpartisan experts, the 2005 BRAC round exceeded initial cost estimates by $14 billion.  The administration’s BRAC proposal could prove to be particularly consequential for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard which is home to thousands of New Hampshire jobs.

“Our national security, our shipyard, and our economy in New Hampshire would suffer if we had another round of base closures at this time,” said Shaheen after the hearing. “I’ll do everything in my power as Chair of the Readiness Subcommittee to oppose the Administration’s BRAC proposal.”

In written testimony submitted for the committee’s record, Shaheen also added, “I do not believe the Department has adequately explained how the significant cost growth we saw in the 2005 BRAC round would be avoided this time around or made sufficient progress in reducing infrastructure overseas, particularly in Europe.”

As Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, Shaheen, along with the subcommittee’s ranking member Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), have jurisdiction over BRAC proposals in addition to military readiness responsibilities including training, logistics, military construction, and maintenance.

Senate Republicans Including Senator Ayotte Are Pitting Immigrants Against Veterans

Frag Out!Veterans have always been political bread and butter.  It has become a game: who supports Veterans more?  This debate has ratcheted up a couple of notches after the budget negotiation reduced the Cost of Living increases for working age retired Veterans (under 62 years of age).

The adjustment in the COLA for working age retired Veterans would save the government about $7 Billion dollars.  Of course the Veterans organizations were outraged over these cuts, and so was Senator Kelly Ayotte.

Here is a little background on Senator Ayotte.  She currently sits on the Veteran Affairs Committee in the Senate, and is married to Joe Daley who is a retired Air National Guard Lieutenant Colonel. This fight over retired Veterans COLAs is personal for Senator Ayotte because it directly affects her and her family. This cut will directly affect Joe and his retirement benefits.

I agree that we should not be making these COLA cuts to our brave men and women who retired from the military at a young age.  There are many possible solutions to restoring these cuts and the proposal that seems to be getting the most traction is the one to change the ‘Additional Child Tax Credit’ (ACTC).  It would require the person claiming the ACTC to file their taxes with the IRS under their Social Security Number.

Currently working immigrants file their federal taxes using a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) because they cannot get a Social Security number until they are US Citizens.

This change is a direct assault on the millions of hard working immigrants who are paying their federal taxes and legally claiming their dependents under the ACTC program.  Once again, the only way to get a Social Security number is to be a US resident.  This means that if you are not a US Citizen (even if your children are), you still have to pay taxes, but you cannot claim the ACTC.

The Bipartisan Policy Center stated, “Effectively, this would allow the IRS to deny ACTC benefits to households headed by unauthorized immigrant parents, regardless of the child’s citizenship status.”

This is where the whole plan gets very complex.  For example, there are many households in the US right now headed by parents of a US citizen – but due to the immigration process, the parents are not US citizens themselves.  Even if the child is a natural born American citizen, their parents could not claim them under the proposed ACTC changes.

(Note: Senator Ayotte later amended her proposal to provide an exception for parents of US citizens.)

We are not talking about a few hundred people filing for these credits. According to the Treasury Department’s Inspector General, in 2010, ITIN filers reported $60 billion dollars in wages. The Bipartisan Policy Center reported that, “a large majority of unauthorized immigrants’ children are U.S. citizens.”

To me the issue could easily be resolved by passing a comprehensive immigration bill, like the one that has already passed in the US Senate.  We can clear up the tax questions quickly by allowing these parents of US citizens to become citizens themselves.  Making a roadmap to citizenship allows those people who are already living and working – and paying taxes – here in the United States a way to become citizens themselves.

We should stop trying to find ways to punish them for being undocumented, and find ways to help streamline the citizenship process. Some of them have been working on getting legal citizenship for years now, all the while living, working, and paying taxes like every other American.

Now our Congressional Representatives are waging war between Veterans and immigrants to find a way to restore the cuts to Veterans’ retirements.

Here is an idea to solve both problems: let’s stop building war machines that we do not need and put that money back into the budget where it can do some real good.  Like the F-35 fighter jet, which is billions over budget and still cannot fly at night.  Or the hundreds of tanks that the Army and Marine Corps do not want, which are being built just to stored in the desert boneyards, with no intent to actually use them.

By trimming the fat off the DOD budget, we can open our doors to all immigrants, feed our nation’s poor, and create a better education system through proper funding.

Or we can continue to build weapons of war that we do not want or need.

LTE: The Government Shutdown Cost Taxpayers $24 Billion – Why Is Senator Ayotte Not Upset About That?

Like many of my neighbors, I was relieved when the government shutdown ended. Yet unless Republicans in Congress stop throwing temper tantrums to get what they want, these fights will not be going away. They aren’t cheap: This 15-day shutdown cost our government $24 billion, and that doesn’t include the cost to New Hampshire’s economy. Navy yard contractors and Portsmouth businesses took a huge hit.

It is ridiculous that Sen. Kelly Ayotte harps on the value of fiscal responsibility but does nothing to reign in Tea Party excesses. Her Tea Party leaders nearly destroyed America’s credit rating while wasting billions of dollars. When she was sworn into office she promised to represent the interests of New Hampshire families, yet under her watch her own party has enacted policies that have cost New Hampshire families jobs and income. She has done nothing to stop them. She is, in fact, doing the opposite by putting forward so-called solutions that will perpetuate the Tea Party’s job killing agenda.

Ayotte’s priorities are backward. New Hampshire’s families should come before her Washington buddies.

Lew Henry
Gilmanton

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