Granite State Progress Renews Call For Senator Ayotte To Host Town Hall On Gun Violence Prevention

Senator Kelly Ayotte Official Portrait

477 Days and Counting: Advocates Renew Call for Sen. Ayotte to Host Town Hall Specifically on Gun Violence Prevention

It’s been 16 months since Sen. Ayotte voted against criminal background checks and 477 days since she first refused to meet with New Hampshire gun violence prevention advocates

CONCORD, NH – Gun violence prevention advocates are renewing the call for U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte to host a town hall or forum specifically dedicated to the pressing issue of reducing gun violence. It’s been 477 days since the request was first issued and Senator Ayotte’s office has still refused to sit down and meet.

“Constituents have made phone calls, sent letters, signed petitions, and invited the Senator to coffee, but Senator Ayotte has repeatedly denied meeting requests from gun violence prevention advocates ever since she voted against background checks and the 89 percent of her constituents who support them,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director, Granite State Progress. “We renew our call for Senator Ayotte to host a town hall solely focused on gun violence prevention. In the sixteen months since Senator Ayotte voted against common sense background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, and the seriously mentally ill, more shootings and more national tragedies have occurred. Senator Ayotte needs to stop hiding behind NRA lobby talking points and meet directly with her constituents. She has a responsibility as a U.S. Senator to participate in open town halls on these important topics instead of cherry-picking the issues she wants to discuss.”

In a letter to Senator Ayotte, Granite State Progress renewed the call for a town hall on gun violence prevention that would include participation from survivors of gun violence and the family members of victims, in addition to gun violence prevention advocates, faith leaders, law enforcement officials, mental health advocates, and responsible gun owners.  Members of the organization are being asked to contact the Senator and call on her to engage in a community conversation about how we can work together to protect more children and families.

Background: In April 2013, Senator Ayotte voted against the Manchin-Toomey background check bill – the only bill that would have required background checks for commercial gun sales and improved the background check system. Instead, Senator Ayotte voted for an amendment created by the gun lobby and sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley and Ted Cruz that would actually weaken the system and put more guns in the hands of the seriously mentally ill. Ayotte’s public approval ratings plummeted after her vote.

Granite State Progress first issued the call for a town hall specifically on gun violence prevention on April 30, 2013 after Ayotte hosted three poorly publicized town halls where moderators such as former Congressman and current State Senator Jeb Bradley publicly admitted to screening out questions regarding Sen. Ayotte’s vote against background checks and the 89% of her constituents who support them. Granite State Progress, OFA-NH, and Project for Safer Communities re-issued the call during the August 2013 Congressional recess, and Granite State Progress members additionally held coffee sit-ins in the Senator’s district offices to highlight her absence. Sen. Ayotte responded with a generic form letter stating she would hold general town halls later in the year – but for 16 months has ignored constituent requests for a conversation on gun violence prevention.

In contrast, during the national health reform debate in the Summer of ‘09, the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation held town halls specifically focused on the pending health reform legislation – also an issue of national debate and interest.

When Will Senator Ayotte Start Listening To The People On Protecting Our Earned Benefits?

Image and rights from the  NHARA

Editor’s Note: Below is a cross-post from the NH Alliance for Retired Americans who have been working over the last year to meet with and talk to Senator Ayotte.  I believe Sen. Ayotte’s office has met with them once, they are obviously not listening to what the people are saying.  When I wrote to Sen. Ayotte about protecting Social Security and Medicare, I got the exact same form letter that Lucy attached below. 

Image and rights from the  NHARA

Image from the NH ARA

Senator Ayotte, You Are Not Listening

Written by Lucy Edwards
President of the NH Alliance for Retired Americans
Posted on the NH ARA Blog

I received an e-mail letter from Senator Ayotte on the subject of Social Security and Medicare (or as she calls them, “entitlements.”) I would like to suggest to her that if she REALLY is interested in making sure that these earned benefit programs are available into the future, she consider some really simple solutions.

First, to fund the Social Security Trust Fund so that it can pay benefits indefinitely, we could do some combination of the following:

  • Raise the minimum wage.  If incomes are higher, payments into the trust fund are higher.
  • Raise the income cap.  If higher earners have to pay on more of their earnings, the payments into the trust fund will be higher.
  • Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. If women earn more, their payments into the trust fund will be higher.
  • Vote for infrastructure funding and other stimulus programs to raise the number of jobs and the pay for workers.  If more people are working, and making decent incomes, the payments into the trust fund will be higher.  AND life both today and in retirement will be much better for ALL Americans.

I would also remind her that the Affordable Care Act is already lowering the rate of growth of healthcare costs, including Medicare.  More preventative care, less spending on high cost procedures, correcting the overpayments for Medicare Advantage policies, and reining in fraud will help keep costs under control.  Don’t repeal the ACA!

We could also discuss the use of the national debt (for which Republican presidents are mostly responsible) as a straw man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man) but we will leave that for another discussion.

Here is her letter:

Thank you for contacting me regarding entitlement reform, particularly as it relates to Medicare and Social Security.  I appreciate hearing from you.

Our $17 trillion national debt threatens not only our economic prosperity but also our security and sovereignty.  I believe that it is my responsibility to analyze the underlying problems perpetuating the unsustainable growth in our federal debt and to make a real effort to solve them.  This includes evaluating all areas of the federal budget to determine where appropriate reductions can be made and making the necessary reforms to entitlement programs to ensure they are solvent for current and future generations.

Spending for major health and retirement programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, will increase in coming decades, putting greater pressure on the rest of the federal budget.  According to the Office of Management and Budget, in fiscal year (FY) 2013, 66 percent of all federal spending was on entitlement programs, net interest, and other social safety net programs.  Unless significant actions are taken to address these programs’ structural problems, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will grow to consume every dollar of revenue raised by the government.

I also understand the importance of these programs and am aware of how many Americans rely on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  As baby boomers continue to retire, health care costs and Social Security outlays will rise.

According to the most recent Medicare Trustees report, the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund has been running cash flow deficits since 2008.  The only thing keeping the program afloat financially is the sale of Treasury bonds in the Medicare Trust Fund – deficit spending.  According to the report, the Medicare HI Trust Fund will be insolvent by 2030.

In addition, the Social Security Trustees report that the Social Security program is now in a permanent cash flow deficit, meaning that as baby boomers retire, the Trust Funds are obligated to pay out more benefits than there are incoming payroll taxes.  This means that to pay benefits, the government must cut spending, raise taxes, or borrow more money from overseas to finance payments.  The Trustees estimate that the Social Security Trust Funds will have a shortfall of $9.6 trillion over the next 75 years and will be exhausted in 2033.  This means that in just 20 years beneficiaries would have to see a 23 percent benefit cut.

I believe we need to ensure the long-term viability of entitlement programs.  In strengthening entitlements, we should ensure that those in or near retirement will not be negatively impacted by any reforms.  However, the longer we put off reforming entitlements, the more difficult changes will be on those nearing retirement.  In order to strengthen entitlements, members of both parties will need to muster the political courage to stop putting off the tough decisions that need to be made in order to preserve these programs and protect the economic strength of our country.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me.  As your Senator, it is important for me to hear from you regarding the current issues affecting New Hampshire and our nation.  Please do not hesitate to be in touch again if I may be of further assistance.

Sincerely,
Kelly A. Ayotte
U. S. Senator

The NH Alliance For Retired Americans Score NH Senators On Issues Effecting Seniors

Old woman retirement

Please take a look at how your Representatives and Senators in the United States Congress voted on issues of concern to senior citizens and their families.

The New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans has sent this letter to the editor to papers around the state:

When it comes to support for the senior safety net, New Hampshire’s two Senators could not be more different.  The Alliance for Retired Americans produces a voting record to show how committed our elected representatives are to retirees and older Americans. Votes chosen for 2013 were*:

Seniors Program Cuts
Health Care Repeal
Estate Tax Repeal
Anti-Retiree Budget
Mandatory Benefit Cuts
Limit Victims’ Rights
Limit Voters’ Rights
Cut Emergency Phone Service
Pro-Retiree Budget
Cut Nutrition Programs

Senator Shaheen received a score of 100%, which did not surprise the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans, since we have had opportunities to speak with her in person both in her office and at events around the state, and to hear her pledge her support for the programs that not only benefit us, but our children and grandchildren now and in the future.

Senator Ayotte received a score of 10%, which, sorry to say, did not surprise us. She has, her staff tells us, been much too busy to meet with us at her office, despite repeated requests. Individual members have attended events she held, despite the short notices, but have not gotten any questions answered.

We at the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans believe that all New Hampshire retirees and all New Hampshire citizens who care about our retirees or hope to be retired some day should have this information.  Please visit our website for more information and how to contact us.

*http://retiredamericans.org/issues/congressional-voting-record

Lucy Edwards, President, for the Board of the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans.

3 Things You Need to Know about Today’s Minimum Wage Vote

profits vs minimum wage

Here’s the first thing:
Today, the Senate did not vote on raising the minimum wage.  (If they had voted, the bill would almost certainly have passed.)
Rather: today’s vote was on whether to end a filibuster.  The filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver that allows a minority of Senators to prevent the full Senate from voting on a measure.  Since President Obama was elected, the GOP has used the filibuster to drive Congress into gridlock.  (Read more about the filibuster and Scott Brown here.)
The Senate can still vote again (and again) in the future on whether to end the filibuster.

Here’s the second thing:
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has been keeping track of corporate profits since 1947.  For the first 40 years after that, there was an almost perfect relationship between total corporate profits and the minimum wage: total corporate profits were almost exactly 55 billion times the minimum wage.  But once the 1986 corporate tax cut started impacting the economy, that changed. (It changed even more after the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.)

profits vs minimum wage


And here’s the third thing:

Today’s vote to end the filibuster failed by only six votes.  New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte was one of them.

4-30-14 Minimum Wage Filibuster Vote

Senators Ayotte (NH) and Collins (ME) Voted Against Unemployment Insurance Extension (Granite State Rumblings)

(January 7, 2014 - Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America)

Last week the Senate failed to pass an extension of unemployment insurance. Nearly 1.3 million workers lost their unemployment insurance when the emergency program to help them expired on December 28th.

More than one-third of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 6 months. For each week that nothing is done, another 72,000 long-term jobless will lose their Unemployment Insurance, another 3.6 million by the end of 2014.

A total of 8,500 unemployed Granite Staters and 18,100 unemployed Mainers will lose their benefits by the end of 2014 according to information from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Two different bills came up for a vote in the Senate last week. Neither bill received the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and move forward.

One would have extended unemployment benefits for 11 months and paid for it by extending the existing 2 percent cuts to Medicare health providers by an additional year, to 2024. It failed 52 – 48.

The other bill would have extended unemployment benefits for three months at a cost of 6.4 billion dollars. It failed 55 – 45.

(January 7, 2014 - Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America)

(January 7, 2014 – Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America)

Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Senator Susan Collins of Maine were among the Republican Senate members who voted against extending unemployment insurance. However, they did vote the very first time to allow the issue to be debated in the Senate and subsequent votes taken. We have a chance to convince them to do the right thing again.

Senators are in their home states this week and waiting to hear from their constituents. They have not been home since the checks stopped arriving for the first wave of the long-term unemployed.

Those missing checks are having a huge impact on the families who relied upon them for their basic needs. They are also having an impact on our local communities. The money from those checks is not being spent at the grocery stores in our towns and cities, not being spent on gas and propane and heating oil, not being spent on rent or mortgages.

When the Senators return to Washington they need to return having heard the voices loudly and clearly from their constituents about this issue and then vote to undue the harm that has been inflicted on the children, the families, and the communities of the long-term unemployed.

Every Child Matters and other statewide groups are asking you to call Senator Ayotte and Senator Collins tomorrow and tell them to do the right thing. Go back to work and protect those workers who want nothing more than to be able to do the same.

The number for Senator’s Ayotte’s Manchester office is: 603-622-7979

The number for Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office is: 207-780-3575.

Senator Kelly Ayotte Twists The Facts About Immigrants & Taxes With Unemployment Insurance Amendment

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

This week, as the Senate decides whether to extend unemployment benefits, some Senators are looking for “offsets.”  Unfortunately, a fallback for some members of Congress has become targeting programs for immigrants, without regard to the true fiscal or social impact.

Senator Kelly Ayotte Official Portrait

Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)

One recurring target has been the Addtional Child Tax Credit for immigrant taxpayers. An amendment proposed by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) prososes to “pay for a three-month extension of unemployment benefits by stopping a scheme that currently allow {sic} illegal immigrants to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit.”

Calling a program which allows immigrant workers to pay taxes and legally claim tax credits a “scheme” distorts reality. Immigrant workers—both undocumented and lawfully present immigrants—like all workers, are required to pay taxes and many do so using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The IRS has determined that ITIN filers are indeed eligible to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit for their qualified children. Those who are undocumented pay into a system that makes them ineligible for the vast majority of benefits their tax dollars fund.

Weeding out fraud is important and while there have been some reports of fraud in the program, just as there is in other tax programs, the “fraud” doesn’t occur when an ITIN holder claims the credit. Ending the entire program punishes those who are seeking to follow the law.

ITIN filers are doing the right thing by paying into the tax system with little hope of collecting any future benefits for themselves. According to the Treasury Department’s Inspector General, in 2010, ITIN filers reported $60 billion dollars in wages. There may be debate as to whether this is fair or reasonable policy, but it is not a scheme, nor is it fraud. The debate about ITIN filers and the Additional Child Tax Credit should be fueled by honest reporting and reliable facts.

Via press release from the Immigration Policy Center

Granite Staters Rally At Sen Ayotte’s Office In National Day Of Action To Protect Social Security

Ayotte Dec. 3, 2013

Ayotte Dec. 3, 2013Statement from New Alliance for Retired Americans President Lucy Edwards at the National Day of Action event in Nashua NH 

As the president of the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans, a grassroots volunteer group of senior citizens representing 13,000 NH retirees, I am here today with others fighting to save our Social Security and Medicare benefits from any “grand bargain” between the President and Congress.  Right now in Washington DC, a committee of House and Senate members is trying to agree on a budget that could pass both houses of Congress and get the President’s signature.  Our junior Senator, Kelly Ayotte, is one of these members and that is why we are here today.

For many of us, including me, cuts to these earned benefits would mean the loss of our economic security in retirement.  Do not be fooled by those who tell you that there are no seniors in NH who are all or mostly dependent on Social Security for their income, or for whom turning Medicare into a voucher program to buy insurance on our own would most likely mean increased ill-health and even early death.  We’re out here today because we must be getting the word out. This is not some political game played in DC, this is very real and very frightening to many of us.

And let me say that I and my fellows worry about our children and grandchildren as well.  We are not “greedy geezers!”  When a politician says to me that any changes to the programs will not affect anyone over 55, the first people who pop into my mind are my daughters and their husbands!  When a politician says to me that raising the eligibility age for these programs would be fine because people are living longer, I think of all the people I know who have been without health insurance until now, and wonder if they will even be able to work til 65.

What we really need in this age of the 401(k) and “you’re on your own” retirement plans, and proposals such as the Chained CPI, is something like Senator Harkins’ bill, the Strengthen Social Security Act of 2013, which would fit a Consumer Price Index for us seniors to our true costs, including healthcare costs.  The Chained CPI would cut benefits now AND in the future, leaving us with shrinking incomes just at the time when we need the funds the most.

We are here to remind Senator Ayotte of this, and even more important, to remind our fellow citizens that we need to fight for our rights, including the right to a secure retirement.  Don’t let a “grand bargain” steal what we worked so hard for!

Thank you all for coming!

Lucy Edwards

(You can follow the NH Alliance for Retired Americans on twitter @NH_ARA and via their blog)

Working Families Can’t Afford Another Shutdown Style Crisis (by Richard Trumka & Mark Mackenzie)

NH AFL-CIO Logo

By Mark MacKenzie and Richard Trumka

NH AFL-CIO LogoLast month, we saw Washington at its worst. Driven by the Tea Party, Republican leaders, including Senator Ayotte, recklessly shut down our government and brought our nation to the brink of default. Ignoring voices of reason from working families across New Hampshire, some of our leaders in Congress listened to shouts of “shut it down” and inflicted unnecessary damage to our economy.

The shutdown cost 120,000 jobs in the first two weeks of October and will reduce economic growth by at least .25% in the fourth quarter. Here in New Hampshire it directly impacted 4,069 federal workers and countless residents who rely on federal services.

Thankfully, reason prevailed, Republican leaders relented and Congress appointed negotiators to work on a new budget agreement.

Now it’s on to the next fight in Washington.  But before we get caught up in another news cycle where extremists convince us we shouldn’t invest in our future, it is worth noting that a congressional budget is a vision. It is a blueprint that outlines our priorities as a nation. A good budget invests in America. It doesn’t rob our government of the resources it needs to succeed. A good budget properly funds its obligations and promotes the creation of well-paying jobs. It doesn’t bargain away protections for our seniors and it isn’t balanced on the backs of working families.

As Democrats and Republicans spend this month negotiating how to avoid another government shutdown, it is important to remind Washington politicians about what working families need.

The recovery is still being dragged down by the repeated budget crises manufactured by Republicans in Congress.  Budget austerity in the Tea Party Congress has already slowed annual economic growth by 0.7%, cost 1.2 million jobs, and increased the unemployment rate by 0.8%, according to Macroeconomic Advisers.

First, Congress should repeal the sequester it created, not replace it. The sequester’s dumb across-the-board cuts have hurt everything from education to child care to medical research. Here in New Hampshire, much attention has been given to the hardworking workers at our Shipyard and National Guard members who have faced furloughs as a result of defense cuts. But sequestration is also forcing layoffs and cutbacks to other critical programs that provide job training, education, and other services.

Repealing the sequester would generate 800,000 jobs by this time next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  The next budget should undo this painful damage— and not replace it with other harmful cuts.

Most importantly, policymakers in Washington must reject proposals to cut Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare benefits.  They should avoid deficit hysteria promoted by billionaires and the 1%. Instead of terrifying our parents and grandparents with threats to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits they’ve earned, politicians should protect these vital programs that have shielded the elderly and vulnerable from poverty for generations. Our nation’s safety net should be strengthened, not weakened, because working people need more economic security, not less.

Instead, Congress should look to raise new revenue by repealing the tax subsidies that encourage corporations to send jobs overseas and ending special tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.  When the average CEO’s salary for the first morning on the job is the same amount the average worker makes in a year, it’s clear that the wealthiest Americans and corporations making record profits can pay their fair share.

Ending these undeserved and wasteful tax breaks would allow us to invest in our workforce and create the well-paying jobs millions so desperately need. By rebuilding our infrastructure, education, and manufacturing base, we can create good jobs with good benefits and provide relief to our struggling working and middle class. This is America, after all.  No job should trap anyone in a vicious cycle of poverty.

By focusing on helping working families instead of how to score political points, Congress can produce a budget that supports an economy that works for all. It is time for Senator Ayotte to realize that instead of shutting down progress, she needs to listen to the needs of the hardworking voters who sent her to Washington.

Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO. Mark MacKenzie is President of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.

New Hampshire Citizens To Rally Against Cuts To Social Security At Sen. Ayotte’s Office

NH Citizens Alliance

Below is a message from Olivia Zink, Director of the NH Citizens Alliance

NH Citizens Alliance

Have you ever seen a movie, thought it was awful, and then been horrified to learn there was actually going to be a sequel?

That’s how we feel about yet another looming fight over our country’s budget. “The Budget Battle: The Sequel No One Wants” is not a movie anybody wants to see.

But some Republicans are insisting we watch it. Their hostage-taking has forced a sequel of the same manufactured debt crisis. Right now, Republicans on the Budget Committee—like committee Chair Paul Ryan—are trying to get Democrats to keep the sequester in place and agree to even more austerity pain by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

Senator Kelly Ayotte is on the Budget Committee. Tell her to oppose any plan that includes benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Stop the cuts to Social Security by reducing the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA).

Who: Advocates for Social Security and Medicare
What: Rally and message delivery
Where: Nashua office of Senator Kelly Ayotte
144 Main Street, Nashua
When: Tuesday December 3, 12:00 noon

You can make a difference. Senator Ayotte is on the powerful Senate Conferees Committee who will vote on December 13th . Let make sure she hears from NH voters loud and clear that NH voters do not wants CUTS our Social Security.

Thank you for helping us send a powerful and personal message to all members of Congress: Let’s get to work on creating the sequel to the budget battle that working people, not extremist lawmakers and their corporate funders, want to see.

LTE: Senator Ayotte Avoiding Her Constituents

Senator Kelly Ayotte

Senator Kelly AyotteTo the editor:

I was excited to hear that Kelly Ayotte is hosting town halls to hear from her constituents about our country’s finances. Sadly, as they are being held in towns like Whitefield and Jackson, both considerable distances from me or most of her other constituents, I won’t have the opportunity to speak with her.

It is a shame because I would like to hear her plans for addressing our country’s finances. The government shutdown cost us $24 billion dollars alone and will reduce our country’s economic growth by 0.6% in the coming months. According to the economic forecasting company Macroeconomic Advisors, additional budget cuts since 2012 have cost 1.2 million jobs and increased our unemployment rate by 0.8%. Now there is talk of cutting into safety net programs like Social Security.

Here is what I would tell Senator Ayotte: your plans for addressing our country’s finances so far have hurt New Hampshire families, including my own, and they will be hurting New Hampshire seniors very soon if you don’t change course. So what is your plan for changing course?

Rick Rothwell
Manchester, NH