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As Millions Lose Jobs, Republicans Still Boast About Employment

More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past six weeks, as the economy craters during the coronavirus pandemic. But based on their campaign websites, Donald Trump and a number of his Republican allies are still running for election on pre-COVID-19 job numbers and Trump's 2017 tax cuts bill.

As of April 14, the website of Trump's 2020 reelection campaign contained a section bragging about the "lowest" unemployment in years and said Trump had "jump-started America's economy into record growth" and millions of new jobs. At that point, about 17 million Americans had filed new unemployment insurance claims, wiping out the 6.1 million new jobs Trump claimed to have created.

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Republican Senators Tout Enhanced Unemployment Benefits They Opposed

Last week, 47 Republican senators and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to make unemployment benefits less generous in the coronavirus relief legislation.

Although their amendment to cap unemployment insurance was unsuccessful, several Republican senators spent the next few days bragging about the more generous benefits in the final bill.

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally

On March 26, McSally’s office sent an email touting the robust benefits she opposed just three earlier. The stimulus bill “makes benefits more generous by adding $600 per week on top of what the state normally pays in unemployment and provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits,” the email said. “And provisions will ensure state and local governments and non-profits can pay unemployment to their employees.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn

Three days after voting for the amendment to curtail unemployment benefits, Cornyn bragged about the increased assistance in a press release. Cornyn described the legislation as a “lifeline” for families that will help “cover their rent, groceries, electric bills, and other expenses until they can make other arrangements, like apply for unemployment insurance under our beefed up provisions.”

The statement contained a section noting that the bill “expands unemployment insurance for Texas workers,” including “an extra $600 weekly federal UI benefit on top of the state maximum temporarily.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell

McConnell voted against additional benefits, but that did not stop him from touting them just three days later in a March 26 press release.

The release states that the CARES Act “provides additional benefits to each recipient of unemployment insurance for up to four months and an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits after state benefits are no longer available,” adding that it “helps states pay for certain additional unemployment insurance costs.”

Montana Sen. Steve Daines

On the same day the final legislation passed, Daines released a statement bragging about the assistance Montana workers will receive from the legislation.

“The aid package puts Montana workers first, expands unemployment insurance,” Daines’ statement noted. It also referenced “$250 billion for unemployment insurance — this is to give relief to workers who lost their jobs because of this pandemic.”

The statement did not note that the unemployment insurance would have been less generous if Daines had gotten his way.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst

Ernst described her vote for the CARES Act as “swift, bold action to deliver immediate aid to folks in Iowa, and across the country,” in a March 25 press release. She bragged that the legislation “bolsters unemployment benefits for workers and provides assistance to self-employed and contractors through a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.”

The statement does not mention her vote against the bolstered unemployment benefits.

Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler

Not all senators took credit for what they voted against.

Even though she is embroiled in a stock-selling scandal connected with the coronavirus crisis, Loeffler touted her opposition to more generous help for the unemployed during the pandemic.

The multimillionaire senator released a statement two days after voting for stingier unemployment benefits saying she was “disappointed that the amendment to fix the unemployment insurance provisions failed.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Fearful GOP Senators Drop Attacks On Obamacare

In 2014, Republican David Perdue ran for an open Senate seat in Georgia promising to “Repeal ObamaCare” and “replace it with more affordable free market solutions.”

Six years later, his campaign reelection site has removed all traces of that promise and says only that lawmakers must “finally get after the real drivers of spiraling health care costs.”

Perdue is not alone. A comparison of 2014 and 2020 campaign sites for Republicans in competitive Senate races finds that seven have made their original 2014 anti-Obamacare language disappear.

As public support has grown for the law, Senate Republicans have gone from making their opposition to Obamacare a major campaign thrust to being virtually silent on the issue. Public opinion on health care policy could be one reason.

On Thursday, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans now support the the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and just 37 percent oppose it.

This is a significant increase since November 2014, when Kaiser found 37 percent support for the law, compared to 46 percent opposition.

Other Senate Republicans have shifted their language on the issue in the years since.

Like Perdue, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) each highlighted their desire to get rid of the Affordable Care Act on their 2014 websites.

“Joni is staunchly opposed to the Obamacare law,” Ernst said back then, noting that she backed immediate repeal and replacement with unspecified “common sense, free-market alternatives that put patients first, and health care decisions back in the hands of each of us rather than Washington bureaucrats.”

Her website today promises merely to identify “solutions for affordable, quality health care for Iowans.”

Graham bragged in 2014 that he had opposed Obamacare “from Day One” and “has repeatedly voted to get rid of it. Whether it is Repeal and Replace, Defund, Opt-Out or Delay, he has consistently opposed this massive new entitlement.”

That section is no longer linked from his homepage, which makes no mention of healthcare and touts his “long history of relentlessly pursuing solutions over partisan politics.”

Capito’s 2014 site even included a special page for visitors to share their traumatic “Obamacare stories.”

“If you support repealing and replacing Obamacare with healthcare reforms that will actually work, or have your own story about how Obamacare has affected you and your family, we want to hear from you,” the site urged.

Today, she notes her work on juvenile cancer, pregnancy and childbirth fatalities, Alzheimer’s, “and investing in research to explore innovative treatments and cures for diseases,” but says nothing about “repeal and replace.”

Then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (who is now seeking his old seat against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones), then-Arizona Rep. Martha McSally (who was appointed to fill the late John McCain’s senate seat days after losing a 2018 senate race), Montana Sen. Steve Daines, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn also had overt anti-Obamacare language on their 2014 pages. Their current sites do not yet appear to mention Obamacare or any political issues.

GOP members notably shifted their focus following a failed attempt in 2017 to roll back the health care law. House Republicans passed a bill that year that would have repealed Obamacare and increased the number of uninsured Americans by tens of millions. It failed by one vote in the Republican controlled Senate.

In the wake of that vote, Republicans began circling around a spate of other topics. In the 2018 midterms, an array of vulnerable House Republicans also removed any trace of their Obamacare opposition from their campaign websites, choosing instead to promote their stances on subjects like immigration and their votes to pass the deficit busting GOP tax bill. Many still lost their seats in the blue wave that handed control of the chamber to the Democrats.

As Americans have seen Obamacare implemented and considered Donald Trump’s unpopular alternative, approval for the 2010 law has significantly increased over time.

Still, the Trump administration and Republican state attorneys general are seeking to get the entire law struck down in federal courts. Trump said earlier this month that if the challenge prevails and the GOP regains the House this November, “your healthcare, that I have now brought to the best place in many years, will become the best ever, by far.”

Thursday’s Kaiser poll showed just 35 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the Affordable Care Act, versus 54 percent disapproval.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

GOP Senator Urges Social Security Cuts ‘Behind Closed Doors’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) just said out loud what Republican politicians usually only talk about in secret meetings with their billionaire donors: The GOP wants to cut our earned Social Security benefits—and they want to do it behind closed doors so that they don’t have to pay the political price.

At a recent town hall, Ernst stated that Congress needs to “sit down behind closed doors” to “address Social Security.” She vaguely asserted, “A lot of changes need to be made in this system going forward.” But, she complained, if these changes were proposed in public, she would be accused of pushing “granny over a cliff.” It is not hard to figure out what “changes” she has in mind.

There are many “changes” that should be made to strengthen Social Security and make it even better than it already is. But none of those have to be done secretly.

Congress should address our nation’s looming retirement income crisis by increasing Social Security’s modest benefits. Congress should combat rising income and wealth inequality, by requiring the wealthiest Americans to contribute to Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us.

Congress should enact caregiver credits for those who perform essential but unpaid labor caring for their children, aged parents, and other family members. Those crucial caregivers should receive credit toward future Social Security benefits so they don’t retire into poverty.

In addition, Congress should update the way that Social Security’s benefits are adjusted so that they reflect the high health care and prescription drug costs that beneficiaries experience. The annual cost of living adjustment is intended to keep benefits from eroding, to allow beneficiaries to tread water. But without updating the measure of inflation, those benefits are losing value each year.

Those are just some of the improvements that Congress should make. But those are not the “changes” Ernst has in mind, because none of those changes need to be done behind closed doors. Numerous pieces of legislation proposing those changes have been introduced in Congress—though none by Senator Ernst or her Republican colleagues.

Indeed, 210 House Democrats have co-sponsored the Social Security 2100 Act, which expands Social Security’s modest benefits, while ensuring that all benefits can be paid in full and on time through the year 2100 and beyond. Every Democratic presidential candidate opposes cutting Social Security benefits, and nearly all support expanding them. Meanwhile, neither Donald Trump nor a single Republican member of Congress is sponsoring or cosponsoring any legislation that increases benefits or even ensures that they can be paid in full and on time beyond 2035.

No action is the same as supporting cuts. As Representative John Larson (D-CT), chairman of the House’s Social Security Subcommittee and the author of the Social Security 2100 Act, has explained, “The hard truth of the matter is that Republicans want to cut Social Security, and doing nothing achieves their goal.”

Larson and his Democratic colleagues are calling Republicans’ bluff. Under Democratic control, Congress has held numerous hearings on Social Security and the importance of protecting and expanding it. Larson and his Democratic colleagues are planning to have a recorded, public vote on the Social Security 2100 Act this fall.

The legislation has enough votes to pass the House of Representatives. But don’t expect Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring it to a vote in the Senate. And don’t expect Senator Ernst or her other Republican colleagues to urge him to do so.

With respect to Social Security, just as with the issue of legislating background checks and other overwhelmingly popular commonsense legislation to reduce the epidemic of gun violence, Republican politicians will not say what they are for. In the case of gun legislation, they block action. In the case of Social Security, they block action unless Democrats agree to go behind closed doors so the public doesn’t know who pushed the cuts.

We should not let Republican politicians get by with platitudes about “saving” and “fixing” Social Security. And we certainly shouldn’t let them hide behind closed doors and undermine our Social Security.

As polarized as the American people are over many issues, we are not polarized about Social Security. Republicans, Democrats and Independents, of all ages, races and genders, overwhelmingly agree. We understand that Social Security is more important than ever. We overwhelmingly reject any cuts to its modest benefits.

The only group that disagrees is Republican Party donors. As an ideological matter, they hate Social Security because it puts the lie to their assertions that government can’t work. They do not want to pay their fair share. Indeed, they would love to get their hands on the money now flowing to Social Security.

When President George W. Bush proposed destroying Social Security by privatizing it, the American people overwhelmingly rejected his plan. But Republican politicians learned the wrong lesson. As unpopular as Bush’s proposal was, he was at least willing to advocate for it publicly. Rather than recognize the proposal was the problem, Ernst and her fellow Republicans think the problem was being honest with the American people.

Like Bush, they want to enact a Social Security proposal that is deeply unpopular. But unlike Bush, they want to enact it in the dark of night. Fortunately, their Democratic colleagues won’t let them get away with that undemocratic act. Nor should the American people.

All of us who have a stake in Social Security—which is every one of us—should insist that those seeking our vote tell us if they support expanding or cutting Social Security. If they refuse to tell us, if they ramble on about their desire to “save” or “fix” or “strengthen” Social Security in secret, we should draw the obvious inference: They want to cut Social Security. We should use the election to ensure they do not have the power to do that—and certainly not behind closed doors.

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.