I’m Proud to be a Democrat

You would think that after what we’ve been through over the past few years and especially after the 2016 election, people would finally get past the false narrative that there’s no difference between the two major political parties.

I have a unique perspective on this. I served a Republican Congresswoman in the House of Representatives even though I am lifelong Democrat.

Sue Myrick was by many accounts a fair and reasonable Mayor of Charlotte. She was the first female mayor of Charlotte, elected in 1987, the year after my family moved here. In the early 90s, I was able to participate in Charlotte politics through my membership in the Youth Involvement Council. We frequently attended City Council and Mecklenburg County Commission meetings commenting and advising on matters related to youth in the community. I even spoke before each body a handful of times.

I didn’t know Mayor Myrick on a first name basis, but later, as she began her first year in office as a Freshman Representative, I was able to turn my previous interactions with her into an internship. I started with her in mid-May and worked until the first weeks of August. I was one of a few who stayed the full summer. I was only able to do the unpaid internship due to having an aunt who lived nearby in Maryland. I commuted in every day via train and walked from Union Station in the heat to her office in the Cannon House Office building.

I served the constituents of the 9th district, which at the time included a sizable portion of Gaston County. I answered phones, opened and sorted mail, gave tours of the Capitol and attended committee meetings. She served on the Budget, Science, and Small Business committees, so I attended meetings on Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, the growth of the internet and the International Space Station construction. I would collect materials, take notes, and report back. It was an incredible learning experience.

David outside of Rep. Myrick's old office in Gastonia
David outside of Rep. Myrick’s old office in Gastonia

But while I was there, I began to see what has only gotten worse since then: the villainization of the other side. This was mostly from other Republican interns and staffers, but the talk about Democrats was filled with poison.  So I kept quiet about being a Democrat, and just blended in. In the end, it turned me off from pursuing a career in politics for a long time.

In the past decades, Republican politicians have moved from being a conservative, loyal opposition to becoming intransigent, completely unwilling to either compromise or negotiate. I miss reasonable Republicans and it seems many Republicans miss being them too. In the past few weeks, several prominent Republicans stood up against partisan gerrymandering because it’s hurting their party as well. Now there is no doubt that Democrats have used gerrymandering in states they’ve controlled. But never to the degree and with the precision used by Republicans to degree that they are being challenged with being unconstitutional.

The Republican assaults on voting rights have clearly helped them. Gerrymandering dilutes Democratic votes. Voter ID laws force people, the poor and elderly especially, to get IDs which cost time and money, hindrances to voting on par with a poll tax. Voter roll purges have bumped millions of legitimate voters from the active voter rolls and several Republican-controlled state legislatures have even reduced the number of poll locations in targeted areas as well as reducing early voting hours. We must put a stop to these attacks on the core of our democracy- the ability of legal voters to access the polls. Fortunately, Democrats are fighting every day for our right to vote.

Last year’s election exposed some weaknesses and brought up some frustrations within the party for sure. But Democrats have been behind some of the most important actions in our government in the past 100 years. From FDR’s New Deal to LBJ’s Great Society. From Carter’s Camp David Accords to Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Democrats have lead the way on Civil Rights and LGBTQIA Rights. Democrats have led the fight for universal healthcare since 1945. Democrats have championed workers’ unions and consumer protections. Nothing has happened overnight, and some things took longer than they should have. But again and again, Democrats side with the American people over corporate interests. Democrats actually fight for the working class and don’t just pay lip service then turn their backs. We deserve a government that delivers on the services that our taxes pay for and consistently, it’s the Democratic party that pushes for justice and equality. I am proud to call myself a Democrat and to stand with fellow Democrats.

Universal Healthcare: How Do We Get There from Here?

Healthcare should be a right for all Americans. The best way for this to happen will be when we finally provide universal healthcare. Most Americans agree with this. Our problem has always been having the political will to enact it. It’s been a long, winding road.

In remarks to Congress, Harry Truman said, “Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection.” This was 1945. There had been prior attempts as far back as the 19th century, but none had ever succeeded. Indeed Truman did not succeed. But, he did plant the seed to the next phase of healthcare provision in this country.

The first successful national legislation came in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law under the appreciative gaze of Harry and Bess Truman. These programs changed the health trajectory of millions of Americans. Since that time, countless lives have been saved because more people have access to medical care.

But as we know all too well, the journey to a fully implemented national healthcare system has had many stops and starts. The closest we have come is when, in 2010, Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, which has allowed millions of people who were either priced out of the market or had pre-existing conditions, to finally get affordable insurance. The poor have greatly benefited from the program as have the sickest persons. Unfortunately, everyone has not.

Many insurance companies have withdrawn from the program based on the uncertainties of funding. They have deemed the risk too high. Some insureds have faced rising premiums due to insurance companies pulling out of counties, even out of entire states. In some places, there is only one option on the exchanges. Much of this can be attributed to a miscalculation of how many young, healthy people would sign up instead of paying the tax penalty and also because all states did not accept the Medicaid expansion. Obamacare opponents in Congress and in state legislatures have hamstrung the program, setting it up for failure.

The Republicans have made a cottage industry out of repealing and replacing Obamacare. The major problem is, they had eight years to come up with a viable alternative and they didn’t. Since the Trump Administration took office they’ve learned the hard way that it is far easier to campaign against something than it is to repeal and replace something. People don’t take kindly to having benefits taken away after they have come to depend on them. If you don’t believe me, ask those Republican legislators who braved town halls. Ask the switchboard operators and congressional staff who have had to field thousands of phone calls, emails and faxes from extremely angry constituents demanding that they keep their hands of their healthcare.

Americans have found themselves pulled in two directions. On the one hand, the Republicans offer a stingy plan that would return pre-existing condition restrictions and allow insurance companies to sell bare-bones insurance plans to healthy persons which would be insurance on paper only. Meanwhile, the sickest people would be shunted into “high-risk pools” where they would receive coverage but at exorbitant prices. By the CBO estimate, at least 22,000,000 people would be without insurance over the next ten years.

On the other hand, you have progressives offering universal and single-payer proposals. Senator Bernie Sanders just rolled out his much-anticipated plan for Medicare for All. Senator Sanders ran on a platform that was built on a foundation of universal healthcare and now he has put some flesh on the bones. His proposal calls for a four-year rollout for full implementation. The proposal has the backing of at least 20 other Democratic senators.

Universal healthcare must happen in this country.  Healthcare is not a privilege. It is a human right. We are at a crossroads where the cost of medical treatment and drugs is completely out of control. Doctors and drug companies control the prices and government programs already in place are not allowed to negotiate pricing with pharmaceutical companies. The major problem that must be addressed is the rising cost of insurance and care. Unless we can come to a place where all Americans have healthcare that won’t bankrupt them, we will continue to see a downward spiral in the health of this nation. We will see the buying power of consumers further decrease. Universal healthcare is a key to prosperity.

But there is the immediate problem of what to do with the hundreds of thousands of people who would lose jobs were the insurance industry to become obsolete and unnecessary. It is estimated that there are over 600,000 persons employed in the health insurance industry according to ThinkProgress. Also, because hospitals and medical practices have built their billing around the high costs they have been able to charge, there is a fear that there would be hospital closures and massive layoffs associated with the government’s ability to negotiate and regulate medical and drug costs.

I believe healthcare is a right for all Americans. But, I also believe we must be careful how we implement any new government single payer options. We need to make universal coverage our goal, but we have to implement steps toward it that will not harm our economy and cause massive job loss.

I believe we should first, shore up the ACA. A good place to start would be to ensure that subsidies for low-income persons will continue. Unless these subsidies continue, up to 7 million people could be priced out of the market. I would increase the subsidy amounts so that people who make up to 60,000 a year may receive the cost-sharing subsidy.

Second, the individual mandate must be continued and strengthened so that insurance providers can offset the cost of paying for their sicker consumers. I would continue the current tax penalty, but increase the amount they will have to pay should they choose not to purchase insurance. I would also withhold any refund that would be available until proof of insurance is provided. Just as you cannot drive your car without insurance, you shouldn’t be able to go without penalty if you don’t have health insurance.

Once the markets are stabilized, I believe we must restore the public option that was in the original version of the Affordable Care Act. This was removed at the insistence of the Republicans as well as former Democrat turned Independent Joe Lieberman. Several proposals have been put forward on how to do this.  Senator Chris Murphy proposes that we allow people to buy into Medicare. This differs from Senator Sanders’ plan because his Medicare for All does not have premiums. You don’t buy in, you are automatically in. Most recipients of Medicare are satisfied with their coverage and enjoy benefits at a lower cost with low deductibles. The thinking is that when enough people are enrolled in Medicare, the private insurance market will gradually diminish and this will pave the way for single-payer, universal coverage.

We must maintain acceptable levels of benefits, including women’s health concerns. While abortion remains controversial, I would seek to put in place adequate funding for contraceptive services which includes safe, legal abortion. We must not continue making women’s lives and the choices they make to control their own bodies a secondary concern when it comes to healthcare. Women deserve to be able to access the full range of services they require to have healthy, happy lives.

While private insurance will decrease, there would still be opportunities for business by selling supplements. Coverage for things like cosmetic surgery or other elective procedures not considered medically necessary should be augmented on the private market and not at the expense of the taxpayers. Many Americans already purchase Medicare supplements to offset costs Medicare doesn’t cover. There will still be a need for these.

Once people have moved to this single payer option, then we move toward free Medicare for all.

Of course, it must be funded. John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan has put forth a bill, H.R. 676, which proposes funding from an array of sources.

The program is funded: (1) from existing sources of government revenues for health care, (2) by increasing personal income taxes on the top 5% of income earners, (3) by instituting a progressive excise tax on payroll and self-employment income, (4) by instituting a tax on unearned income, and (5) by instituting a tax on stock and bond transactions. Amounts that would have been appropriated for federal public health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), are transferred and appropriated to carry out this bill

Yes, there will be tax increases but they would be distributed based on income level. This would be taken out of your paycheck. Where you see deductions for Social Security and FICA, you would add a deduction for healthcare. The cost would be modest compared to the current premiums paid for health insurance. Also, the government already has billions of dollars dedicated to healthcare in the budget. Naturally, this would roll over into any new plan. One suggested addition to any legislation passed has been to add a line item to paychecks now that require your employers to show what they’re contributing to your healthcare premiums so when changes are made to the system, it will be harder for employers to keep the premium savings without compensation changes to the worker.

There are various ideas concerning a time table for moving to universal coverage. The Conyers bill sets a deadline of two years, while the Sanders proposal is four years. I recognize the longer we delay in implementing universal coverage, the more lives hang in the balance.

But the healthcare system in this country is both complex and cumbersome. There are trade offs to any change. I believe there needs to be adequate time allotted for the markets to adjust and absorb the new way of providing healthcare for Americans. I tend to believe it will take longer than four years for a complete transition and I believe adequate time should be given. If we fail to get this right, we will end up breaking both the healthcare industry and the economy in the process.

The time has come to move from conversation to action. I believe the American people deserve it. We must do our best to see to it that a parent no longer has to worry about cost when trying to take care of their sick child. The time has come where it doesn’t bankrupt a person when they have to care for an elderly parent. The time has come. The question is, will we have the will to do this? As your Congressman, I will work hard every day to make it so.

Defending the Dreamers

The decision to end the DACA program proves, yet again, the current administration’s craven heartlessness and lack of comprehension of the economic impacts of their desicions. Today our Attorney General announced the end of the program, claiming it was illegal yet announcing it will continue for six more months. President Trump later followed it up with a tweet that suggested if Congress wasn’t able to fix it legislatively during that six month period he would revisit the decision.

We need to reform our immigration process so people in search of a better life in America have a legal path to do so. We’re talking about human lives, moms and dads seeking a better life for their children.

I have some family roots that extend beyond the American Revolution, but many more came to America from overseas, often passing through Ellis Island. What happened to the America where people of any origin were accepted with open arms as long as they were willing to work hard? Why can’t we have a system that both protects American jobs AND accepts more than just highly educated immigrants into its ranks? 

Right wing media suggests that people who come here illegally are doing so to come in and take advantage of benefits reserved for citizens. We know that this is just not the case. In fact, if they are able to gain employment, they are paying taxes on their salaries without gaining the earned benefits those taxes pay for.

DACA recipients are ineligible for Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, Welfare, Section 8, ACA. The average DACA recipient is 26 and came to the US at age 6. 91% are employed; 100% have no criminal record. They pay $495 to renew every two years. Ending the DACA program is unwarranted and unwise. These are solutions for problems that don’t exist and deceiving the American people in the process. If any deserve a path to citizenship it is these young people.

America is greater for its diversity. It shouldn’t matter if you are first generation or tenth generation American. If you pledge to our allegiance, if you swear to uphold our Constitution, and if you work hard you deserve the opportunity to become a citizen. 

As your congressman I will work hard for ALL people including immigrants and dreamers to help reform our immigration system to better reflect what our country was founded on.