Last week, Senator Ben Sasse received gushing praise for his maiden Senate speech from both the national and local media. In that speech, Sasse decried the fact that the Senate doesn’t work anymore to solve the problems of the U.S. He criticized what he termed: “bare knuckled politics, “radical tactics,” and the use of Senate rules for “shirts and skins exercises.” Sasse said the Senate should be “reducing polarization” and reformed to solve what he termed “generational problems.”
It’s pretty easy for somebody who is unfamiliar with Sasse’s record to praise this speech. He is certainly correct when he told us that the Senate isn’t solving the long terms problems that the U.S. faces. However, history didn’t begin when Senator Sasse took the microphone last week on the floor of the Senate.
Sasse’s own record as a candidate and a U.S. Senator directly contradicts the eloquent rhetoric in his speech. As a candidate, Sasse prognosticated that the Affordable Care Act would cause America to “cease to exist.” This was an important statement because the extreme right of the Republican party is consumed with the belief that Obama and his policies will ruin America. This apocalyptic vision causes conservatives in the Congress – like Sasse – to adopt scorched earth tactics that have harmed the country.
Conservatives who genuinely believe that America is doomed are willing to adopt any tactic – regardless of how toxic and harmful – in what they believe to be a last ditch effort to save the country. That’s why right wingers like Sasse have repeatedly supported government shutdowns and threats to default on the obligations of the U.S.
As a candidate, Sasse supported the 2013 government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs. Moreover, as a Senator, Sasse voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security when terrorists were threatening the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Sasse also recently voted against a bill that funded the government and raised the debt ceiling. If Sasse had gotten his way, we would be going through another shutdown right now and the U.S. would have stiffed it’s creditors.
Sasse’s repeated support for government shutdowns isn’t the only dysfunction he has supported. Nebraska’s junior Senator recently put a hold on all nominees to the Department of Health and Human Services until he gets answers on why CoOpportunity Insurance collapsed earlier this year. As I discussed in another piece, it would be much more productive for Sasse to partner with the likes of Representative Brad Ashford to find bi-partisan solutions to improve Obama Care.
Senator Sasse’s support of obstructive tactics stems from his refusal to compromise and seek out bi-partisan solutions. As a candidate, Sasse signalled his lack of interest in compromise by soliciting and receiving the endorsement of Ted Cruz – one of the most extreme members of the U.S. Cruz is known for saying: “I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise.”
Since he has been elected, Sasse has voted with Cruz and other radicals in opposition to must pass legislation that had overwhelming bi-partisan support. In April, Sasse voted against the Medicare doctor fix – which passed the Senate by a 92-8 margin. This bill passed less than three hours before federal officials would have reduced payments to health-care providers by 21%. If that had occurred, many doctors and health care providers would’ve refused to treat senior citizens. Moreover, the passage of this legislation was hailed by members of Congress in both parties as a bi-partisan triumph.
Sasse hasn’t only opposed health care for senior citizens, he has even voted against health care for our veterans. Just last month, Sasse voted with 3 other extreme Senators against a bill that would have kept Veterans’ hospitals open. The bill to provide health care to our veterans passed by a 91-4 margin. Even Senator Fischer voted for it. The Veterans Administration had indicated that it might have to start closing hospitals if Congress had refused to pass this bill. Despite the high stakes involved in this legislation, Sasse voted to close down Veterans’ hospitals. The Omaha World Herald reported that a “Sasse spokesman declined comment on what the senator would have preferred Congress to do.”
So far in his brief Senate career, Sasse hasn’t really demonstrated any desire to reform the Senate or make it work – outside of his rhetoric. I always like to say that actions speak louder than words. In any event, giving Sasse the benefit of the doubt, what so-called “generational problems” does he want to solve if the Senate were to work again?
In his much ballyhooed maiden speech, Sasse said that our “entitlement budgeting is entirely fake” and called for “telling the truth” about what he termed “entitlement over promising.” These kind of statements have to be read in context with Sasse’s earlier claim – shared by many right wingers – that the U.S. is going broke and will soon be like Greece.
What that means is that Sasse supports privatizing Social Security and turning it over to Wall Street. Moreover, Sasse supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age and instituting means testing.
Sasse’s plans for Medicare are equally extreme. Sasse – along with the other members of Nebraska’s Republican Congressional delegation – has voted to end Medicare as we know it and turn it over to the private health insurance industry. His plan would break our promises to senior citizens and turn Medicare into a voucher system.
The Fremont Senator’s support for gutting Social Security and Medicare is based upon his so-called concern for “fiscal responsibility.” That so-called “concern” didn’t stop Sasse from voting for a repeal of the estate tax earlier this year. This tax cut would only benefit the top 0.2% of Americans and add $269 billion to the deficit. There has yet to be any evidence that any farm has ever been sold off to pay the estate tax in recent history.
The bottom line here is that there is a significant disconnect between Sasse’s pretty rhetoric and his actual record. Moreover, if he gets his way and the Senate works in the way he wants it to work, Nebraska’s senior citizens will pay a huge price in order to finance yet another tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.
It is obvious that Sasse doesn’t share our values – Nebraska values. We Nebraskans believe in a secure and dignified retirement for our senior citizens. Most Nebraskans don’t want to go back to the days where senior citizens were sent to poor houses and poor farms after they went broke.
It is our duty as Nebraska Democrats to point out to the media and other opinion leaders that Sasse’s rhetoric about fixing the Senate is directly contradicted by his actual record. One cannot reconcile the two. We must also inform our fellow citizens about Sasse’s radical vision for the country – a vision not shared by most Nebraskans.