Two news stories really caught our eye this week.First was a study that found the U.S. has a higher child mortality rate than other wealthy nations despite our greater per capita spending on health care for children. The second was news that a stopgap measure to continue funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through March is going to start running out of money next week. Why are our nation’s children suffering compared to other wealthy countries? Our aberrant political environment and economic policies over the last 30 years have resulted in growing economic inequality that hurts everyone but especially innocent children. And now, as noted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, “We have a Republican leadership more concerned about throwing 30 million off healthcare and giving tax breaks to billionaires than worrying about the health of children”.
The medical study published this week examined mortality data for the U.S. and nineteen wealthy comparator nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for children ages 0-19 from 1961-2010 using publicly available data. In 1961, the U.S. had lower child mortality than the other countries. While child mortality progressively declined for all countries over the next fifty years, mortality in the U.S. has been higher than in peer nations since the 1980s. According to the study, “the lagging US performance amounted to over 600,000 excess deaths.”
From 2001 to 2010 the risk of death in the U.S. was 76% greater for infants and 57% greater for children ages 1-19. During the same period, children ages 15-19 were eighty-two times more likely to die from gun homicide in the U.S. because gun homicide is virtually non-existent in the other countries which have much lower gun ownership. Incidentally, our U.S. Representative, Erik Paulsen, has an A+ rating from the NRA and is such a rabid opponent of gun control he has actually voted 13 times to block the “No Fly, No Buy” legislation which would ban suspected terrorists on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying guns.
In discussing the reason for the fact that the U.S. has ranked the worst in childhood deaths since the 1990’s, the study’s lead author, Ashish Thakrar, said “It really seems to be the impact of our fragmented health care system.” Thakrar also pointed to the rise in childhood poverty in the 1980’s that coincided with the United States falling behind peer countries on health outcomes. When we have record levels of economic inequality, children are going to bear the brunt of it.
One way of protecting our children is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP was created in 1997 and has reduced by half the number of children who are uninsured. It’s been reauthorized by bipartisan majorities of Congress in the past but this year Republicans failed to renew CHIP in September after spending the first nine months trying to repeal Obamacare and then devoting their time to passing a tax bill which will increase the federal debt by $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years in order give tax breaks mostly to corporations and the wealthy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, reauthorizing CHIP for ten years would actually decrease the deficit by $6 billion. Those statistics really clarify Republican priorities, don’t they? Increasing the deficit to fund tax breaks for the wealthy while dropping the ball on healthcare for children somehow seems right to them.
Finally, a month after CHIP had lapsed, the House of Representatives voted to allocate $2.85 billion to CHIP that they claimed would carry the program through March. Erik Paulsen bragged about his vote in a November 3, 2017 tweet. But what he didn’t say was that Republicans insisted on funding CHIP by cutting Medicare and public health programs created by the Affordable Care Act, including funding for prenatal care, children's receiving preventive care, vaccines, flu prevention and combatting the opioid epidemic. In other words, the Republican “solution” was merely robbing Peter to pay Paul. Moreover, it turns out the amount of money they allocated was based on a gross miscalculation and some states are going to start running out of money after January 19. You’d think that Paulsen, who brags about being “a math guy”, would have figured that out.
Shame on Erik Paulsen and his Republican colleagues for treating our children so shabbily. The GOP platform says that the party believes in American exceptionalism -“the notion that our ideas and principles as a nation give us a unique place of moral leadership in the world”. When our society has a level of economic inequality that means our children have a higher rate of mortality than children from other wealthy countries, we have sacrificed any claim to a unique place of moral leadership.
Replace Erik Paulsen.
There have been numerous demonstrations calling for Rep. Erik Paulsen to hold town hall meetings but he’s refused. We recently found a video recording of a town hall meeting Paulsen held on August 2, 2010 courtesy of Michael McIntee. After watching that, it’s easy to understand why Paulsen doesn’t hold town halls; he’s awful. It almost makes you feel sorry for him, until you realize that what makes his performance so abhorrent is his blind adherence to conservative memes that primarily benefit businesses and the donor class but penalize the middle and lower classes and increase economic inequality.
In light of the recent vote on the $1.5 trillion Republican tax plan that will increase the national debt in order to give tax breaks to large corporations and the donor class, his 2010 town hall meeting was almost laughably ironic. He claimed then that the most difficult problem facing the country was the projected increase in the national debt. One constituent astutely pointed out that we need taxes to pay for our schools, roads and so much else that contributes to our quality of life and noted that if Congress let the Bush tax cuts expire and returned to the higher level of taxes that existed during the Reagan administration, the national debt problem would be less. Paulsen responded that he didn’t want to terminate the Bush tax cuts because that would “punish” businesses and ruin economic growth. In fact, the evidence shows that to be false. As noted in an earlier blog, in 2012, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service published a report that flatly contradicted the conservative ideology that lowering tax rates boosts economic growth.
At the 2010 town hall, Paulsen was also confronted by a constituent who said that people voted for him because they thought he was a moderate but that after being elected, he has acted as a conservative ideologue. See the video at 38 minutes, 52 seconds. Paulsen denied the claim, saying “I vote what’s right for the district . . . based on constituent feedback”. That is also demonstrably false.
As noted in our last blog, the day before Paulsen voted to repeal and replace Obamacare on May 4, 2017, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a poll showing that residents of Hennepin County, Paulsen’s constituents, overwhelmingly supported Obamacare and opposed repeal and replacement of the law. Paulsen knew or should have known of those poll numbers and he’d previously gotten an earful of “constituent feedback” from the protests against repeal and replacement right outside his office window.
Paulsen’s vote for the House Republican tax plan was clearly not what’s right for the district. Lori Sturdevant pointed out in a recent Star Tribune Op-Ed that the House bill’s elimination of the long-standing deduction for state and local taxes is a particular blow for all Minnesotans and especially to Paulsen’s constituents in the Third Congressional District because half of us claimed that deduction in 2016. According to an article by the Hennepin and Ramsey County Commissioners, the loss of that deduction puts pressure on state and local governments to spend less on education for our children and grandchildren, on infrastructure which all of us use, and the social safety net for those who cannot help themselves. Those public resources, paid by taxes, of value to us all, are what make our communities thrive. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said ”Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Eleven Republican Congressmen from other high tax/high services states refused to vote in favor of the House bill when they saw how it would adversely affect their constituents. But Paulsen voted against the clear interests of his constituents to support a conservative ideology that has never worked to the greater good of us all.
Cartoon by Marshall Ramsey
Before 2017, Erik Paulsen, like most House Republicans, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (i.e., ACA or Obamacare) more than sixty times without a viable replacement. They knew those votes were a meaningless exercise when Obama was President because he would veto any repeal legislation.
But after Trump was elected and Paulsen knew he would sign a repeal of Obamacare, Paulsen again repeatedly voted to repeal it, apparently without any consideration for the millions of Americans who would lose their health insurance coverage under the Republican plan. Republicans were in such a rush to push their plan through the House they didn’t even wait to get the Congressional Budget Office’s evaluation of its impact. Paulsen simply didn’t care how many people would lose their health insurance.
Why are we bringing this up again now that the Republican Repeal and Replace debacle is over (at least for the time being)? Because a closer look at Paulsen’s behavior on that issue is instructive about his motivations and indicates who he really listens to and what he represents.
When Paulsen voted to repeal and replace Obamacare with a plan that would deprive millions of Americans of health insurance, was he voting to represent the views of the constituents in our congressional district? No. A poll commissioned by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and published on May 3, 2017, the day before the House vote on healthcare, found that “Minnesotans living in and around the Twin Cities overwhelmingly support the ACA and oppose efforts to repeal and replace the law.” Paulsen had to be aware of that. For several months before that vote, many of Paulsen’s constituents contacted his offices in Eden Prairie, MN and Washington to say they disapproved of repealing Obamacare and asked him to hold town hall meetings so they could better inform him of their views. Paulsen refused to hold any town hall meetings. When his office was asked how many people had called to express support for, or opposition to, the repeal of Obamacare, the staff admitted they kept track of those numbers but refused to disclose them. If the majority of office contacts had been in favor of repeal, don’t you think Paulsen’s office would have disclosed that?
When the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare was finally voted on in the House on May 4, 2017, it passed by only four votes and Erik Paulsen was one of them. Why did Paulsen vote to repeal the healthcare law despite the fact that he knew that was contrary to the wishes of the majority of his constituents? Part of the reason was no doubt due to his conservative trickle-down ideology. But you can’t help wondering how much of it was due to prodding and support from the American Action Network.
The American Action Network (AAN) is a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, meaning it is supposed to be a social welfare group that spends less than 50% of its money on politics. Under Citizens United, the amount of donations and expenditures is unlimited. Such organizations typically influence elections through advertising and conservative groups far outspend liberals. 501(c)(4) groups like AAN do not have to identify their donors. Thus, the membership of AAN’s “network” is secret. The “About” page of AAN claims that it is mission is to advocate for “center-right” ideas. But if you search for the term “conservative” on their website you’ll see they often reveal their bias and explicitly call themselves conservative.
American Action Network has advocated repeal of Obamacare since the law was passed in 2010 and claims it spent more than any other group to repeal it. In the 2016 election, AAN spent almost $400,000 in our district in door-to-door and phone call get-out-the-vote efforts for Paulsen. A couple of months later, in January 2017, AAN launched a digital and TV ad campaign here and in a number of other Congressional districts urging repeal of Obamacare and replacement with a Republican plan that AAN claimed would provide more choices, better care, with lower costs and claimed that people with pre-existing conditions would be protected. You can see that ad here. They also ran ads specifically praising Paulsen for “fighting for” the Republican plan. Of course the AAN ads failed to mention that under the Republican plan tens of millions of Americans would lose their healthcare insurance, the Medicaid program would be cut severely and that individuals with pre-existing conditions would be at risk.
On May 5, 2017, the day after Paulsen rejected his constituents’ views and voted for the Republican plan, AAN announced a $2 million TV advertising blitz to thank Congressmen who had voted for repeal. AAN’s Executive Director said, “Conservatives applaud President Trump and Speaker Ryan’s strong leadership to ensure conservative lawmakers kept a long-held promise and delivered historic reforms.” That says a lot about the degree to which AAN and Paulsen are conservative and also makes you wonder who Paulsen made his “promise” to. We thought he had promised to represent the constituents of Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, not some secret right wing network with a conservative agenda
A lot of people think Rep. Erik Paulsen is a "Minnesota Nice," moderate Republican. But as the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, we’ve seen Paulsen follow right along. While his votes should represent a district that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election by a substantial margin, a closer look at both his supporters and his votes reveals that he is not just conservative, he is an ideologue for his party.
Despite the fact that Paulsen claims he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election, to date he has voted in favor of the Trump agenda 98.1% of the time. This is clearly out of step with the views of the majority of citizens in the Third Congressional District who voted for Hillary Clinton.
Paulsen’s American Health Care Act Votes
Paulsen’s support of the Trump agenda includes his vote in favor of the Republican-sponsored American Health Care Act (repealing Obamacare), despite the fact that only 17% of Americans supported it. Moreover, he made that vote before the Congressional Budget Office had an opportunity to evaluate how many millions of Americans would lose their health insurance. Paulsen didn’t care what the number was—which turned out to be tens of millions of people—because he, like other conservative House Republicans, simply did not care.
Repealing the Stream Protection Act
Supporting the Trump agenda, Paulsen also voted to repeal a regulation which protected thousands of miles of streams from coal mining debris (see also Vox.com),
Allowing the Mentally Incompetent to Buy Guns
He also voted to disapprove a common sense rule submitted by the Social Security Administration that would have placed restrictions on gun purchases by individuals who have been deemed so mentally incompetent that they are unable to manage their own federal benefit payments. Allowing the purchase of guns by mentally incompetent people to satisfy the extreme NRA agenda is out of step with the sensibilities of Minnesota's Third Congressional District.
Selling Consumer’s Internet Privacy
Paulsen also voted to disapprove a rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission protecting the privacy of customers of broadband and other telecommunications services. This bill was so contrary to common sense Minnesota values that even the Republican-controlled Minnesota State Legislature shortly thereafter enacted a state law to protect Minnesota consumers.
Protecting Donald Trump
Seventy-five percent of all Americans and even a majority of Republicans believe Trump should disclose his tax returns, as has every other President since Richard Nixon. Still, Paulsen has repeatedly voted along party lines in the House Ways and Means Committee to help shield Trump’s tax returns from public view (see articles in The Atlantic & City Pages).
Paulsen’s Links to the Koch Brothers
In retrospect, we shouldn’t be surprised at Paulsen’s extremism because the signs were there all along. When he was a Minnesota state legislator he was a member of the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by the Koch brothers and other CEOs, and today ALEC proudly claims him as an alumnus. He has continued to receive political contributions from the arch-conservative Koch brothers as recently as September 2017.
Support for the Tea Party
At a January 12, 2012 Tea Party event, Paulsen was secretly recorded saying, "Two years ago you wouldn't have seen the Tea Party Groups that are cropping up. And now they’re here and WE'VE got to keep them here and WE have to keep the energy and passion alive". See this CD3 YouTube video at 1:00:26 . The majority of voters in the Third Congressional District has never been in favor of the extremist Tea Party or identified with it.
Paulsen’s Ratings Speak for Themselves
It’s also informative to consider the evaluations of Paulsen’s record available at Votesmart by organizations on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. For example:
Minnesotans for Real Representation is a grassroots organization in Minnesota's Third District with the goal of replacing Erik Paulsen in 2018.