Demand transparency. Your Healthcare is at stake.
I’ve had some readers tell me they have been called to take a poll over the last few days. Judging by the volume of people I know who have received the poll indicates it is a decent sample size. One of those individuals said, “it was obvious they were building up Kevin Cramer.” Apparently, the poll is being conducted by Central Marketing Research. Below is what I’ve learned from a couple of people who have taken the poll.
Kevin Cramer really wants you to know he does town halls. In fact, it seems like that is one of the top items he intends to run on. I’ve pointed out before, Cramer is padding his stats here. Some are town-hall-in-name-only because sitting on a radio show with a friendly right-wing host shouldn’t count as a town hall. He obviously views this as one of his strengths.
Cramer is also trying desperately to spin one of the many unpopular positions he took at the beginning of this year. You may recall in January, the Republican-led House of Representatives unexpectedly voted to weaken the independent ethics office. Cramer joined those trying to gut the ethics rules for the incoming Congress. Less than 24 hours later, after pressure from the public and President Trump himself, House Republicans reversed their vote. Some have asked why Cramer wanted to weaken ethics oversight of Congress. They often point to the fact he paid his wife and at one time his children using campaign donations. By including the question in this poll, he is clearly worried of his earlier vote.
The poll asked favorable and unfavorable views of Rick Becker, Rick Berg, and Tom Campbell – all of whom have shown interest in running against Heidi Heitkamp who was also included in the poll. It is interesting to note all three of them likely have the ability to self-fund a campaign. Becker from his plastic surgery business, Campbell from his farming operations (of which he’s received millions in farm subsidies), and Berg through his association with Goldmark Properties (though he has been ashamed to publicly admit it in the past).
It is not clear who paid for the poll. I’m inclined to think Cramer’s campaign is behind it judging by the message testing against Heitkamp and for Cramer. The other option could be the Senate Republican PAC. However, you should remember just two months ago Republicans began to grow weary of Cramer after repeated public blunders including criticizing women for wearing white pant suits and defending White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks on Hitler. Republicans began to woo Tom Campbell who said he’ll run for whatever is available in 2018.
Regardless of whether Cramer or the Senate Republicans paid for the poll, we know the race will be one to watch. What will be very telling is next quarter’s fundraising reports. Heitkamp raised $1.6 million in the first quarter compared to Cramer’s $322,000. Will Heitkamp grow her cash-on-hand lead? Will Cramer find something to run on besides holding “town halls?” We’ll be watching.
A lot of people thought the TrumpCare plan rushed through the U.S. House was going to be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate. The plan, supported by Rep. Kevin Cramer, will push an additional 23 million Americans off of health insurance according to the nonpartisan CBO. Well, the effort to make massive changes to private health insurance and Medicaid coverage is potentially moving forward. A group of GOP Senators has been holding working meetings away from the public on health care reform. According to reports, they may wrap up their final bill this evening. Here is the kicker: Senate Republicans have no plans of letting the public see their changes.
Why on Earth do our elected officials think it is somehow okay to make significant changes to something we all rely upon – like health care access – and keeping us in the dark? That is a question U.S. Senator John Hoeven needs to answer. Recently, people around North Dakota have asked, “Where is Hoeven?” They are not only referring to his silence on the health care overhaul, but also to the fact he has not held a town hall to interact with his employers, North Dakota citizens.
Here are a few more questions Senator John Hoeven should answer for us in regards to their health care plan:
- If the Senate health care plan forces an estimated 23 million Americans off of health insurance, will you vote for it?
- If the Senate health care plan raises premiums on older Americans, will you vote for it?
- Your colleague, Senator Bill Cassidy, estimates North Dakota would see a 400% increase needed in state dollars to fund Medicaid Expansion. Do you support pushing that burden onto the State of North Dakota?
- Will you vote for a bill if it makes insurance more expensive for 8 million veterans?
- You always talk about “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” If the Senate health care plan makes it more difficult for Americans to retain health insurance while switching jobs, will you vote for it?
- If none of these provisions are in the Senate bill, what is? There must be something negative you don’t want the public to see.
- Do you support the strategy of keeping secrets from the people who employ you?
We deserve these answers and to have a say in the policy that impacts each and every one of us. As I mentioned above, Senator Hoeven likes to focus on jobs. Health care makes up a significant portion of our economy. Those who are employed in the field deserve to know what the plan is and how it might impact their career. All of us as consumers deserve to know what is in the plan and how it might impact our long-term health.
While the James Comey hearing captured our attention yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the repeal of oversight for Wall Street institutions. Rep. Kevin Cramer has been a vocal proponent of the changes. The Financial Choice Act, as they’re calling it, would remove increased oversight of “Too big to fail” banks and diminish consumer protections created by Dodd-Frank (2010). To cover up this roll back, proponents point to the changes community banks will receive under the new law.
You may recall, Dodd-Frank was created and implemented after the 2007-2008 market collapse. The law’s intent was to prevent risky, deceptive, and unfair financial practices that, in part, led to the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Greater oversight of Wall Street and new consumer protections under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) were key components of the measure. Both of these components are weakened under the act pushed by Cramer.
All of these pro-Wall Street and anti-consumer changes are pushed under the guise that the bill was intended to help community banks. Regulations and red-tape on lending for local community banks will be reduced. That is a good thing. However, if you want to help community banks simply do it. There is no need to couple these changes. The outright rollback of oversight on Wall Street alone is unpopular, and politicians like Cramer in Washington know that. This is why they placed the changes in the same bill.
The changes in consumer protection blatantly interject politics in the process. Instead of having the ability to rapidly adjust to the fast-paced changes of the financial sector, the bill would require Congressional approval to consumer protection updates. We’ve seen how fast things move through Congress in Washington even under one-party rule. Nor could the CFPB charge hefty fines for unfair and deceptive practices. Remember Wells Fargo created millions of fake accounts to receive customer fees. When they got caught by the CFPB, they were fined $185 million dollars. Under Cramer’s changes, the CFPB would not be allowed to do so in the future.
On top of weakening consumer protections, House Republicans want the CFPB to go through the appropriations process for funding. Currently, the CFPB is funded through a formula of transfers in the Federal Reserve. This allows a level of independence. Republicans have wanted this change since 2012. Add the impacts of campaign donations and the banking lobby, and it isn’t a stretch to wonder if consumer protection will be a priority under the new GOP rules. Just look at how they’d like to treat people with preexisting conditions with Trumpcare for example.
Congress could ease the burden on community banks like those in North Dakota. They can do that without rolling back oversight of the too big to fail institutions on Wall Street. In this bill, the smaller local banks are being used as cover to give big breaks to big banks. Don’t fall for the bait and switch.
Did I miss something? When did it become frowned upon for a member of a political party to say simply being the party of “No!” wasn’t their job? Why is it surprising for someone in elected office to want to find common ground and get work done when possible, and push back when there is none? When the hell did we stop expecting that our officials and government would work for us and not just a segment of a political party?
Where to begin? It appears some local antagonists partnered with angry politicians fuel the fire of dissent. Unfortunately, too many good and decent people fall for their partisan schemes. Let me give you an example. A Republican Legislator recently took to a paper’s opinion section saying the “moderate Democrat experiment has failed” North Dakota. This opinion was pushed during a politically popular time for the right to criticize U.S. Senator Heitkamp after a vote. Mind you; this was the same Representative so worried about “moderate Democrats” that he introduced legislation in a panic so that if the “moderate Democrat” Heitkamp ran for Governor in 2016 – and won – she couldn’t appoint another “moderate Democrat” to the U.S. Senate. This is simply a continuation of an attempt to turn people away from moderates. Don’t buy the chest pounding meant to appease special interests and campaign donors.
Meanwhile, the strategy from paid instigators to divide an already marginalized Democratic party continues. Beyond simply sharing what I think are personally misguided grievances from frustrated Democrats, these message peddlers like to add nuances in hopes it will stick with voters. A recent example of characterizing campaign ads as “desperation” while neglecting to acknowledge the video they used to self-promote, and publicly divide was delivered from a campaign tracker. Trackers simply follow around public officials like stink on trash, and nothing smells more “desperate” than a political paparazzi who holds their phone, records your every move, and then gives it to media to smear your innocent words this early in a potential political campaign.
It isn’t just people on the right. I understand some in the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party are upset at leaders like Heitkamp. Interestingly, many in this same group applauded her for the vote that angered the Republican Legislator mentioned above. She is stuck in the middle which is where I believe a lot of North Dakota voters are. Remember, a recent poll showed Heitkamp with a 60% approval in ND. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s their right to express it. Some of them I consider friends even though they’ve used creative, and at times unflattering, adjectives about me before uttering my name to others. I can already imagine the outrage this post will create among them. That’s fine. I believe they’re missing the picture, and it could cost them in the long run by falling for these orchestrated non-stories, and by demanding more left-leaning purity.
It seems to the left, a “moderate” is discouraged and shunned as a sellout of their convictions. To the right, a “moderate” is viewed as dangerous to their manufactured brand and must be identified as an outsider. A “whacko-liberal!” they like to call us. All of it divides, and we sit in a stalemate yelling at each other over social media. It leads nowhere. Meanwhile, those in the center, of which there are many, looking for progress become frustrated and disenfranchised. I’m reminded of a line from Stealers Wheel:
Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you. – Stealers Wheel
Look, I don’t agree with every vote Heitkamp has taken, but I trust her. In fact, I’ve never agreed with every vote of any individual. Self-righteous purity tests are complete nonsense. An elected official who abides by them on either side lacks individuality, thoughtfulness, and leadership. This rigidity is the same sort of tactic used by the Tea Party and was despised by those on the left. Now, it seems to be embraced. That isn’t how this works. Our government is based on compromise, or at least it used to be.
Last week I asked if North Dakota was in a position to pay more for Medicaid Expansion. Under the Republican repeal and replacement of Obamacare – which was enthusiastically supported by Rep. Kevin Cramer – that is exactly what would be expected of our state. A new projection by Republican U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy states North Dakota could expect to pay 400% more for the Medicaid Expansion population.
The state’s dismal budget situation makes that transition more difficult. The question is, will the Republican Legislature be willing to pick up a 400% increase in state spending for the Medicaid Expansion population, or would they simply drop that coverage and potentially leave those covered in limbo. In addition, it is not just the coverage of individual’s health care, Medicaid Expansion has been a life line for rural hospitals. It wasn’t just consumer advocates pressing the Legislature to expand Medicaid under Obamacare; it was the hospitals and the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce. The expansion has been good for North Dakota business. With all that said, I’m still not optimistic because of the unsustainable budget the Republicans have left after this session.
Some people are holding onto hope because the Senate needs to work on the rushed House version Kevin Cramer helped narrowly pass. Don’t get too optimistic when it comes salvaging Medicaid Expansion. Yesterday it was reported the Senate Republicans are focused on killing Medicaid Expansion. The effort is spearheaded by South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune who said, “At some point you’re gonna get back to the original [reimbursement rate], it’s just a question of how quickly that happens.” What Thune is saying is instead of North Dakota receiving 90% of Medicaid Expansion’s expense coming from the Federal government, the reimbursement would go to the same as traditional Medicaid. Currently, that reimbursement is 50-50. The Republican debate in Congress right now isn’t whether to keep Medicaid Expansion; it is when will it be phased out.
North Dakota is not in a budget situation to pick up the costs unless a dramatic uptick in our economy occurs. Even then, it would take a little more to cover this expense to help our neighbors and rural hospitals. Political courage being one. If this burden shifts to the state, I’m curious if the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, the Hospital Association, AARP, and the other various interests groups will rally behind the cause again.
It is past time to remove partisan politics from investigations involving Russia and last year’s election. We’ve called on that for months on our Facebook page. The questionable timing of FBI Director James Comey’s firing now demands it. The unexpected removal has seen push back of all kinds. Some demanding truth. Others more partisan in nature. To me, the most troubling push back has been partisan.
Republicans have been delighted to point out Democrats have flipped their thoughts when it comes to Comey. Some of that criticism is justified, but shouldn’t be painted with as broad a brush. Often that criticism has simply dismissed the current role the FBI had in an ongoing investigation. Here is the thing, it isn’t just Democrats who have flipped on Comey. Republicans have changed their stance also. Case in point, here is how Congressman Kevin Cramer characterized the FBI Director last November. In an interview, Cramer told Chris Berg on 630 POV:
…Mr. Comey, as we’ve heard all along is a man of great integrity. – Congressman Kevin Cramer (Nov. 1st, 2016)
Now, the “man of great integrity” was fired and Congressman Cramer has cheered the move by President Trump. Cramer went on to say in that interview, “…the FBI needs to continue its investigation. The House committee oversight needs to launch an investigation and start hearings. I would suspect the judiciary committee. But if the oversight committee would take it on and I expect they would, that could go on with an FBI investigation and Justice Department investigation as well. The biggest thing we’ve to do is exercise our oversight of the committee and other agencies, including DOJ, because they’ve proven to be a very partisan agency.”
The difference is it was Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump; Loretta Lynch, not Jeff Sessions; an email server, not election interference he was talking about. Now, because the subject of the investigation is Donald Trump and what role, if any, Russia may have played in last year’s election, Cramer finds calls for continued investigation removed from a “partisan agency” as “laughable in a pathetic way.”
Therein lies why we need an independent investigation removed from partisan politics. Congress is full of people like Kevin Cramer whose position tumbles in the winds of political change. There are people in both political parties that participate in this despicable shift in position for partisan purposes. The American people deserve better than that. They deserve to find the truth.
This investigation is about finding exactly how a foreign power may have interjected itself in our democratic process. It is about finding out who, if anyone, played a role. It is about preserving the integrity of our domestic systems and democracy. It is bigger than Republicans and Democrats. Why be afraid of an independent commission? Why dismiss it as “laughable” or a conspiracy as Cramer has done? If there is nothing, then let the evidence presented in a credible, independent, investigation removed from politics, prove it.
With his vote for Trumpcare, hereon known as CramerCare, Congressman Kevin Cramer voted to make healthcare more expensive for millions of veterans in America. One of the provisions in CramerCare was to prohibit veterans who are eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) health care from receiving tax credits to help them afford insurance in the private market. The tax credits were established under Obamacare. Since this provision to eliminate the tax credit was included in the original version of CramerCare, the CBO score in March estimated it would impact approximately eight million American veterans.
Not all veterans who are eligible for VA care enroll for its services. One of the many reasons a veteran may not choose to enroll in VA services is because they live in a rural state (think North Dakota) and would need to travel a long distance to receive care. In addition, others simply want to rely on the service from their local doctor. Removal of the tax credit will make healthcare more expensive for veterans and potentially force them into VA services. Unfortunately, VA case loads have been greatly lagging as President Trump’s hiring freeze through Executive Order prohibited them from hiring new employees.
North Dakota is home to over 56,000 veterans according to the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs. Cramer has previously used their imagery for campaign purposes. You may recall in 2014 when Cramer unethically used the Veterans Cemetery in North Dakota for a campaign ad in his race against George Sinner. The ad used veterans’ headstones as if they were props and threatened funding for the cemetery. Cramer later took down the ad from TV after increased pressure but would not apologize for his distasteful act. Yet, the internet never forgets. Here is the 2014 Cramer ad.
Cramer used veterans for political campaign purposes similar to the way he has used political talking points against Obamacare to win elections. Unfortunately after winning, he has decided his campaign against Obamacare was more important than his campaign for veterans. In his rush to repeal and replace Obamacare, he knowingly made it more difficult for millions of American veterans to afford access to healthcare outside of the VA he claims to despise. After his vote, Cramer grabbed a sixer, jumped on a bus, and headed over to the White House to celebrate this move in the Rose Garden. Our veterans aren’t to be used as props in a campaign ad and they sure as hell should be treated better than what CramerCare would do to their healthcare.
North Dakota’s lone Congressman Kevin Cramer voted for the rushed, unknown, non-analyzed Republican plan to replace Obamacare today. The bill had zero committee hearings and no scoring from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The public couldn’t even see the text of the bill the day before 217 Congressional Republicans cheered its narrow passage.
I’m not surprised by Congressman Cramer’s vote. After all, Cramer had to vote for something, or else it would have been proven that his campaign talk on replacing Obamacare was a complete and utter fraud. He simply needed to live up to his political rhetoric for the last six years following his symbolic votes to repeal the plan. Therein lies the problem in our politics today. It is full of people like Kevin Cramer who rush to uphold their political party’s image no matter the cost to the American people. Those costs on this particular item could be life or death for some.
We don’t know everything about this bill. For example, we don’t know exactly how many Americans Cramer voted to leave uninsured because of last minute deal making. That will be revealed over the next few days and weeks when the CBO scores the bill already passed. Preliminary reviews show what is for certain is if you have something now considered as a preexisting condition your costs will be allowed to go up. Or, if you are a senior citizen, your costs will be allowed to go up. Or, if you’re a woman, your costs will be allowed to go up.
Cramer’s vote shows his ego as an elected official is matched only by his callousness toward women, older Americans, poor North Dakotans, and children with disabilities. It is not that he didn’t want to wait to vote on the bill until after he saw the detailed impacts his vote would have. It is that he simply didn’t care.
On Sunday night, Congress reached a bipartisan deal to fund the federal government through the end of its fiscal year which ends September 30th. Included in the compromise is approximately $15 million for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Emergency Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Program. This program could provide federal funds to reimburse state and local law enforcement for the costs associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
This program has been short of funding for the past few years which has limited its reach. The compromise included this funding thanks in part to the push from U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Heitkamp has been pressing both this Congress and the last Congress to give the program a boost emphasizing the need for federal aid to cover the millions of dollars spent by state and local law enforcement during the DAPL protest.
During the protest and immediately following, we heard locally elected officials insisting the federal government should help cover the costs. In September of 2016, former Governor Dalrymple issued formal requests seeking federal aid. Those elected officials, including Governor Dalrymple, were right to make these requests. Seven months later, the federal money may finally be available.
I emphasize “may provide” because the work is not done. Senator Heitkamp has successfully convinced her colleagues of the funding’s importance to our state. Now, it is up to the State of North Dakota under Governor Burgum to submit an application for the funds. There is no guarantee we’ll receive a portion of the $15 million which is where Heitkamp’s continued efforts will be needed once the state applies. Truthfully, it is tough for anyone to argue the merits of our case. I anticipate we will get a share of the money.
This is a good development to start the week. Persistence seems to have paid off to this point. Obviously, there is more to be done if we wish to be fully reimbursed, but this potential is welcomed.
About ND xPlains
ND xPlains is about transparency and accountability for all sides in the arena of North Dakota politics. It is a place to come for the rest of the story. The narrative created by a void of an independent perspective will be challenged. If you’re tired of having the same thinly stretched slant thrown at you and are looking for other voices, you’ve come to the right place.
Created and written by Tyler Axness, a former North Dakota State Senator, he is able to provide a unique perspective on current topics and breaking news, dive into the back-room conversations taking place by decision makers, and elevate your voice on the plains. Through collaboration with trusted colleagues in-state and other sources nationally, he provides up-to-date content you can trust, enjoy, and share.
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