Bill Kaplan: Supreme Court may end ACA during pandemic.

Bill Kaplan: Supreme Court may end ACA during pandemic.

The pandemic hasn’t “disappeared”, but continues unabated as the economy stalls with permanent jobs disappearing. Most federal aid has ended, despite escalating small business failures, farmers facing loss of markets and inadequate prices and hunger persisting. “Chances dim on stimulus package … (as) Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) called a proposed expansion of Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax credits to the unemployed ‘an enormous betrayal’ of the GOP’s longstanding opposition to Obamacare” (Washington Post).
Ken Holmes, a Green Bay COVID-19 survivor, said: “We have nearly 1,000 people a day dying of COVID. If you had three jetliners going down every day, would you get on an airplane? I don’t think many people would. But they sure don’t want to wear a mask” (WP). A failure by Trump (and Wisconsin GOP legislative leaders) to heed medical advice on masks and social distancing has “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy” (New England Journal of Medicine).

The U.S. continues to lead the world with about 7.7 million COVID-19 cases and 215,000 deaths. Wisconsin saw a new daily record of 3,132 cases, adding to about 150,000 cases, near 1,500 deaths. Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers moved to open up a field hospital to relieve rural and other hospitals with few open beds. State GOP legislators have no plan.

Neither does White House and GOP-led Senate. Trump ended negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on an economic stimulus bill, telling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “not to delay, but to instead focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.” The Senate Judiciary Committee begins confirmation hearings on Monday. Why the rush?

If Barrett is speedily confirmed she will be able to hear a lawsuit challenging the ACA’s constitutionality (November 10th). Trump and Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson are obsessed with having the court strike down the ACA. Moreover, Barrett is on the record expressing opposition to the ACA. Johnson, recovering from COVID-19, said nothing would stop him from voting for Barrett: “If we have to go in and vote, … I’ll go in a moon suit.” He prattled on: “I would certainly try to find a way – making sure that everybody was safe.” Oblivious!

Johnson doesn’t believe as he did in 2016 in waiting until after the election. Then he helped block a vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, six months before the election. Now, he wants to tilt the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA. Healthcare coverage for over 20 million, protections for about 54 million with preexisting conditions and treating women’s benefits – premiums equally are at risk.

It’s not the first time Johnson has played an odious role. Johnson “single-handedly” blocked Victoria Nourse, a widely respected UW-Madison law professor, from a confirmation hearing for a seat on the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals (MJS). Under Trump, Johnson voted to put Barrett on that court. Now, an irresponsible power grab to put Barrett on the Supreme Court.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Trump and Johnson harmed country and themselves.

Bill Kaplan: Trump and Johnson harmed country and themselves.

The pandemic is not “under control” nor is “the end in sight”. Instead, the U.S. leads the world with 7.4 million COVID-19 cases and about 210,000 deaths. Wisconsin is seeing record daily increases, well over 130,000 cases, near 1,400 deaths and hospitalizations hitting new highs. Staggering.

The NYT reports: “Oshkosh, Wis. – Steve VanderLoop, 64, heard that several of his co-workers at a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin had fallen ill from COVID-19. Then there was his brother-in-law’s entire family in nearby Washington County. A good friend in Appleton, up the shore of Lake Winnebago. And last week, the gut punch: Mr. VanderLoop’s 96-year-old mother learned she had the virus”.

Wisconsin has “nearly half the places with the worst outbreaks now.” In descending order: Oshkosh-Neenah, Green Bay, Appleton, La Crosse, Platteville, Marinette, Stevens Point and Fond du Lac (NYT). Yet Trump and many Wisconsin GOP politicians campaigned around the state with abandon. No masks or social distancing. Trump said: “We’ve had no negative effect (at the rallies) … .” More of the same was scheduled for La Crosse (later Janesville) and Green Bay.

Doctors, local leaders and Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers implored Trump to reconsider, to no avail. Then Trump and Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson tested positive for COVID-19. The irresponsible and reckless campaign rallies were canceled. Trump was flown by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, “getting care, treatments available to few other Americans” (Washington Post). It is not clear what Trump’s condition is. Johnson said he would self-quarantine. Trump’s wife, 2 other GOP senators, several White House aides, Trump advisers, his campaign manager and the head of the Republican National Committee all tested positive. No zip code or political party is immune.

Trump and Johnson have downplayed the risk of coronavirus from the beginning. Masks and social distancing are avoided — or worse, mocked. Doctors and scientists are reviled. Both have pushed unproven or potentially dangerous treatments. All the while, low-balling the death toll, erroneously comparing COVID-19 fatalities to the less than 40,000 annual auto-related deaths. Moreover, Wisconsin GOP state legislators have obstructed every effort by Governor Evers to control coronavirus infection and spread.

Finally, Trump went to the Supreme Court to have the Affordable Care Act (ACA) struck down. And, he is trying to stack the deck with his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett who has disparaged the ACA. Good-bye coverage for over 20 million and protections for many more with preexisting conditions, including 7.4 million who tested positive for COVID-19.

Senate Democrats, including Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, are fighting back. They, along with 6 GOP senators (not Johnson), voted to block the Trump administration from supporting the lawsuit against the ACA. Johnson supported a nonsensical alternative that would allow insurers to offer bare-bones coverage, set annual and lifetime limits and charge women higher premiums.

Joe Biden is right to offer thoughts and prayers for Trump (and Johnson), despite their misdeeds. He is also right to keep fighting to save (and improve) the ACA.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 — 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Healthcare coverage and protections in jeopardy

Bill Kaplan: Healthcare coverage and protections in jeopardy

This election has always been about healthcare. Trump’s incompetent pandemic response has resulted in the U.S. leading the world with about 7 million COVID-19 cases and over 205,000 deaths. Wisconsin is in the national spotlight with record daily increases, about 115,000 cases, and 1,300 deaths. The horrific national death toll is projected to reach 410,000 by year’s end.

The economic and healthcare coverage impact has been catastrophic. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned that failure by Congress and Trump to agree on another pandemic economic relief bill could “scar and damage the economy”. Meanwhile, millions of the unemployed, including tens of thousands in Wisconsin, have lost health insurance. This has not stopped the Trump Administration from trying to have the Affordable Care Act (ACA) declared unconstitutional.

One week after the election the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a lawsuit orchestrated in 2018 by then Wisconsin GOP Governor Scott Walker and other Republican governors. They seized on the repeal of the tax penalty for not having health insurance. Trump has defied defending established federal laws, and joined in asking the Supreme Court to strike down the entire ACA. However, Tennessee GOP Senator Lamar Alexander said: “I am not aware of a single senator who said they were voting to repeal Obamacare (ACA) when they voted to eliminate the individual mandate (tax) penalty” in the 2017 tax cuts.

Trump and the GOP-led Senate are speeding to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat before the election. If his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is confirmed before November 10, she will hear the ACA case and be able to rule that the ACA is unconstitutional. Barrett is on record: (Chief Justice John) “Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute”. Trump also wants a pliant court majority, as he threatens to contest the election results should he lose. Hence the rush.

If the ACA is struck down, about 54 million Americans, including nearly 900,000 Wisconsinites, with preexisting conditions would find themselves uninsurable or paying far more for bare-bones coverage with annual and lifetime caps. Women would again pay higher rates. And, over 11 million, including more than 200,000 Wisconsinites, would lose ACA private insurance. Rural Wisconsinites in the 3rd and 7th congressional districts (voted for Trump) would be disproportionately impacted. 2 million young adults would no longer have coverage under their parents’ plan. 12 million more adults would lose coverage in states that expanded Medicaid. Moreover, the elderly would pay more for Medicare drug coverage.

What to do? Vote for Joe Biden- Kamala Harris and a Democratic-led Congress. Biden will preserve and strengthen the ACA: adding a public coverage option, expanding subsidies to the middle class to buy private insurance, lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 and using Medicare’s scale to negotiate drug prices. In states like Wisconsin that did not expand Medicaid, eligible individuals could get “premium free access to the public option”.

Vote for healthcare coverage and protections. The ACA is in jeopardy.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Justice Ginsburg, the election, fear and hope.

Bill Kaplan: Justice Ginsburg, the election, fear and hope.

Trump’s incompetent response to the pandemic has left the U.S. with the highest case and death toll in the world. There are 6.8 million cases nationally, over 100,000 in Wisconsin. U.S. deaths are above 200,000, over 1,200 in Wisconsin. And, the economy is in shambles, with mass unemployment and escalating business failures. Misery abounds.

When asked if he regretted anything about his response, Trump said: “No, I think we did a great job.” That rang hollow to many in Wisconsin as multiple records of daily COVID-19 cases were broken last week. But Trump said: “If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at. We’re really at a very low level.” Former Pennsylvania GOP Governor Tom Ridge responded: “It’s so unworthy of a president. … It’s almost unspeakable in the middle of a pandemic to try to divide the country on a political basis … .”

When the news broke Friday night that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, fear was palpable. Why? Trump acts like a tin-pot dictator, flouting norms and undermining our judicial system, while denigrating the military and press. Moreover, Trump blusters about delaying the November election and becoming president for life. Imagine another Trump Supreme Court justice to enable him.

Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin tweeted: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived an inspiring and historic life, and her work has shaped America for the better. As a woman, I join so many others who will not allow her legacy to be diminished or disrespected.” Utah GOP Senator Mitt Romney said: “Justice Ginsburg served our nation with a deep reverence for the law and our Constitution. Her fight for women’s equality inspired all women to pursue their dreams without limits… .” Lacking shame, Senator Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader, declared he would act to put a Trump nominee on the Supreme Court, in glaring contrast to his refusal to consider President Obama’s nominee in early 2016. Back then, McConnell said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy (Justice Scalia died) should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Joe Biden responded: “The voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.” The GOP-led Senate has a 53-47 majority. Four GOP senators would be needed to prevent McConnell and Trump from “ramming through a Supreme Court appointment only a few months before the next president’s inauguration” (NYT). Don’t count on Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson, a flip-flopper like McConnell. However, Alaska GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski is opposed to a new justice before the election. And, Maine GOP Senator Susan Collins said whoever wins the presidential election should choose the nominee.

Healthcare coverage and protections, e.g., preexisting conditions, are in jeopardy because the Supreme Court will rule after the election if the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Vote for a Democratic-led Congress and Joe Biden. Hope.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Trump and Johnson, duplicitous and deadly

Bill Kaplan: Trump and Johnson, duplicitous and deadly

Photo by Glenn Fawcett
Photo by Glenn Fawcett

Trump and Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson made the U.S. number 1: more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country. There are about 6.5 million COVID-19 cases nationally, skyrocketing to near 90,000 in Wisconsin. U.S. deaths are about 195,000, over 1,200 in Wisconsin. Was this catastrophe inevitable? No.

Trump told author-journalist Bob Woodward, on tape, that he intentionally downplayed the virus for months, despite knowing it was easily transmissible “deadly stuff”. Johnson also minimized COVID-19 by falsely claiming that more people die in auto accidents. And, he heartlessly said COVID-19 was “not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population … probably far less.”

Trump kept comparing COVID-19 to the flu, pretending everything was “under control” and that COVID-19 would soon “disappear”. Moreover, Trump and Johnson proposed dangerous or unproven treatments. Trump, advised by “My Pillow” executive Mike Lindell, wants oleandrin, so-called medical herb, reviewed by the FDA. Why all this disingenuous nonsense?

Trump and Johnson are not the brightest bulbs. In March, Trump told Woodward: “I wanted to always play (COVID-19) down. I still like playing it down because, I don’t want to create a panic. This is deadly stuff.” Laughable, there has never been a president who engages in more scaremongering than Trump. Johnson, seeking to distract from COVID-19 and the failing economy, smears Joe Biden: “hyping Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theories right before the election, (advancing) a Russian disinformation plot” (Washington Post).

Trump and Johnson don’t want COVID-19 and the recession to tank the stock market, built on a house of cards. But Wall Street and Main Street are not the same. The top 10 percent own 83 percent of the financial markets. Main Street is about production, services and jobs. However, Trump and Johnson keep saying the economy is “roaring back”, ignoring widespread human misery.

“Yet there is ample evidence that Americans are hurting. Roughly 14 million people remain out of work. Last month, about 40 percent of renters were facing the prospect of being kicked out of their homes for failure to pay rent. About 29 million people are drawing some form of unemployment assistance … . Permanent job losses continue to rise at an alarming rate … while thousands of small businesses are at risk of closing for good without additional help” (WP). Farmers face disaster and Americans are going hungry.

However, Trump said: “Our country is doing so well”. And, Johnson hit a new low: “Possibly, some of our unemployment insurance might be funding (rioters in Kenosha).” The MJS flatly said: “There is no evidence… .” Both hope that the Supreme Court will strike down the ACA with its protections for preexisting conditions and coverage of millions. Meanwhile, Trump and the GOP-led Senate twiddle their thumbs. What to do?

Biden has assembled a bipartisan team to distribute-produce personal protective equipment, increase testing and work with scientists on creating affordable, effective and safe vaccines. He will expand and strengthen the ACA. Controlling COVID-19 will enable a genuine economic recovery.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Trump renominated amid horrendous disasters.

Bill Kaplan: Trump renominated amid horrendous disasters.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Trump, amid horrendous disasters, accepted his renomination at the White House, shredding the line between “governing and politicking” (Washington Post). In keeping with Trump’s attempt to downplay COVID-19, there was no social distancing and few attendees wore masks. Earlier, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow referred to COVID-19 and the pandemic depression in the past tense. But no sleight of hand can make the misery disappear.

There are over 6 million COVID-19 cases nationally, and over 75,000 in Wisconsin. U.S. deaths are approaching 200,000 and over 1,100 in Wisconsin. As schools and universities reopen nationally, thousands of cases have been confirmed among students and staff. And, in Wisconsin, rural Iron, Marinette and Sawyer Counties are seeing serious outbreaks. COVID-19 has not disappeared.

“Even as reality continues to intrude, … Trump has either largely dismissed or ignored his science and medical advisers. And, the result is that the economy … which he hoped would (lead) him to a second term, has been devastated” (John Barry, author, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History”). The headlines illuminate reality: “Millions on brink of poverty, as stimulus, benefits vanish” and “Relief efforts reach few” (WP). The NYT reported that the economy “is losing steam”. Hiring has stalled and new layoffs are mounting. Farmers, still reeling from Trump’s trade wars, face uncertainty. Over 2,000 Wisconsin dairy farms are gone.

Declining revenues hit local and state governments hard. Millions of government workers could lose their jobs. Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers has applied for Trump’s new jobless aid program, $300 per week. The catch: Wisconsin will receive only 3 weeks of federal funding from disaster-hurricane relief money as catastrophic weather wallops the U.S.

A derecho left Iowa prostrate, $4 billion in damage. It pulverized farmland, ruining crops and killing livestock. Trump made a 1-hour airport visit, dribbling out aid. Meanwhile, California is burning, 1 million acres. Trump told the state to rake leaves. Lunacy! And, to top it off a Category 4 hurricane devastated the Louisiana coastline. New Orleans would be gone if the storm had made landfall there. “Experts (e.g., Jim Kossin, UW-Madison): Storm’s progression indicates global warming” (WP).

As if there isn’t enough to worry about, a Kenosha policeman shot Jacob Blake 7 times in the back. Another Black person struck down. No, this is not acceptable: the policeman should be fired, while the criminal justice system investigates. Joe Biden spoke for many when he comforted Blake’s family and condemned the violence of some protesters. Biden said: “As I said after George Floyd’s murder, protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary. Burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence. … That’s wrong”.

However, Wisconsin GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos grotesquely slandered Governor Evers over the killing of 2 protesters by an Illinois teenager. The murderous assailant, who delusionally imagined he was a militiaman protecting property, is responsible, Vos and Trump must stop politically exploiting fear and racism.

Other Republicans, seeing the horrendous disasters under Trump, are endorsing Biden in droves.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Johnson distracts instead of focusing on COVID-19 relief

Bill Kaplan: Johnson distracts instead of focusing on COVID-19 relief

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Both Trump and Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson are political distractors. Trump speculates about blowing up the U.S. Postal Service (rural Wisconsin’s lifeline), delaying the presidential election and suggesting he become president for “life”. Similarly, Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, wants to hold committee hearings to peddle false conspiracy theories: “I’m (Johnson) here to report today that, unlike the narrative of the press that … Trump wants to dig up dirt on his 2020 opponent (Joe Biden), what he wants is an accounting of what happened in 2016. Who set (Trump) up? Did things spring from Ukraine?”

However, Johnson let the cat out of the bag: “The more that we expose of the corruption of the transition process between Obama and Trump …(and) corruption within (intelligence) agencies … I would think that it would certainly help … Trump win reelection … .” The Biden campaign responded: “This damning acknowledgement totally exposes that Ron Johnson’s disgraceful conduct is the definition of malfeasance.” Moreover, Politico reported that some GOP senators think Johnson’s hearings could “backfire” during a pandemic and COVID-19 economic depression.

Utah GOP Senator Mitt Romney said: “From the outset, there was a tendency on the part of (Trump) to dismiss COVID-19 as a threat, not to consider how serious it could become.” Trump and Johnson have projected unwarranted optimism, made unproven claims about treatments and tried to normalize COVID-19 deaths by falsely saying that car accidents kill more Americans. The facts are damning. About 5.4 million cases nationally, over 65,000 in Wisconsin. U.S. deaths stand at near 170,000 and 1,000+ in Wisconsin.

The eye-popping economic fallout led conservative economic writer Robert Samuelson to label it a “pandemic depression” – mass unemployment, more income inequality, flat retail sales and big-name bankruptcies. State farmers, struggling before COVID-19, have taken a body blow. Trump and Johnson’s relentless cheerleading can’t conceal the economic misery and breadlines. And, with tax revenue down state and local governments need at least $500 billion to avoid budget shortfalls and cutting 3 million jobs.

However, Trump and Johnson don’t want to help. Trump wants to slash a federal $600 per week jobless benefit to a short-lived $300 a week benefit. Johnson said: “I hope the (congressional-White House) talks remain broken down.” And, Johnson also opposes the $600 jobless benefit, calling aid a “perverse disincentive to return to the workplace … .” But the Wall Street Journal reported: “An overwhelming majority of economists surveyed (by WSJ) said economic benefits of additional jobless benefits to help laid-off workers outweighed concerns that extra payments could deter people from going back to work.”

Johnson should stop blocking COVID-19 relief and recovery aid, and be transparent about how an earlier COVID-19 aid bill expanded the pass-through tax break (70 percent of pass-through income goes to the top one percent). He should try to act like a senator, by using his committee to hold real oversight hearings, e.g., price gouging and fraud in the selling of personal protective equipment and inadequate COVID-19 testing.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Wisconsin at a crossroad, expand Medicaid

Bill Kaplan: Wisconsin at a crossroad, expand Medicaid

Trump says COVID-19 is “under control”, callously downplaying deaths as “it is what it is”. Wisconsin GOP politicians are no better, ending or hindering any policy state Democratic Governor Tony Evers puts forward. Moreover, neither have a plan to control COVID-19.

Cases are soaring, 5 million plus nationally, over 60,000 in Wisconsin. U.S. deaths are about 163,00 and 1,000 in Wisconsin. And, COVID-19 has spread throughout rural Wisconsin. Rural hospitals lack intensive care beds, protective medical equipment and adequate professionals and transit. Additionally, COVID-19 has increased in the GOP WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington). Finally, the state Union Grove Veterans Home has a serious outbreak. The tsunami will worsen.

The economy is in shambles. For the 20h consecutive week more than 1 million filed unemployment claims. Fewer jobs were added. 10.2 percent unemployed nationally, 8.5 percent in Wisconsin and 12.8 percent in Milwaukee. The federal $600 per week jobless benefit has expired. Declining tax revenue spells catastrophe for state and local governments: $500 billion in cuts and more than 3 million jobs eliminated. Governor Evers has been forced to propose $250 million in state budget cuts added to $70 million made earlier.

The Democratic-led House passed a COVID-19 bill in mid-May, extending federal $600 jobless benefit, funding education, food assistance, health, housing and pension needs. It helped state, local and tribal governments facing huge budget holes. Trump was dismissive and the GOP-led Senate did nothing. Finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed an inadequate take-it-or-leave-it bill. Last minute talks began between House-Senate Democratic leaders and White House officials, without McConnell and Trump. Predictably the talks collapsed last week, despite Democrats reducing the cost of their bill. Trump and McConnell didn’t want a deal.

“Trump on Saturday attempted to bypass Congress and make dramatic changes to tax and spending policy, signing executive actions that challenge the boundaries of power that separate the White House and Capitol Hill” (Washington Post). Trump replaced the expired $600 jobless benefit with a new $400 program, funded by disaster-hurricane relief money and states (with budget shortfalls). Fool’s gold! Same with Trump’s attempt to defer Social Security payroll taxes without any future recoupment. This will not help the unemployed, but only undermine Social Security. And, the eviction memo is just words, no aid to renters and home owners in arrears.

However, voters are smart, and will see through Trump’s scheme as they have his attempts to kill the ACA. Case in point. Last Tuesday, Missouri voters approved Medicaid expansion (38th state). COVID-19 and high unemployment with loss of health insurance woke voters up. The 90 percent federal funding would cover over 200,000, fund struggling rural hospitals, create jobs and increase state tax revenue. Circumstances changed.

It’s long past time for the Wisconsin GOP-led legislature to accept that Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin would cover more, substitute federal funding for state funding and save state spending on uncompensated care, mental health and drug-alcohol treatment. This federal funding is available; more may not be coming. Face reality. Voters will.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: GOP-led U.S. Senate refuses to act.

Bill Kaplan: GOP-led U.S. Senate refuses to act.

The U.S., including Wisconsin, is facing a twin catastrophe: an out-of-control COVID-19 pandemic and a cataclysmic economic meltdown. Public health efforts – masks, social distancing and contact tracing – have been undermined nationally by Trump and by Wisconsin GOP legislators. However, Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers has not given up. He joined GOP-led Indiana and Ohio in issuing a statewide mask mandate. Why?

More than 4.6 million COVID-19 cases nationally, over 54,000 in Wisconsin. U.S. deaths are about 155,000, approaching 1,000 in Wisconsin. Sun Belt states are setting one-day death records. Moreover, COVID-19 is spreading widely to rural areas, including Iron County, Wisconsin which has no hospital. Currently, almost all 72 Wisconsin counties have high COVID-19 activity.

A surging COVID-19 is crippling the economy and stymieing a recovery. “The U.S. economy shrank by a stunning 9.5 percent from April through June, a historic contraction …” (Washington Post-WP). Moreover, new claims for unemployment benefits totaled over a million for the 19th straight week. Yet the U.S. Senate refuses to act as over 30 million Americans, including hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, have lost $600 weekly federal jobless benefits. A delusional Trump said: “I think the recovery has been very strong. We’ve set record job numbers.” And, Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson, 7th-wealthiest U.S. senator, supported cutting the benefits to a paltry weekly $200!

Back in May the Democratic-led House saw the coming train wreck and passed relief and recovery legislation. All Wisconsin Democratic representatives voted yes, while state GOP representatives were opposed. The bill would help struggling state, local and tribal governments facing huge budget deficits due to declining revenues and increasing COVID-19 costs. The bipartisan National Governors Association said: “(W)ithout federal revenue replacement, state and local governments would need to cut more than $500 billion … eliminating more than 3 million jobs.” The bill also extended federal jobless benefits, funded education, food assistance, health and housing needs.

However, for months the GOP-led Senate did nothing. At the 11th hour the Senate finally rolled out a response – a glaring contrast to the House bill. Republicans have proposed billions for new military weapons, despite U.S. defense spending already accounting for about 60 percent of federal discretionary spending. Almost nothing for the millions going without enough food, but “boosts the ‘three-martini-lunch’ (tax) break, not food stamps” (WP). Then there is the easing of capital requirements for big banks, put in place to reduce their risky behavior. Help for Wall Street not Main Street.

Reminiscent of expanding the pass-through tax break in the March COVID-19 relief bill, inserted by Senate Republicans. What role did Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson play? He is the leading advocate of this tax break for the wealthy (70 percent of pass-through income goes to the top 1 percent). Finally, the Senate bill does little for millions of Americans who can’t pay their rent or mortgages. Shame.

As talks continued between Democratic congressional leaders and the Trump administration, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate and went home to Kentucky. Pathetic.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: State congressional Republicans fail Wisconsin

Bill Kaplan: State congressional Republicans fail Wisconsin

Back in May the Democratic-led House anticipated that the toll from COVID-19 and its economic consequences would continue to be devastating. The House passed relief and recovery legislation, largely along party lines. The $3 trillion bill would help

state, local and tribal governments facing huge holes in their budgets; fund more COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; hazard pay for first responders and essential workers; extension of unemployment benefits; aid to education and help with housing problems. Wisconsin Democratic Representatives Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan voted yes. However, Wisconsin GOP Representatives Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Jim Sensenbrenner and Bryan Steil shamefully voted no (Tom Tiffany was not yet sworn in).

The legislation would help Wisconsin avoid draconian budget and service cuts. The Wisconsin Budget Project said the bill would: “Allocate $8.5 billion to the state and $7.5 billion to local governments … provide an additional $1.9 billion in Medicaid dollars … (and) $1.4 billion for education … .” But the irresponsible GOP-led Senate refused to consider the House bill. In the middle of a pandemic Republicans played the fiddle while everything burned down. Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson, unlike Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, had excuses when urgent action was needed. Finally, last week Senate Republicans bestirred themselves, but failed to pass anything. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “Hopefully, we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks.”

But the need is right now! For example, the emergency $600 per week in extra unemployment benefits expired last Saturday in Wisconsin. Moreover, thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites face eviction. And, Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers “seeks another $250M in state budget cuts to offset pandemic revenue losses” (MJS). But University of Wisconsin System interim President Tommy Thompson pleaded no more cuts to the UW System. (Hint for Thompson – ask Wisconsin GOP legislators to approve federally funded Medicaid expansion. State savings from it could help the UW System). The state faces higher unemployment, on top of an epic farm crisis with over 2,000 dairy farms out of business! What’s wrong with Wisconsin
congressional Republicans?