Guest MINDSETTER™ David Cicilline: Pointing Out Differences is Not Political Rhetoric
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Congress isn’t working. It’s plagued by gridlock, partisanship and politicians who are more concerned with scoring political points than getting anything done. And when so many Rhode Islanders are out of work, so many homeowners are struggling to stay in their homes or dealing with mortgages under water, when seniors are barely getting by and our college students are facing the possibility that student loan interest rates could double in a still-brutal job market, it is especially infuriating that Washington either can’t or won’t get anything done for the American people.
I hear all the time about how incredibly fed-up Rhode Islanders are that many in Washington seem more concerned with maintaining power and winning elections than making real progress.
On this subject, in a recent op-ed, Republican Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty made a few statements that most Rhode Islanders, myself included, agree with. Yes, Washington is broken. That’s in part why I ran for Congress in 2010 – to bring the voice of Rhode Islanders to Washington and ensure our government is delivering on its promises. Yes, we need to find areas of bipartisan agreement to lead our country forward. That’s why I formed the Common Ground Caucus with my Republican colleague Nan Hayworth, and I am engaging in the work of No Labels, a national organization that brings together independents, Republicans, and Democrats to end the dysfunction in Washington.
One of the first bills I co-sponsored repealed a new tax reporting requirement that many Rhode Island small business owners told me would have taken a serious toll on their operations. That bill was introduced by a Republican, passed the House with a bipartisan vote, and was signed into law. When a flawed court decision stripped the government of its ability to protect American companies harmed by the unfair trade practices of countries like China, I supported a bipartisan bill that was signed into law to defend our manufacturers here at home. And just this March I joined with colleagues from across the aisle to urge immediate action on legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which from 2007-2012 has supported more than $56 million in export sales for Rhode Island businesses. That bill also passed with a bipartisan vote and was signed into law.
None of us want heated partisan rhetoric, but neither should rhetoric obscure the very real differences on the table. There are major decisions happening in Congress that affect the daily lives of Rhode Islanders. The main problem in Washington right now is not just that the rhetoric is overheated; it is that Tea Party-backed extremists have hijacked the Republican Party and stifled any possibility for compromise. That’s not rhetoric. That’s the truth.
For example, the a transportation bill that passed the Senate with 74 votes over 100 days ago is being blocked from even coming to the House floor for a vote. The House Republican leadership is refusing to schedule a vote because the bill could give the Democrats a “win” four months before an election. But guess who loses from this inaction: the 9,000 Rhode Islanders whose jobs it protects and our communities that badly need our highways, roads and bridges rebuilt or repaired.
But some Republican leaders in Washington have said that their number one priority is to defeat President Obama. And that often means preventing progress because it would hurt their chances at winning elections or pushing a far-right agenda to motivate their base.
They’ve passed a budget that ends the Medicare guarantee. That is not rhetoric. In fact the Wall Street Journal, hardly a bastion of liberal excess, explained that the budget would “essentially end Medicare.” Instead of the guarantee of Medicare as we know it, under this plan, seniors would be given a voucher to purchase private insurance with no security that it would cover the full cost of the private insurance equivalent of Medicare coverage. But when Democrats quote the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Doherty calls it “rhetoric.”
The Republican leadership has even introduced a bill to privatize Social Security, creating risky private accounts that undermine a program that has served our seniors well for over 75 years. Go to any senior center in this state and see just how devastating cuts to Medicare or Social Security would be for real people. I believe it is my job as the representative from Rhode Island’s First District to fight tooth and nail against this legislation.
I have heard from so many Rhode Islanders who have a similar story: They’ve worked for one company for years, and one day the company decides to ship jobs overseas so as to enjoy big tax breaks. The workers are laid off, and I’ve heard the fear in their voice when, in their 50s, they have to learn an entirely different skill or start over and go through new training. Proposals to eliminate or drastically reduce money for these workforce training programs is not just rhetoric, but is literally the difference between getting by and losing everything for many Rhode Island families. Refusing to end tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas or the unwillingness to end the cheating by the Chinese with their currency manipulation is not just rhetoric, but really bad policies that are hurting Rhode Island families.
Women who have relied on the services of Planned Parenthood for their healthcare and on their health insurance for access to contraceptives are worried about their ability to get the healthcare they need. Republican proposals to defund Planned Parenthood and to deny women access to contraception are not political rhetoric, but more bad public policy that will cause real harm to Rhode Island women. It’s also not rhetoric when one party in the House refuses to allow a vote on the bipartisan, Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act – legislation that was supported by every woman member of the Senate, Republican and Democrat, and extends vital protections to all victims of domestic violence.
The examples unfortunately do not end there. In just four days, student loan interest rates are set to double. I, along with many of my colleagues, cosponsored legislation to keep student loan interest rates from increasing by repealing tax subsidies for oil companies posting record profits. The Republicans in Congress countered by trying to cut funding for preventative health care programs like cancer screenings. Think about this; extremists in Washington are willing to play political games with our graduating college students’ loan payments so they can protect an estimated $40 billion worth of taxpayer funded subsidies for Big Oil in the next decade, even after the five largest oil companies realized record profits in 2011 of more than $130 billion. That isn’t rhetoric. That is what is happening in our current Congress.
I wish these facts were only “partisan political rhetoric” that we could “look beyond” as the Republican candidate has suggested. While I have and will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to help fix what’s broken in Washington, I will continue to fight against those policies being pursued in Congress that threaten to undermine fundamental American values and hurt Rhode Island families.
I wholeheartedly believe that strengthening our economy and getting more Rhode Islanders back to work, protecting women from violence, fulfilling our promises to seniors, constructing good roads and bridges, and ensuring affordable access to higher education should not be partisan issues. These are not Republican values or Democratic values – they are American values.
Talking about these differences is not political rhetoric or misinformation. The differences are real, and for the next few months you’ll be hearing how these contrasting visions could impact your life and the lives of those closest to you. And if the language that describes these divergent views seems strong or stark, it’s not because the differences are “false,” but rather, because they are just too important to “look beyond.”
David Cicilline is represents Rhode Island's 1st District.
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