On the Issues

Talking Points: Improving the Rural Economy

posted Feb 13, 2017, 12:27 PM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Feb 14, 2017, 8:54 AM ]

Family farms and ranches are the backbone of rural America and the U.S. economy.  . This important part of our economy all supports rural bankers, teachers, doctors, and others.Rural Hoosiers are also among our nation’s foremost stewards of our lands and water

As Rural Democrats, we need to continue the fight for innovative rural economic development initiatives, including investments in farm-to-school and farm-to-table initiatives; agri-tourism programs; school gardens; large scale bio-mass fired electric plants; shared agricultural processing and storage facilities; and anaerobic digesters to process cow manure into methane gas.

Agriculture programs need to be counter-cyclical to assure market-derived commodity income at levels that advance and sustain family-scale farming.

Democrats need to support strong farm policies that will foster the entry of a new generation of owner-operators. We cannot back away from land stewardship standards that include the commonwealth of clean water for all.

Fight for policies that:

  • Make sure that family farmers and rural economies thrive;
  • Expand support for young and beginning farmers;
  • Produce an abundant and nutritious food supply;
  • Establish an on-going regeneration of our soils; and
  • Enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship to keep our air and water clean and to combat climate change.

FAMILY FARMS INSTEAD OF FACTORY FARMS

We need more family farms, not more factory farms.

It is unacceptable that just four corporations control 82% of the nation’s beef cattle market, 85% of soybean processing, and 63% of pork processing.  It is unacceptable that there are over 300,000 fewer farmers than there were 20 years ago.

It is unacceptable that the top 10% of farms collect 75% of farm subsidies, while the bottom 62% do not receive any subsidies.  We have to adopt policies that will turn this around.

SUPPORTING AGRICULTURE

In 1966, farmers received 40 cents for every dollar Americans spent on food. Today, they only receive 16 cents on the dollar.

We must reverse this trend by:

  1. Fighting for America’s small and mid-sized farms. Abraham Lincoln called the United States Department of Agriculture the “People’s Department” and we need to ensure that the agency lives up to this name by expanding its services for new and under-served farmers.
  2. Encouraging the growth of regional food systems. Farmers throughout the country are boosting their bottom line and reinvigorating their communities by selling directly to local consumers, institutions, and restaurants. We can invest in this movement, helping Americans support local farms.
  3. Reversing trade policies like NAFTA that have flooded the American market with agricultural goods produced in countries with less stringent environmental, labor, and safety regulations. President Trump has said he will renegotiate NAFTA. Let's hold him to his promise and ensure that we protect America's farmers.
  4. Enforcing our country’s antitrust laws against large agribusiness and food corporations. A few large companies dominate many agricultural industries, allowing them to force unfair prices on farmers. We must stand up to these corporations and fight to ensure that farmers receive fair prices.

INVESTING IN RENEWABLE ENERGY FOR A CLEANER ENVIRONMENT AND NEW INCOME FOR FARMERS

This country has made major investments in wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other sources of renewable energy.  These investments are not only important to combat global warming, they are also critically important in improving the farm economy.

Farmers and ranchers all over this country are leading the charge toward a more sustainable energy future. More than 57,000 farms are taking advantage of renewable energy production — which has more than doubled since 2007.

Making the Wind Production Tax Credit permanent would substantially increase investments in wind energy. And, it’s not only wind.  Biofuels like ethanol have been an economic lifeline to rural and farm communities in Indiana and throughout the Midwest, supporting over 850,000 workers, all while keeping our energy dollars here at home instead of going into the pockets of oil barons in the Middle East and Russia. Adoption of the Renewable Fuels Standard will help us move beyond oil. Moreover, when we talk about harnessing energy from the sun, the good news is that solar panels accounted for more than 60% of renewable energy production systems on farms.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost of residential solar has come down 75% since 2009.

Over half of the electric generating capacity added to the grid last year was renewable energy from new wind and solar projects. There is enough solar power in America to power four million homes. And, as we generate new sustainable energy, we also generate new opportunities. Today, the rate of job growth in the solar industry is ten times higher than the national average.

While this is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done to ensure our planet remains habitable, improve the environment, and help our farmers in Indiana and across the country.  Substantially increasing our investments in renewable energy must be a top priority

A PLAN TO REBUILD RURAL AMERICA

Addressing the infrastructure crisis facing the country – and creating the millions of jobs our economy desperately needs is key to our future.  The Rebuild America Act will make substantial infrastructure investments in Indiana and throughout rural America.

Improving our electric grid.  We also desperately need to improve our aging rural electrical grid, which consists of a patchwork system of interconnected power generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, some of which date back to the early 1900s. Today, the World Economic Forum ranks our electric grid at just 24th in the world in terms of reliability, just behind Barbados.

As part of the Rebuild America Act, We would invest $50 billion on power transmission and distribution modernization projects to improve the reliability and resiliency of our ever more complex electric power grid.  This investment will also position our grid to accept new sources of locally generated renewable energy, and it will address critical vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks.

Investing in broadband and high-speed Internet services.  Another critically important rural infrastructure issue that often goes overlooked is the expansion of broadband. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks the U.S. 16th in the world in terms of broadband access. Today, people living in Bucharest, Romania have access to much faster Internet than most of the United States.  That’s unacceptable and must change.

The Rebuild America Act would invest $25 billion over five years to expand high-speed broadband networks in under-served and un-served areas, and would boost speeds and capacity all across the country, particularly in rural areas.

High-speed Internet access is no longer a luxury.  It is essential for 21st century commerce, education, telemedicine, and public safety.  And, it’s especially important for rural America to stay connected and to do business with the rest of the world.

Improving our dams and levees.  We must also address the condition of our dams and levees. Right now, more than 4,000 of the nation’s 84,000 dams are considered deficient. Even worse, one of every eleven levees have been rated as “likely to fail” during a major flood. Most of those facilities are in rural areas. The Rebuild America Act will invest $12 billion a year to repair and improve the high-hazard dams that provide flood control, drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and recreation across rural America; and the flood levees that protect our farms and our towns and cities.


Talking Points: Getting Big Money Out of Politics and Restoring Democracy

posted Feb 13, 2017, 12:07 PM by Lane Siekman

On November 19, 1863, standing on the bloodstained battlefield of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most significant and best remembered speeches in American history. At the conclusion of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln stated “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We now have a political campaign finance system that is corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests, Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is beginning to perish in the United States of America.

As Democrats, we cannot allow that to happen.

In 2010, as a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, by a 5-to-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially said to the wealthiest people in this country:  you already own much of the American economy.  Now, we are going to give you the opportunity to purchase the U.S. Government, the White House, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, Governors’ seats, legislatures, and State judicial branches as well.

The Citizens United decision hinges on the absurd notion that money is speech, corporations are people, and giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption.

During the 2016 campaign cycle, billions of dollars from the wealthiest people in this country flooded the political process.  Super PACs – a direct outgrowth of the Citizens United decision – enabled the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns.

The situation has become so absurd that super PACs, which theoretically operate independently of the actual candidates, have more money and more influence over campaigns than the candidates themselves.

Let’s be honest and acknowledge what we are talking about. We are talking about a rapid movement in this country toward a political system in which a handful of very wealthy people and special interests will determine who gets elected or who does not get elected. That is not what this country is supposed to be about. That was not Abraham Lincoln’s vision of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

As former President Jimmy Carter said, unlimited money in politics, “violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now, it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. Senators and congress members. We are seeing a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue. It is an issue that should concern all Americans, regardless of their political point of view, who wish to preserve the essence of the longest standing democracy in the world, a government that represents all of the people and not a handful of powerful and wealthy special interests.

Real campaign finance reform must happen as soon as possible. That is why we must overturn, through a constitutional amendment, the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision as well as the Buckley v. Valeo decision. We need to pass legislation to require wealthy individuals and corporations who make large campaign contributions to disclose where their money is going.  More importantly, We need to move toward the public funding of elections.

Our vision for American democracy should be a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, can run for office without begging for contributions from the wealthy and the powerful.

Our vision for the future of this country should be one in which candidates are not telling billionaires at special forums what they can do for them.

Our vision for democracy should be one in which candidates are speaking to the vast majority of our people – working people, the middle class, low-income people, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor – and discussing with them their ideas as to how we can improve lives for all of the people in this country.

IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT WE:
  • Appoint Supreme Court justices who will make it a priority to overturn Citizens United and who understand that corruption in politics means more than just quid pro quo.
  • Fight to pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that Congress and the states have the power to regulate money in elections. Senator Bernie Sanders has been a proud sponsor and leading champion of such an amendment in the Senate. 
  • Fight for a publicly financed, transparent system of campaign financing that amplifies small donations, along the lines of the Fair Elections Now Act.
  • Insist on complete transparency regarding the funding of campaigns, including through disclosure of contributions to outside spending groups, via legislation, action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Election Commission, and Federal Communication Commission, and an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.
  • Fight to eliminate super PACs and other outside spending abuses.
  • Work to aggressively enforce campaign finance rules.

Getting big money out of politics is vital, but much more needs to be done to restore our democracy.  Notably, we must ensure that all Americans are guaranteed an effective right to vote.  Campaign finance reform must be accompanied by efforts to strengthen voting rights – restoring the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, expanding early voting and vote-by-mail, implementing automatic voter registration, ending gerrymandering and making Election Day a national holiday, among others. When nearly two-thirds of the electorate did not vote in the 2014 midterm elections, it is clear we need radical change to bring more people into the political system. Our democracy cannot be truly representative unless elected officials hear from all of their constituents, not just the wealthy and the powerful.

Returning to a government of, by, and for the people – not the billionaires and giant corporations – will not be easy. We need not some, but all of the measures highlighted here. This will require agreement of Congress or, in the case of a constitutional amendment, two-thirds of the Congress and three-quarters of the states. 

We’re going to get there by building a movement – a movement with enough power to insist that all of our elected representatives return power to the people, a movement that not only identifies the deep corruption of our politics but rejects cynicism and instead insists on solutions, action and accountability.

Talking Points: INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY

posted Feb 13, 2017, 11:56 AM by Lane Siekman

Income inequality refers to the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population. In the United States, income inequality, or the gap between the rich and everyone else, has been growing markedly, by every major statistical measure, for some 30 years. Today, we live in the richest country in the history of the world, but that reality means little because much of that wealth is controlled by a tiny handful of individuals.

The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time, and it is the great political issue of our time.
America now has more wealth and income inequality than any major developed country on earth, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the 1920's.
 
 

The reality is that since the mid-1980's there has been an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the wealthiest people in this country. That is the Robin Hood principle in reverse. That is unacceptable and that has got to change.

There is something profoundly     wrong when the top one-tenth       of one percent owns almost as     much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” – Pope Francis

There is something profoundly wrong when 58 percent of all new income since the Wall Street crash has gone to the top one percent.
 
 

Despite huge advancements in technology and productivity, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages. The real median income of male workers is $783 less than it was 42 years ago; while the real median income of female workers is over $1,300 less than it was in 2007. That is unacceptable and that has got to change.

 
   
There is something profoundly  wrong when we have a        proliferation of millionaires and  billionaires at the same time        millions of Americans work        longer hours for lower    wages and we have the            highest childhood poverty    rate of nearly any developed    country  on earth.

There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans.

The reality is that for the past 40 years, Wall Street and the billionaire class has rigged the rules to redistribute wealth and income to the wealthiest and most powerful people of this country.

We must send a message to the billionaire class: “you can’t have it all.” You can’t get huge tax breaks while children in this country go hungry. You can’t continue sending our jobs to China while millions are looking for work. You can’t hide your profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, while there are massive unmet needs on every corner of this nation. Your greed has got to end. You cannot take advantage of all the benefits of America, if you refuse to accept your responsibilities as Americans.

WE MUST COME TOGETHER AND REDUCE INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY BY:

  1. Demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes. Corporations must stop shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. There must be a progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. We must also enact a tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings.
  2. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020. In the year 2017, no one who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty.
  3. Putting at least 13 million Americans to work by investing $1 trillion over five years towards rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, railways, airports, public transit systems, ports, dams, wastewater plants, and other infrastructure needs.
  4. Reversing trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA, and PNTR with China that have driven down wages and caused the loss of millions of jobs. If corporate America wants us to buy their products they need to manufacture those products in this country, not in China or other low-wage countries.
  5. Creating 1 million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans by investing $5.5 billion in a youth jobs program. Today, the youth unemployment rate is off the charts. We have got to end this tragedy by making sure teenagers and young adults have the jobs they need to move up the economic ladder.
  6. Fighting for pay equity by signing the Paycheck Fairness Act into law. It is an outrage that women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.
  7. Making tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout America. Everyone in this country who studies hard should be able to go to college regardless of income.
  8. Expanding Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000. At a time when the senior poverty rate is going up, we have got to make sure that every American can retire with dignity and respect.
  9. Guaranteeing healthcare as a right of citizenship by enacting a Medicare for all single-payer healthcare system. It’s time for the U.S. to join every major industrialized country on earth and provide universal healthcare to all.
  10. Requiring employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; two weeks of paid vacation; and 7 days of paid sick days. Real family values are about making sure that parents have the time they need to bond with their babies and take care of their children and relatives when they get ill.
  11. Enacting a universal childcare and prekindergarten program. Every psychologist understands that the most formative years for a human being is from the ages 0-3. We have got to make sure every family in America has the opportunity to send their kids to a high quality childcare and pre-K program.
  12. Making it easier for workers to join unions by fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act. One of the most significant reasons for the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits have been severely undermined.
  13. Breaking up huge financial institutions so that they are no longer too big to fail. Seven years ago, the taxpayers of this country bailed out Wall Street because they were too big to fail. Yet, 3 out of the 4 largest financial institutions are 80 percent bigger today than before we bailed them out. Congress must finally decide to break these banks up.

DCS PROBLEMS

posted Feb 15, 2016, 11:46 AM by Lane Siekman

DCS: Only after the Department of Child Services sees a spike in caseloads, Pence announces hiring of additional case workers, barely meeting state compliance standards.  -Fox 59, 8.13.15

HIV

posted Feb 15, 2016, 11:45 AM by Lane Siekman

HIV: After 65 days, Governor Pence signs State of Emergency for Scott County, allows needle exchange program to help fight outbreak. By that time, HIV outbreak went from 10 to 79. -WHAS, 5.21.15

LGBT

posted Feb 15, 2016, 11:45 AM by Lane Siekman

LGBT: After a $250 million economic panic and putting state’s “Hoosier Hospitality” reputation on the line, Governor Pence signs a “fix” – LGBT Hoosier still could be discriminated in the workplace, housing, public accommodation.  -WISH, 4.1.15

INFRASTRUCTURE

posted Feb 15, 2016, 11:44 AM by Lane Siekman

INFRASTRUCTURE: Only after Indiana saw a month-long interstate bridge closure, $71 million wasted in faulty asphalt, and a public relations crisis – Mike Pence announced his infrastructure plan, leaving out any aid for the state’s local roads and bridges. – Indy Star, 10.13.15

JOBS

posted Feb 15, 2016, 11:43 AM by Lane Siekman

JOBS: As Donald Trump was criticizing Carrier’s decision to slash over 1,400 Hoosier jobs, Mike Pence only called it “disappointing” and couldn’t specify which federal rule was to blame for the decision to cut jobs in the state. – Indianapolis Business Journal, 2.12.16


SUPPORTING VETERANS

posted Jan 22, 2014, 2:15 PM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Feb 15, 2016, 11:52 AM ]

We have an obligation to honor and help our veterans. The men and women who serve in our military make a special sacrifice for the nation and for our freedom and prosperity. I am humbled by their service. Like so many, my family has been touched by service: My Father-in-law, brothers-in-law, son, nephew, and daughter-in-law have all served or are still serving in uniform. Service is part of our families and communities. If elected, I will dedicate a staff person in my office to work on behalf of veterans in the Sixth District, and I will recruit a veteran to that position.  I will commit as much of my time and effort as it takes to get results for our veterans.

Now that combat operations in Iraq are over and our mission in Afghanistan is nearly complete, our commitment to these men and women does not end when they return home. The post-9/11 GI Bill has given thousands of service members and their children the opportunity to pursue higher education. Congress passed a comprehensive veterans’ benefits package in 2010, and legislation in 2011 expands education and training opportunities for veterans, and provides tax credits for employers who hire disabled veterans.

But we need to do more. With advances in battlefield medicine and body armor, our soldiers are surviving serious injuries during their service, and many face a long and difficult recovery. Others are returning home with post-traumatic stress that requires specialized mental health counseling, too often in short supply.

The VA is over-extended and unprepared for this huge influx of veterans. I support increasing funding for and access to veterans’ health care and benefits and will demand accountability from the VA. With the growing number of women serving in the Armed Forces, many with dependent children, I will pay close attention to unique issues faced by female veterans.

Nearly 900,000 veterans’ claims are stuck in a VA backlog, with some veterans waiting months or even years to see the benefits they are entitled to receive. These delays take a huge toll on our veterans and their families. I will do everything I can to fix the claims system and reduce wait times for pending claims.

Homelessness among our Veteran population remains a serious concern: Every year, anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 veterans experience homelessness—with veterans of the Vietnam era disproportionately represented. I will support initiatives to end homelessness for our veterans.

While we have made great strides in expanding educational opportunities and employment assistance, one in ten post-9/11-era veterans are unemployed. I support current legislation that would provide training and employment services and offer grants for police and fire departments to train and hire veterans as first responders. I also support tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors.

After more than a decade of war, our military families have proven to be strong and resourceful, and I will continue to support the programs and benefits critical to their well-being: quality, accessible health care; career opportunities; good schools for military children; quality, affordable child care; and steadfast commitment to those widowed or orphaned.

HELPING SENIOR CITIZENS

posted Jan 22, 2014, 2:09 PM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Feb 15, 2016, 11:53 AM ]

I’m committed to keeping the promises made to and paid for by our seniors.  I believe in protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare and honoring the benefits that seniors earned during a lifetime of hard work.

Social Security and Medicare provide a critical lifeline for Hoosiers. 1,191,768 Hoosiers receive monthly Social Security checks, including 186,817 workers with disabilities and 100,871 children and 971,923 Hoosiers get their health care coverage from Medicare. Without these programs, millions of America’s elderly would live in poverty. By one estimate, Social Security alone lifts more than 14 million older Americans out of poverty.

I do not believe that Social Security is a “ponzi scheme,” as some have called it, and I do not support proposals that would privatize it. The program is safe for more than the next 20 years. We should use that time to consider modest changes that will extend its life for another generation of Americans. I would start by looking at changes that would not affect our seniors or those nearing retirement today, but in the long term would adjust Social Security contributions and benefits for the wealthiest Americans.

I oppose proposals that privatize Medicare, replace it with a voucher system, or simply shift costs onto seniors. Our first priority should be to maintain benefits and cut costs.

I’m also concerned about elder abuse and consumer fraud. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that thousands of older Americans suffer physical, emotional and financial abuse at the hands of their family and caretakers. Sadly, many victims are reluctant to report abuse, leaving them vulnerable and alone.

The FBI and the National Crime Prevention Council report that seniors are more at risk to be targeted by telemarketing and other consumer scams. The Council estimates that fraudulent telemarketers direct up to 56 to 80 percent of their calls at older Americans. I will work with law enforcement, health care providers and senior groups to find better ways to identify, stop and punish these crimes.

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