Senate Passes Budget Resolution Seen As Key To Trump’s Tax Overhaul Friday, Oct 20 2017 

Senate Republicans passed a $4 trillion budget blueprint late Thursday by a narrow 51-49 vote, with Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul joining Democrats in opposing the measure considered a key step in forward on President Trump’s promises of a tax overhaul.

The White House praised the bill, saying it “creates a pathway to unleash the potential of the American economy through tax reform and tax cuts.”

Politico writes: “The budget resolution does include a decade of proposed spending cuts and entitlement overhauls. But it’s largely seen as a shortcut to reforming the tax code, which Republicans have deemed a must-do after falling short on their attempts to repeal Obamacare.”

The measure contains language that sets up special procedures that will thwart any move by Senate Democrats to stage a filibuster on follow-up tax legislation.

And, a House GOP source tells The Hill that the procedural language “seems sufficient to avoid a conference committee between the two chambers, and allow the House to simply pass the Senate resolution.”

As proposed, the tax cuts are expected to add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, but Republicans are convinced that they will spur stronger economic growth, offsetting the lost revenue.

“These are reforms that change incentives and drive growth, and we’ve never done that before,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said passing the budget is “critical to getting tax reform done, so we can strengthen our economy after years of stagnation under the previous administration.”

Democrats who voted in lock-step against the budget resolution, warn that the tax overhaul will benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans while mostly leaving out middle and lower income earners.

“The bottom line on this budget is that it’s a right-wing fantasy document that paves the way for a hyper-partisan process on tax reform and trillions of dollars in handouts to big corporations and the wealthy,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, according to The Associated Press.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

No ‘Rejoicing’ From State Employee Reps Over Bevin’s Pension Fix Thursday, Oct 19 2017 

Representatives of state employees, teachers and police officers aren’t happy with Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal to offer less-generous retirement plans and tinker with state worker benefits in an effort to save the state’s ailing pension systems.

David Smith, executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, said the organization will hold a “torches and pitchforks” rally at the state capitol if Bevin calls a special legislative session for lawmakers to vote on the proposal.

“We want to let them know that if they need to be drug out of town, they need to be drug out of town,” Smith said. “You can do what’s right and you don’t have anything to worry about —  but if you don’t, doggone it, we’re there. Because the monsters need to leave.”

On Wednesday, Bevin, House Speaker Jeff Hoover and Senate President Robert Stivers unveiled a multi-point plan that would — among other changes — phase out the state’s use of a defined-benefit pension system, which guarantees payments to state employees throughout their retirements.

Nearly all future and some current employees would be moved into defined contribution plans like 401(k)s, which require the state to put less money into employee retirements.

Bevin said state employees and retirees should be “rejoicing” over the proposal.

Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, called the proposal a “disappointment,” saying 401(k)-type plans aren’t appropriate for teachers.

“For the degrees and the amount of education that teachers are required to obtain statutorily, there’s no reason for anyone to stay in education when they could use those degrees in the private sector and actually make a salary where they could afford to contribute to a 401-type plan,” Winkler said.

“For the sacrifices to serve the public and serve the students of Kentucky, we rely on the promise of a defined-benefit pension that after we serve the public we will be taken care of as retirees.”

The plan would, for five years, suspend cost of living adjustments given to retired teachers. Winkler said that provision would violate the contract rights of teachers.

Bevin’s proposal was unveiled after months of closed-door negotiations with the Republican leaders of the legislature.

Combined, Kentucky’s pension systems are among the worst-funded in the nation. Lawmakers diverted contributions to the systems for decades, leading to an unfunded liability ranging between $30 billion and $70 billion.

Employees who are considered to have “hazardous” duties — like police and firefighters — have the fewest changes under Bevin’s plan.

But not all first responders will avoid major changes. Over the years, local governments have designated about 47 percent of their police officers as “non-hazardous” for budgetary reasons, said Nicolai Jilek with the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police.

Because of that designation, police officers hired after 2013 and future hires would be moved out of their current hybrid 401(k) program that guarantees a rate return on their retirement account and into a less-generous 401(k).

Jilek said police departments will have a hard time attracting and retaining new recruits with that model.

“They’re going to have the ability to just leave whenever they find something more lucrative or when they just realize the pressures of the job,” Jilek said. “It’s not worth it for them anymore.”

All state employees would also have to pay 3 percent of their salaries towards a retirement employee health plan under Bevin’s proposal.

Jilek called it a “tax on people who choose to go into public service.”

“Anytime the government takes money out of your paycheck without a direct benefit to you, it’s a tax,” said Jilek.

Bevin and Republican leaders spearheading the pension issue haven’t officially released a bill detailing the changes. So far only an outline has been released.

Bevin said he plans on calling a special legislative session for lawmakers to vote on the measure later this year.

Sure, There’s A Health Care Deal. That Doesn’t Mean It Can Pass Thursday, Oct 19 2017 

Updated at 3:55 p.m. ET

A bipartisan coalition of 24 senators — 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats — has signed on to health care legislation to prop up the individual insurance market and keep premiums down. With the expected support of all Senate Democrats, it could have the votes to pass the chamber. But questions remain over when it might actually get a vote, as well as whether President Trump and House Republicans would bring the bill over the finish line.

“This is a first step: Improve it, and pass it sooner rather than later. Our purpose is to stabilize and then lower the cost of premiums in the individual insurance market for the year 2018 and 2019,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on the Senate floor. Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., crafted the compromise bill.

Alexander and Murray have been working on this legislation for months. Negotiations initially began after the Senate failed to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare back in July.

Most Americans get health insurance through their employer or from the government. About 18 million Americans get their insurance through the individual market established by the Affordable Care Act. “They’re the ones we’re worried about; they’re the ones we’re seeking to help,” Alexander said, noting that includes about 350,000 people in his home state.

“I have to say that after seven years of intense partisanship on these issues, which would lead everyone to believe there was no hope for Republicans and Democrats to come together and work to strengthen our health care, I’m really pleased with this common ground we’ve been able to find,” Murray said on the Senate floor.

President Trump’s decision last week to end subsidies to insurance companies that were allowed under the ACA revived congressional talks. The Trump administration argued — and initial court rulings backed them up — that the payments were illegal because they had not been appropriated by Congress, which has the constitutional authority to spend the government’s money. Although the 2010 health care law required insurers to provide discounts to some low-income consumers and said the government would reimburse them, without authorizing the spending.

The Alexander-Murray proposal would appropriate those subsidies for two years, and tie them to permanent changes to the law that give states more flexibility to seek waivers from the Health and Human Services Department from the ACA’s requirements. It would also allow insurances companies to sell less comprehensive plans to all customers, not just those under age 29 as is the case under current law.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that without the subsidies, premiums will go up, the deficit will rise and up to 16 million Americans could live in counties with no insurance providers at all.

“Unless they are replaced with something else temporarily, there will be chaos in this country and millions of Americans will be hurt,” Alexander warned.

Alexander said Trump has been privately encouraging of the talks, but the president cast doubts on the legislation this week by suggesting it was a “bailout” for insurance companies that he could not support. However, the bill’s sponsors counter that the legislation requires that the subsidies go directly to the consumer to keep premiums down.

The bipartisan bill has potentially critical GOP support from Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona. The trio played a defining role in the defeat of previous GOP health care bills this year. It also has the backing of Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who have competing legislation to dismantle the ACA and replace it with a block grant system to the states.

GOP backers say the bill does not pre-empt the party’s ongoing effort to end Obamacare but rather buys time to keep working on legislation that can muster enough support to pass Congress. Conservatives have balked at Alexander-Murray as a tacit admission that Obamacare will remain the law of the land. House Speaker Paul Ryan said through a spokesman Wednesday that the speaker believes the Senate should remain focused on legislation to end Obamacare, not prop it up.

The proposal puts the GOP in a bind between the policy necessity to act to protect millions of Americans from premium hikes, and the political necessity to continue to keep up its effort to dismantle the current system. An August poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 60 percent of Americans think Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for what happens to the ACA in the future.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not taken a position on the bill, but he is unlikely to bring something to the floor unless it has Trump’s support and the 60 votes needed to clear a potential filibuster, which it should if all 48 Senate Democrats support it along with the 12 Republicans who have signed on. The legislation crowds an already limited legislative calendar. It would need to become law before the end of the year when Congress needs to pass a spending bill package to keep the government running. That spending bill would be the vehicle to fund the insurance subsidies.

Along with Alexander, Collins, Murkowski, McCain, Graham and Cassidy, the additional GOP co-sponsors include Sens. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

The Democratic co-sponsors joining Murray include Sens. Angus King, independent of Maine, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tom Carper of Delaware, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

30-Foot Border Wall Prototypes Erected In San Diego Borderlands Thursday, Oct 19 2017 

Construction crews are erecting eight looming prototypes of President Trump’s border wall in a remote section of the San Diego borderlands. Four are solid concrete; four are made of steel and concrete; one is topped with spikes. They all approach 30 feet in height.

Customs and Border Protection is paying $20 million to six construction companies from Mississippi, Maryland, Alabama, Texas and Arizona. Crews in white hardhats operating cranes and forklifts are expected to complete the models by the end of the month.

Once the sections of wall are finished, CBP — parent agency of the Border Patrol — will evaluate them for three criteria.

“We want a better barrier. One that is hard to scale, hard to penetrate and hard to tunnel under,” says Roy Villareal, chief of the San Diego Border Patrol sector.

“We’re hoping innovation from private industry combined with our experience generates the next evolution of border security infrastructure,” he continues.

NPR | wfpl.org

Aurelia Rodriguez and her daughter Melanie stand in a structure in Tijuana, Mexico, with a view of border wall prototypes under construction.

About a half-dozen undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the middle of the construction since the concrete slabs started going up. Most of them hopped over the 10-foot, Vietnam-era landing mats that currently serve as the primary border fence. The Border Patrol says, typically, it picks up about 70 illegal crossers in the entire San Diego sector every day.

While the mockups are massive, it’s anybody’s guess whether they’ll ever get built. Trump’s border wall is opposed by congressional Democrats, as well as most of California’s and San Diego’s leadership. But they’re certainly getting lots of press.

Every day, border agents in crisp green uniforms shuttle in news crews from as far away as the Czech Republic and the Netherlands to shoot video of the busy construction site just east of the Otay Mesa port of entry. The backdrops: south of the prototypes is a dusty Tijuana industrial zone; to the north are the rugged Otay Mountains.

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Competitors who are hoping to gain approval to build the border wall have until the end of the month to complete their work.

“The real issue with building a border wall is what the Congress does, not what the contractors do … The price tag on this is enormous,” says Doris Meissner, a former immigration commissioner and now a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

CBP expected the prototypes to spark big protests similar to the crowds that massed at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota last year decrying the pipeline. Officials even set aside a “free speech zone” and planned contingencies if trouble broke out. But since construction began three weeks ago, there have been no demonstrators.

“We knew this was political theater (from the Trump administration) and we’re not going to respond,” says Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition in San Diego. “This is much ado about nothing.” He says the much photographed prototypes represent “a guise that a border wall is being built” to please Trump supporters who chanted “Build the wall!” during the campaign.

NPR | wfpl.org

Border wall prototypes are being erected on Otay Mesa in San Diego County, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Tuesday, the president tweeted, “BORDER WALL prototypes underway!” above pictures of the massive sand-colored barriers.

Sector Chief Roy Villareal declines to predict the future of the prototypes, or say whether they are, in fact, a model for a wall to be ultimately constructed somewhere along the southern frontier.

“Part of the intent of the prototypes is to influence the ultimate design of new border fencing,” he says. “[The final design] may well not be what you witnessed this morning.”

The administration has asked Congress for $1.6 billion for 74 miles of new border wall — most of it in south Texas. The request is pending as Congress considers larger border security and immigration legislation.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Bevin Proposes Massive Changes To State Worker Pensions Wednesday, Oct 18 2017 

Gov. Matt Bevin and Republican leaders of the state legislature have released a proposal that would make major changes to the retirement plans for teachers and other state workers.

The proposal would phase out the state’s use of a defined-benefit pension system, which guarantees payments to state employees throughout their retirements.

Instead, nearly all future and some current employees would be moved into defined contribution plans like 401(k)s, which will require the state to put less money into employee retirements.

Bevin said the changes are necessary to keep the pension system alive.

“If you are a retiree, if you are working toward retirement and hoping to retire at some point, you should be rejoicing at this bill,” Bevin said.

The much-anticipated proposal comes after months of closed-door negotiations, though Bevin said he’s still not ready to call a special legislative session for lawmakers to vote on the measure.

Combined, Kentucky’s pension systems are among the worst-funded in the nation. Lawmakers diverted contributions to the systems for decades, leading to an unfunded liability ranging between $30 billion and $70 billion.

The proposal would require the legislature to make larger payments to the state’s retirement funds and shift future employees out of the pension systems, meaning their contributions won’t help pay down the state’s massive liability.

As a result, Bevin said next year’s budget-writing process “will be a brutally difficult budget session.”

Bevin’s proposed changes differ for each of the state’s pension funds, though all employees will now be required to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to a retiree health program and won’t be allowed to use accrued sick leave to boost their benefits.

Employees who have “hazardous” duties — like police and firefighters — have the fewest changes. They would remain in the state’s conventional pension system.

State workers hired before 2014 will be able to continue using their defined benefit programs, though they would have to transfer to a 401(k) once they have worked for 27 years.

State workers hired in 2014 or later, and teachers hired after July 1, 2018, would be moved into 401(k) plans.

Because teachers don’t receive Social Security benefits, the state and local school districts would make increased contributions to their retirement funds. Teachers would also contribute 3 percent of their salaries to retiree health benefits.

Though Bevin said “we’re not changing anything for someone who’s already retired,” his proposal tinkers with cost of living adjustments given to retired teachers — ending the 1.5 percent supplements for the next five years and the first five years of future teacher retirements.

Teachers also wouldn’t be able to use sick leave in their retirement calculations after July 2018.

Teachers and state workers who have worked more than 27 years would be required to transition to a 401(k) plan within three years.

Jim Carroll, spokesman of Kentucky Government Retirees, said that Bevin’s proposal would violate the state’s promise to honor retirement benefits for current and retired workers.

“Proposals to arbitrarily limit the accrual of benefits betray the pension promise and violate the contract rights of Kentucky Retirement Systems members,” Carroll said.

“We will be conveying our opposition in our outreach to legislators throughout the review process. We hope that, in anticipation of the 2018 session, leadership will soon begin seriously considering revenue measures that will help address pension funding while upholding the legally secured rights of KRS members.”

Bevin has called for the legislature to reform the state’s tax code in order to bring in more revenue, but Republican leaders in the legislature have been reluctant out of fear that it would require raising taxes.

Draft Of Health Care Bill Addresses Trump Concerns About ‘Bailouts’ For Insurers Wednesday, Oct 18 2017 

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET

A proposal in the Senate to help stabilize Affordable Care Act marketplaces would ensure that subsidies paid to insurance companies benefit consumers rather than padding the companies’ profits.

A draft of the bill, obtained by NPR, requires health plans to offer the subsidies as one-time or monthly rebates to consumers or they will be repaid to the federal government. The subsidies, known as cost-sharing reduction payments, are designed to reimburse insurance companies for discounts they are required to offer their customers on copayments and deductibles. President Trump has criticized the payments as a “bailout” and said last week he would cut them off.

The bipartisan bill, proposed by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., restores the payments for the rest of this year and the next two years. But the lawmakers are seeking to reassure the president that the payments will benefit consumers and not insurance companies.

Trump told reporters at the White House this morning that he was looking forward to seeing the bill.

“And if something can happen, that’s fine. But I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies because right now the insurance companies are being enriched. They’ve been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody has ever seen before. I am not going to do anything to enrich the insurance companies,” Trump said.

He had tweeted such concerns earlier on Wednesday.

A congressional GOP source tells NPR’s Susan Davis that Alexander spoke to Trump before the president tweeted out his concerns and was encouraged to keep working on the bill.  

Murray and Alexander are expected to officially release the bill with a list of bipartisan co-sponsors by Thursday. Republicans are working a number of influential senators from the moderate and conservative wings to sign on so the bill can pass the Senate.

Republican Senate leaders have indicated they will not waste limited floor time on another failed health care bill, which means the bill must be ensured 60 votes to pass.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the president at length for tempering his initial support for the deal. “This president keeps zigging and zagging so it’s impossible to govern,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “He’s totally inconsistent. For it one day, against it the next day. You can’t govern — Mr. President, you cannot govern a country, you cannot keep America great, if you don’t know what’s in the bills and you don’t have a consistent policy about them.”

Schumer said he’d had private conversations with the president in recent weeks in which they both agreed to encourage their respective senators to reach a deal.

The bill also allows states to seek waivers to create variations on the Affordable Care Act in their own states. That’s been a priority of Republican lawmakers, who argue that state-level legislators and governors better understand the needs of their citizens.

“This will give states meaningful flexibility,” Alexander said Tuesday in discussing the forthcoming bill.

The ACA allows states to apply for waivers to set up systems such as reinsurance programs that protect insurance companies from large and unexpected losses, or high-risk pools to provide coverage to the sickest patients.

But many of the state applications have been delayed or denied because of all the requirements laid out in the law.

For example, the ACA requires state legislatures to pass a law approving the waiver provisions. The new proposal would simply allow a state governor to sign off on the plan.

The bill also restores some of the federal budget for advertising and outreach for open enrollment in ACA health plans, which starts on Nov. 1. The Trump administration slashed that budget by 90 percent.

Alexander says he will seek Senate co-sponsors for the bill and then bring it to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later this week for consideration.

NPR’s Susan Davis contributed to this report.

Full text of the bill and a summary are below.

Murray Alexander Market Stabilization Bill

Murray-Alexander Bill Summary

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Bevin, Legislative Leaders To Announce Proposal To Fix Pension Systems Wednesday Tuesday, Oct 17 2017 

Gov. Matt Bevin and the Republican leaders of the state legislature will unveil a proposal to fix Kentucky’s ailing pension systems Wednesday morning.

In a press release issued late Tuesday the governor’s office said that Bevin, House Speaker Jeff Hoover and Senate President Robert Stivers will present “a comprehensive plan to save Kentucky’s ailing public pension systems” in the State Capitol at 9 a.m.

“There have been hours and hours and hours of discussion among legislators and our administration in dialing this in. We are getting close,” Bevin said in a recorded statement.

“This is a bill that every single legislator will vote for if they’re doing what’s right for retirees and state workers.”

Earlier in the day Bevin said his proposal to fix Kentucky’s ailing pension systems would come in the form of a 400-page bill. At the time, he said the legislation was still being negotiated by members of his administration and leaders of the state legislature.

Bevin said the public would have “plenty of time” to review the proposal, which he called a “good plan.”

“It’s one that fulfills the promise, it’s one that allows people to get what it is that they were promised,” Bevin said.

Kentucky has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation. The main retirement fund for most state workers has only 14 percent of the money it needs and all retirement funds combined have an estimated liability ranging between $30 billion and $70 billion.

The pension systems’ lack of funds puts retirement checks at risk and puts a strain on the state budget — Kentucky legislators have had to set aside more and more money for the systems in recent years.

Bevin has promised to call a special legislative session for lawmakers to pass a bill that will deal with the pension crisis. Over the past months, the governor’s office and leaders of the Republican-led legislature have been meeting behind closed doors to come up with a consensus.

It’s unclear what Bevin’s pension proposal will include, though changes to pension plans for future state workers seems likely.

Bevin said that his plan will protect the pensions of “those that are retired, those that are working toward retirement.”

A consulting group hired by his office recommended weakening pension benefits for current and retired state workers by shifting future state employees from defined benefit retirement plans to 401(k)-style plans and raising the retirement age to 65 for most state workers.

The report prompted an uptick in state employees retiring out of fear that lawmakers would approve changes to the retirement plans of active employees.

Bevin said he’s not in favor of a proposal that would legalize marijuana in order to generate revenue that could go to the pension systems.

“If you look at this, the proposal that this would generate $100 million…we have a $60 billion problem at least, probably bigger,” Bevin said. “That’s 600 years of smoking pot to fix the pension crisis. I don’t think that’s a solution for Kentucky.”

The heads of the state’s pension agencies said the legislature needs to set aside $5.4 billion to keep the systems afloat — that amounts to about a quarter of the state’s two-year $21 billion budget.

How The NRA Uses Its Political Clout: An Early Lesson In Oklahoma Tuesday, Oct 17 2017 

There was a time when the National Rifle Association was known primarily for promoting gun safety and advocating for gun ownership for hunting and home protection.

But that seems a long time ago.

It still does those things, to be sure, but these days the NRA is far more recognizable as an uncompromising political force, aggressively defending its interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, while working to defeat any and all politicians it views as its enemy.


It’s a transition that took place over several decades, but one race in the 1990s in the northeast corner of Oklahoma can be seen as an early indication of the direction the NRA would take. Rep. Mike Synar, D-Okla., experienced NRA support early in his career, only to have the organization work against him as his views on guns shifted.

Synar, a Democrat from Muskogee, was just 28 years old when he went to Washington. Yes, Oklahoma still sent Democrats to Congress back then — in fact in 1978, the year he was elected, Democrats held five of the state’s six congressional seats. Oklahoma, the home of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, still had a deep populist strain in its politics. That has long faded, however, as the state’s entire congressional delegation today is Republican and very conservative.

In those early years after his election, Synar actually counted the NRA among his supporters.

The archives at the University of Oklahoma, where Synar’s papers are housed, include a black-and-white photograph of him meeting with Neal Knox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, in 1981.

There’s also a 1980 letter from Knox to the NRA membership that states, “The National Rifle Association’s political victory fund is pleased to announce its endorsement of Congressman Mike Synar for reelection from Oklahoma’s 2nd District.”

But the honeymoon did not last.

After the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981, as well as several mass shootings in the U.S., Synar began to support the call for stricter gun laws, including the Brady Bill, which was named after James Brady, the presidential press secretary wounded in the attempt on Reagan’s life.

Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1993, Synar said that since the Brady Bill had been introduced, “Six long, murderous years have passed; 100,000 of our best and brightest citizens have been killed by handguns.” It was strong language, but it reflected Synar’s beliefs. An avid hunter, he felt that certain regulations and safeguards such as the five-day waiting period for handgun purchases and background checks were warranted.

He would also join his colleague in the House, then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in co-sponsoring a ban on assault weapons.

Needless to say, the NRA was not pleased.

The organization responded by pouring cash and energy into defeating Synar, including supporting Democrats to challenge him in primary elections.

In the 1992 primary, his Democratic opponent was supported by a series of full-page newspaper advertisements in daily papers in the districts largest cities.

One such ad, in the Tulsa World featured rows of banner headlines that labeled Mike Synar “Anti-HUNTER” and “Anti-GUN” and “Anti-OKLAHOMA.” It ended by saying it’s time for voters to become “Anti-SYNAR.” Then there’s the call to action in a black box at the bottom: “VOTE DREW EDMONDSON SEPTEMBER 15.

Edmondson would force Synar into a runoff election, which Synar would eventually win on the way to capturing another term in the general election. But it was a close call, and Synar was on notice.

Synar sought his ninth term in Congress in 1994 and faced another Democratic primary challenge. This time it wasn’t just the NRA, but other interest groups who’d joined in the effort to defeat him, including cattle ranchers and oil and gas interests. Oklahoma was an increasingly conservative place, and Synar’s progressive politics were increasingly attracting opposition. But the NRA worked hard to increase its membership in the district. It succeeded at that and at getting voters to turn out. It’s a strategy the organization has only gotten better at over the years.

On primary night, Synar was forced into a runoff against a political newcomer, retired middle school principal Virgil Cooper. Cooper would win the runoff by a narrow margin, ending Synar’s political career. Cooper then went on to lose the general election to Republican Tom Coburn, who would go on to a lengthy career in the U.S. House and eventually the U.S. Senate.

Gene Wallace, who worked for Synar in those years as his congressional district manager in Oklahoma, says they didn’t fully appreciate that Synar’s votes on gun control would hurt him.

“We did dismiss it,” the Wallace says, “because it wasn’t part of the public square debate. There wasn’t anybody calling our office or … coming to our office and saying, ‘Hey, we’re fearful that someone’s gonna take our guns.’ “

Looking back 23 years to that primary election night in 1994, the 74-year-old recalls what the congressman said to him in defeat, “He said, ‘You know, things change, and the pundits will figure this out in the future. But there’s not a decision I made and a vote that I made that I regret.’ “

The NRA declined a request for comment on this congressional race.

As for Synar, his story took a tragic turn shortly after losing that election.

The following summer he began having vision problems. Doctors suspected something serious, and detected brain tumors. The cancer would claim his life in January 1996. He was 45 years old.

NPR | wfpl.org

President Bill Clinton speaks with Rep. Mike Synar, D-Okla, on Capitol Hill in July 1993. The two were longtime friends, and Clinton spoke at Synar’s memorial service in 1996

Among those speaking at a memorial service in Washington, D.C., was Synar’s longtime friend then-President Bill Clinton. In his remarks, an emotional Clinton reflected on their friendship — Clinton being Oklahoma’s neighboring state of Arkansas. He then noted, “If I hadn’t been elected president, he never would have had to vote on that assault weapons ban.”

Clinton also said of Synar, “He always had that wonderful saying, you know, ‘If you don’t want to fight fires, don’t be a fireman. If you don’t want to cast votes, don’t be a congressman.’ “

In the decades since those contests some quarter of a century ago, the NRA has escalated its political activity. It wins by painting its opponents as out of touch with the values of their district. In 1994, Synar was among the first to learn that.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Spike In Kentucky Disability Benefits Aided By Aging Baby Boomers Monday, Oct 16 2017 

A surge in the number of people receiving disability benefits in Kentucky is partly due to the state’s aging baby boomer population and other demographic trends, according to a left-leaning think tank.

Last week, state officials released a report documenting the swell of Kentuckians receiving disability payments through social security. The study accused the Social Security Administration of boosting enrollment in the disability insurance program through lax enrollment policies.

But Dustin Pugel, a research and policy associate with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said the increase is due to natural population changes.

“This is not a case of just an enormous amount of energy being put into scamming the system or actors actively trying to create a large group of dependent Kentuckians,” Pugel said.

According to the report released by Disability Determination Services — a state agency that decides if Kentuckians are eligible for certain state and federal benefits — Kentucky’s population grew by 21 percent between 1980 and 2015 while disability rolls grew 249 percent over the same time period.

In 2015, 11.2 percent of Kentuckians received some form of disability payment.

But KCEP points out that over the same period, Kentucky underwent a swell in people who are more likely to collect disability benefits: older people.

The number of Kentuckians who are between 50 and 64 years old increased 79 percent between 1990 and 2016. And that same group’s share of the total state population has increased as well — from 13.6 percent of Kentuckians in 1990 to 20.2 percent in 2016.

“It’s really just the fact that older people tend to be disabled more often and there are more people in that age category than there have ever been before,” Pugel said.

The state’s report argued that the federal government needs to reform the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Officials proposed tightening the eligibility and re-enrollment process and removing “non-severe conditions” from the list of eligible disabilities.

The report found Kentuckians in the eastern part of the state were the most likely to receive benefits — in 2015, the top counties were Wolfe, Owsley, Breathitt, Clay, Magoffin, Floyd, Lee, Leslie, Martin, Harlan, Perry and Bell.

LouisvilleKY’s Rick Pitino is off the UofL team, fired today by Board of Trustees Monday, Oct 16 2017 

By Jackie Hollenkamp Bentley

 

Louisville, KY., – Multiple news sources are reporting that Rick Pitino has officially been fired from the University of Louisville Men’s Basketball program. Pitino had been on administrative leave since Sept. 27 when the FBI announced an investigation into fraud and corruption in college basketball.  The university’s board of trustees voted this afternoon to formally terminate the Hall of Fame coach’s contract.

According to ESPN.com, Pitino’s attorney (Steve Pence) submitted an affidavit on his behalf at today’s meeting, stating the termination was unjust.

“I do not dispute ULAA’s right to terminate my employment at its discretion,” Pitino’s affidavit stated. “But I vehemently reject its right to do so ‘for cause.’ I have given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract.”

Rick Pitino

Rick Pitino

As for the future of Tom Jurich, who was also suspended amidst the scandal, is not as clear cut. Local news station, WAVE3, says “speculation has swirled since Jurich’s suspension that he might regain his job after the school completes its investigation.”

Nope, staying at U of L

 

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