Thursday, April 8, 2021

Lessons from Georgia's hot mess -- April 8, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

It’s fair to say Georgia’s rush to approve a restrictive new election law didn’t go the way Republican proponents hoped.

Predicated on the lie that the 2020 election in Georgia was riddled with fraud, the 98-page Election Integrity Act includes 16 key provisions a New York Times analysis found “will limit ballot access, potentially confuse voters and give more power to Republican lawmakers.”

Reactions were swift and harsh. President Joe Biden attacked the law as “Jim Crow in the 21st” century, and four lawsuits are challenging the law as discriminatory against people of color.

Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game from Atlanta, delivering an early verdict on lawmakers’ intentions and potentially costing the state $100 million in lost revenue.

Moving the game to Denver will hurt most the people in Atlanta who are already suffering in the pandemic economy -- small business owners and the workers who rely on low-paying jobs in the tourist industry.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s stubborn response that other states’ voting laws are as bad as, or worse than, Georgia’s is childish and embarrassing.

Ditto Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ham-handed threat this week to corporations to shut up about policy issues.

“Stay out of politics,” he warned on Tuesday, only to reverse himself on Wednesday.

But if Georgia GOP lawmakers thought their hot mess of a law would befuddle and silence enough urban voters to make a difference in close elections, they weren’t taking into account Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Bottoms showed strategic leadership Tuesday with an administrative order directing the city’s equity office to develop a plan to mitigate the new law’s effects.

“This administrative order is designed to do what those in the majority in the state legislature did not – expand our right to vote,” she said.

A mayor can’t undo what the legislature and governor have done, but she can take actions they should have: help voters prepare for future elections.

Her order includes measures to train city staff on voter registration and on early, absentee and in-person voting so they can communicate the changes to residents. It also directs the city to educate residents on how to obtain the forms of ID now required for absentee voting and to include QR codes and links regarding voter registration and absentee voting in water bills and other mailings.

Surely, we can all agree that when a state changes election rules, it has a responsibility to inform voters about those changes, so that eligible voters can indeed cast ballots.

Sadly, no. There’s no indication Georgia plans to educate voters or help them more easily comply with the law’s provisions. Meanwhile, the GOP disinformation campaign with unproven allegations about election fraud continues.

Six in 10 Republican voters believe the 2020 election was “stolen” from Donald Trump, and the same proportion say he should run again in 2024, a new Reuters/IPSOS poll reports. 

The former president continues to harp on “massive fraud” in the election, sowing distrust in the voting system. After multiple ballot recounts, investigations and court cases found no widespread voter fraud anywhere in 2020, this deliberate and willful ignoring of facts is appalling.

But lawmakers in more than 40 states, feeling pressure to do something, have introduced more than 361 bills to limit ballot access. About 55 bills are moving forward, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit policy institute that tracks voting rights.

Texas and Arizona are poised to pass restrictive laws, although what effect the laws may have is uncertain.

Georgia’s new law could have been worse. It will suppress the vote by making it harder for people to vote absentee and offering fewer ballot drop boxes, but Sunday voting was preserved.

And the GOP effort could backfire if new laws motivate voters to go to the polls in even greater numbers for gubernatorial and congressional midterm elections in 2022.

A coalition of more than 200 companies, including such giants as Dow, Twitter, Paypal and Uber, recently spoke out in favor of voting rights. Their voices are welcome, but it’s time to act.

The companies should join with state and local groups to spread the word about what the new laws entail, so eligible voters can indeed

 prepare for casting their ballots. Our elections need all of us, and we all need fair elections.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

How Biden gets infrastructure plan on track -- April 1, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

When President Joe Biden unveiled Wednesday his roughly $2 trillion infrastructure plan, both the political right and the left came out swinging.

“It’s like a Trojan horse,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, complaining of “more borrowing and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy.”

“This is not nearly enough,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, adding Biden’s plan “needs to be way bigger.” She and other progressives floated the need for an infrastructure plan five times larger than Biden’s.

Biden finally found the sweet spot of bipartisanship – and it is against his sweeping American Jobs Plan.

That’s not all bad. Infrastructure should and perhaps still can be a bipartisan issue.

Nearly everyone agrees the nation’s roads, bridges, railways, airports and waterways need updating and expanding, but how to pay for improvements is the perennial sticking point.

Biden says his bigger, bolder plan pays for itself with – here’s the stick -- higher corporate taxes over 15 years.

The carrot is an array of proposals offering something for nearly every American.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It’s a once in a generation investment in America” that, Biden said, will create millions of jobs and put the United States on a secure environmental and competitive footing for the future.

The plan would remake the economy, revamp transportation and fight climate change and racial inequity. It would redo sewer systems, install a nationwide network of electrical charging stations, give tax incentives for purchases of electric cars, expand broadband access and at-home healthcare, and empower more workers with collective bargaining rights.

And that’s just part of what’s in part one.

Part two – the American Families Plan – is expected shortly. It likely will include paid family leave and other popular benefits.

But nothing happens unless Congress approves. Biden is betting he can capture the imagination of people beyond the Beltway and turn his vision into legislation in even the fiercely partisan Capitol.

“We just have to imagine again,” he said.

“Imagine what we can do, what’s within our reach if we modernize those highways. Your family could travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas, on board a high-speed train. We can connect high-speed, affordable, reliable internet wherever you live.

“Imagine knowing that you are handing your children and grandchildren a country that will lead the world in producing clean energy technology . . . That’s what we’ll do.”

It’s an appealing, hopeful vision at a time when Americans need something to believe in and look forward to. But Biden needs to do more than paint pretty pictures.

He needs convince people government can work again and enough members of both parties to come together for the greater good.

A tall order. Biden proposes to raise the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. That’s still less than the 35% it was before the last administration and Republicans in Congress lowered the corporate rate to 21% in 2017. He also would raise other corporate taxes to keep companies from moving overseas.

To pay for the coming American Families Plan, he said he would raise taxes only on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, not the middle class.

Big business favors traditional infrastructure improvements but solidly opposes corporate tax increases. Some congressional Democrats insist they won’t support a package unless it eliminates the $10,000 cap imposed during the last administration on individual tax deductions for state and local taxes.

Biden says he will consider and should other ways of paying. The pricetag for his two infrastructure plans is likely to total an eye-popping $4 trillion.

The Capitol is already suffering from “spending fatigue” after the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, paid for wholly through borrowing, that Democrats passed and Biden signed in February.

In Biden’s favor are widespread public support for his policies, polls show, and his optimistic vision.

“We have to move now, because I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years, people are going to look back and say this was the moment that America won the future,” he said.

Biden’s legacy hinges on his negotiating skills. He needs to compromise on aspects of the plan and persuade congressional Republicans and Democrats it’s worthwhile to go along.

If he succeeds, this president will lead the country in a cleaner, greener direction. If he fails, his ambitious plan becomes a marker for 2022 and 2024, and it’s more politics as usual.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Putting the snail in mail -- March 25, 2021 column

 By MARSHA MERCER

Remember Save the Post Office Saturday?

The demonstrations weren’t huge, but thousands protested outside post offices last August against Postal Service cuts.

Democratic lawmakers, fuming that President Trump was trying to cripple mail service to discourage millions from casting ballots by mail, called for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump mega-contributor and appointee, to resign. He delayed the cuts.

It’s 2021 and Joe Biden is president. Crisis averted? Not exactly.

DeJoy still runs the post office, and Tuesday he announced a new round of cuts to save the financially struggling Postal Service.

The “Delivering for America” plan in brief: slower mail at higher prices. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that won’t sit well with the American people or Congress.

Instead of delivering first class letters in one to three days, as it tries to do now, the service wants a five-day goal. To save money, more mail would go by truck and less by plane. Perhaps horses weren’t available.

The plan would cut hours at post office windows, because Americans love to stand in line at the P.O. And it would raise mailing rates.

The agency has lost $87 billion over the last 14 years. The plan is supposed to reverse a projected loss of $160 billion over the next decade.

But to reduce service and raise prices at a time when many Americans already distrust government seems tone deaf at least. We need to build up our institutions, not make them less efficient and less customer-friendly.

The Postal Service consistently ranks as the country’s most popular government agency. An astonishing 91 percent of respondents last April had a favorable view of it – higher than any other federal agency, a Pew Research Center survey found.

Strictly speaking, the Postal Service is not run by the federal government; it’s an independent agency that receives no direct taxpayer funding, relying on revenue from stamps and other fees.

Its sterling reputation has been tarnished. Trump had a gripe against Amazon and wanted to force the Postal Service to raise shipping rates, and he wanted to cast doubt on the integrity of mail-in voting.

The Postal Service’s election performance was better than many expected. On average, the service said, it delivered ballots to voters in 2.1 days and from voters to election officials in 1.6 days.

The holidays saw a record 25% growth in the volume of shipping and packages, which resulted in highly publicized delivery delays. On the upside, shipping revenue rose $2.1 billion. The agency plans to focus more on its package business.

While many Democrats want Biden to fire DeJoy, the president lacks that authority. The postmaster general serves at the pleasure of the nine-member Postal Service Board of Governors for an indefinite period. DeJoy enjoys the support of Trump’s appointees on the board.

“Get used to me,” DeJoy told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last month.

Biden has nominated three people to fill board vacancies and replaced the head of the Postal Regulatory Commission, which sets postal rates and has other oversight authority, with his own nominee.

Mailing a letter in the United States costs less than in most other countries, DeJoy’s plan notes. Currently the “Forever” stamp for first-class letters costs 55 cents and a postcard stamp is 36 cents. The plan wants flexibility to raise rates but doesn’t say by how much.

The plan avoids some of the most unpopular cuts floated in the past. It keeps open most post offices, even in rural areas, and maintains mail deliveries six days a week and package deliveries seven days a week.

Raising the price of stamps won’t solve the Postal Service’s problems. Congress in a 2006 “reform” ordered the service to pre-pay its retiree healthcare program decades into the future.

 DeJoy’s plan calls for repealing the requirement and enrolling retirees instead in Medicare, saving $44 billion over 10 years. Congressional Democrats have legislation to do just that.

The Postal Service “binds our nation together in a way that no other agency or organization does,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Oversight committee at the hearing.

No other entity in the world has to pre-pay a benefit 75 years in advance, said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee, adding that Congress has an obligation to fix the problem it created.

It’s time Congress acted to restructure the Postal Service so it can provide its valuable services for decades to come. Email and texts have their place, but nothing can replace a letter.

©Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

In 2021, patriots bare their arms -- March 18, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

Last year, wearing face masks divided Americans.

Now, a political gap has opened around the COVID-19 vaccine – with some Republicans saying they are hesitant, at least, to get the jab.

One in three Republicans say they will not get the vaccine when it becomes available, a CBS News poll found.

An Associated Press-NORC Center poll reported 42% of Republicans said they probably or definitely will not get the shot, compared with just 17% of Democrats.

Nearly half of those who supported President Donald Trump in 2020 said they would not get vaccinated, according to an NPR-Marist poll, and 59% of Republicans said in a Monmouth poll they’d either wait or wouldn’t get vaccinated at all.

Some say they are concerned about allergies and side effects, while others cited a distrust of the government, the polls reported.

“I don’t quite understand . . . this sort of macho thing about `I’m not gonna get the vaccine. I have a right as an American, my freedom not to do it,” President Joe Biden said in an ABC News interview that aired Wednesday. “Well, why don’t you be a patriot, protect other people?”

Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers may think saying no is about personal freedom, but let’s call it what it is: selfish and unpatriotic.

The idea of a patriot has been usurped by some on the political right. Trump talked about forming a Patriot Party though has backed off. His supporters, sometimes armed, wear Patriot T-shirts and wave Patriot banners at “Patriot” rallies. Several political parties already have Patriot in their names.

It’s time to reclaim the word patriot, as Merriam-Webster defines it: “one who loves and supports his or her country.”  

Americans who revere the right to keep and bear arms should also bare their arms for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Getting vaccinated is a patriotic act because someone is taking  responsibility not only for their own health and wellbeing but for that of their community, state and nation.

More than 111 million Americans have received at least one dose, and 15% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among those 65 and older, nearly 37% are fully vaccinated. But we still have a long way to go.

For the United States to reopen safely and fully, we need what’s called herd immunity and that means upwards of 75% of adults need to get vaccinated, health officials say.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George Bush recently starred in a public service video showing themselves getting vaccinated and urged Americans to follow suit.

Trump and his wife got vaccinated before they left the White House in January but didn’t make their vaccinations known to the public until this month. He acknowledged on Fox News that many of his supporters don’t want to get vaccinated and he recommended, in a qualified way, they do so.

‘I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it. And a lot of those people voted for me, frankly,” he said. “But, you know, again, we have our freedoms, and we have to live by that, and I agree with that, also.

“But it’s a great vaccine, it’s a safe vaccine. And it’s something that works,” Trump said.

Getting vaccinated doesn’t mean you won’t get the virus, but it does mean the effects likely will be less and you’ll be less likely to need hospitalization. So, if patriotism doesn’t move you, how about enlightened self interest?

Or follow the lead of about two dozen men and women of faith who rolled up their sleeves at Washington National Cathedral the other day. Think of getting vaccinated as a form of prayer for a healthier, better country.

Biden has directed states to make every adult eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine no later than May 1. He also wants to make signing up for and getting vaccinations easier. The administration is expanding vaccine distribution, the number of vaccination sites and the ranks of professionals authorized to give the shots.

It’s an impressive effort aimed at getting as many people vaccinated as soon as possible.

But the effort will succeed only if people -- patriots -- bare their arms.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

What time do you want it to be? -- March 11, 2021 column

 By MARSHA MERCER

Daylight saving time is back.

We “spring forward” and turn our clocks ahead one hour at 2 a.m. Sunday, losing an hour of sleep.

And at 2 a.m. on Nov. 7 we will “fall back,” set back the clocks and supposedly reclaim that lost hour. Or will we?

States can opt out of daylight saving time, but it would require an act of Congress to make daylight saving permanent. Now, a bipartisan group of senators wants to #locktheclock and do just that.

“The call to end the antiquated practice of clock changing is gaining momentum throughout the nation,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chief sponsor of the so-called Sunshine Protection Act, said Tuesday in a statement.

It’s no secret people hate changing their clocks. Since 2015, at least 350 bills or resolutions have been introduced in virtually every state legislature to make permanent either standard time or daylight saving time, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which said the biannual changing of the clocks raises “vexing and multifaceted state policy questions.”

Since the Florida legislature passed a law in 2018 for permanent daylight saving time, 15 other states have also passed laws, resolutions or voter initiatives backing permanent daylight saving. They are: Arkansas, Alabama, California, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

In Virginia, a bill to study the effects of daylight saving time died in committee last month, so there will be no change at least until next year’s session.

Seven in 10 Americans want to stop changing their clocks twice a year, an AP-NORC poll found in 2019. It’s disruptive of sleep, difficult for one’s biological rhythms to adjust to and makes life less safe, critics contend.

Among those who want to stop changing the time, 40% favored year-round standard time and 31% year-round daylight saving time, the poll reported.

Joining Rubio in reintroducing the Sunshine measure Tuesday were Sens. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma; Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, Rick Scott, R-Florida; and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.

Some senators want you to believe they are giving you an extra hour of sunshine. A summary of the bill, however, helpfully explains it does not change the amount of hours of sunlight.

Nor does the bill alter or change time zones or mandate the states and territories that do not observe daylight saving time do so. Hawaii, most of Arizona and the major U.S. territories do not change their clocks.

Benjamin Franklin floated the idea of daylight saving time in a humorous article in 1784. The United States first adopted daylight time during World War I, but it was unpopular. Congress ended it after the war. 

President Franklin Roosevelt restarted “War Time” in 1942 during World War II. When War Time ended in 1945, some states chose to start daylight saving in the summer.

Senators may want to be careful what they wish for. An emergency daylight saving time order in January 1974 during the OPEC oil crisis was supposed to last a year. It proved so unpopular when kids had to wait for the school bus in the dark of night, the edict was lifted.

Farmers, contrary to popular belief, hate daylight saving time, which upsets their schedules. They would rather let the sun and seasons dictate their work.

The Transportation Department, which oversees daylight saving time, says on its website daylight saving time can cut electricity use, save lives, prevent traffic injuries and reduce crime. Some studies dispute these findings.

Changing clocks is hard on people physically, with more people suffering heart attacks and strokes on days just after the spring time change, studies show. Heart attacks decline when we fall back.

Save Standard Time, a nonpartisan group, agrees we should stop changing our clocks twice a year but argues we go with permanent standard time. It blames “corporate lobbyists for special interests like Big Oil, Big Golf and Big Candy” for wanting to extend daylight time “and make its false clock permanent.”

Several organizations representing educators and sleep researchers as well as religious and medical groups have endorsed permanent standard time.

So, what time do you want it to be?

I don’t mind changing a few clocks twice a year, so the current system is OK with me. If we had to stick with just one year round, though, I’d go with standard time. Daylight saving is great in the spring and summer, but winter mornings are already dark enough.

Under permanent daylight time, sunrise in Virginia on Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice, wouldn’t come until about 8:20 a.m. No thanks.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Real world beckons after `second one,' but . . . --March 4, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

“Well, I’m glad you got your second one,” the woman wearing a mask and walking on the sidewalk said to the maskless man smoking a cigarette on his front porch.

In years past, this snippet of conversation would have been mysterious. What “second one” did the man get and why was the woman glad?

Now, anyone overhearing such an exchange, as I did on a walk in Alexandria Wednesday, knows exactly the subject. He’d received his second COVID-19 vaccination.

“But we’re still going to wear masks and socially distance,” she said. “Right?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “This is my big thing: I stand on the porch and smoke a cigarette and feel like I’m in the real world.” Then he chuckled and stubbed out his prize smoke.

Leave aside the irony of someone getting fully vaccinated against COVID while continuing to indulge in a nasty, health-defying habit. More Americans these days are sharing the joy of the jab and new-found optimism.

I had gotten my “second one” earlier that day. The sun was shining, it was early March and no snow or ice was in the forecast. What’s not to like?

We all feel the urge to return to the “real world,” however we define it. We yearn to see friends, go to dinner and concerts, shop and travel without worrying that these simple activities could literally cost us, our family members or loved ones our lives.

Ironically, some governors who are going the full-open may make it less appealing, not more, to visit their states.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, announced that as of this coming week schools and all businesses of any kind in the Lone Star State could fully reopen at 100% capacity, and masks would no longer be required.

COVID has not gone away, but the time for state mandates has, he said. Businesses can still require or ask customers to wear masks, but the message from the governor is clear: Be there, be bare or be square.

We’ve seen how well de-regulation worked for the Texas power grid during the winter storm disaster, which is to say not at all. Many residents there are still without potable water.

So now the state, where fewer than 2 million of its 29 million residents are fully inoculated against COVID, is de-regulating the pandemic. Mississippi’s governor and others are making the same decision.

“We cannot have an endless shutdown,” said Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican.

Public health experts say fully reopening as if life is back to normal is risky at best. They are pleading with residents to stay masked, keep social distance and wash their hands. 

President Joe Biden blasted the decisions to reopen in uncharacteristically harsh terms.

“The last thing – the last thing – we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask. Forget it. It still matters,” Biden told reporters.

Everyone is sick and tired of being home. Millions of Americans are suffering economically, and we all want to get out into the real world.

But even being fully vaccinated is not a Get Out of Jail Free card. You can still get sick, though likely not as sick; it’s uncertain whether you can spread the virus.

Americans must choose for themselves whether to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control to stay safe or throw caution to the winds in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Governors believe opening their states will juice the economy. But moving too far too fast could have the opposite effect. It could discourage tourism and usher in a third wave of the deadly virus.

I was born in Texas and enjoyed visiting the spectacular Big Bend National Park four years ago. Since well before the pandemic, I’ve wanted to visit my late mother’s tiny hometown in Northeast Texas. I didn’t get around to it, and the pandemic stopped everything. I thought this summer might be a good opportunity.

But now is not the time for me to be a tourist in any state that’s tempting fate. I’ll   wait, thank you.

©Marsha Mercer 2021. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

When tweets fly in face of culture change -- Feb. 25, 2021 column

 By MARSHA MERCER

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden told White House staff to treat others with respect -- or else.

“I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot,” the president said. “No if, ands or buts.”

A few weeks later, a deputy White House press secretary was forced to resign after reports he spoke abusively to a reporter who was writing a story about his romantic relationship with a reporter for another news organization.

“We are committed to striving every day to meet the standard set by the President in treating others with dignity and respect, with civility and with a value for others through our words and our actions,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.  

But where to draw the line? What about mean tweets?

Biden’s choice of Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget shows how challenging it will be to change the culture and tone of Washington in the age of political warfare on social media.

A former top aide to Hillary Clinton, Tanden is president of the liberal Center for American Progress. She stood to become the first woman of color and Indian American to lead OMB, the office that develops the president’s budget and sets out his legislative agenda.

She brings a compelling personal story and perspective. After her parents divorced when she was a child, her mother relied on food stamps and public housing.

"Now, I'm being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored," Tanden tweeted.

But her history of aggressive, political tweets apparently doomed her chances for the OMB job. The White House is considering her for other positions that do not require Senate confirmation.

Which job Tanden lands, if any, will test Biden’s commitment to turning the page and setting a new tone of calm and civility.

Tanden has tweeted more than 87,000 times since 2010 -- more than Biden’s predecessor. And like the former president’s, Tanden’s tweets often have been personal and scathing.

Social media encourages quick and nasty hits. Returning fire with fire seemed appropriate when the president was continually on Twitter to bash his opponents. Tanden, though, managed to antagonize those on the left as well as the right. Progressives and conservatives were her targets.

“Your attacks were not just made against Republicans. There were vicious attacks made against progressives. People who I have worked with – me, personally,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, now the Budget Committee chairman, told her at a committee hearing Feb. 10.

Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, told Tanden at a budget hearing Wednesday he was “very disturbed” by the personal nature of her tweets. “I mean you called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant slut,” he said.

“That’s not true, senator,” Tanden shot back.

Some Democrats rightly argue it’s hypocritical for tweets to disqualify someone for a job after Republicans ignored the White House tweet storm of the last four years. In addition, several OMB directors have come from the political world.

Tanden said she regrets her tweets, deleted more than a thousand of them and promised a “radically different” approach.

It’s too late. With Democrats and Republicans tied 50-50 in the Senate, Biden must move forward to cultivate a new spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship. He has less than two years until the mid-term elections to get things done. Republicans already are working to regain the Senate and add to their numbers in the House.

No president should saddle himself with any appointees who have alienated half the Senate and much of the House. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority of just 10 votes in the House.

That said, there’s no guarantee ditching Tanden means Republicans will show up waving olive branches in support of Biden’s agenda.

But if the president genuinely wants a new era, he must live up to his own high standards. Keeping Tanden will make that impossible.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Ninety-nine years well lived -- Feb. 18, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

“When you put your life on the line for other people, you become a hero & one day I truly wanna be someones hero like you are mine!” a girl named Jasmine wrote in red ink on pink construction paper.

I came across the note in stacks of thank you cards from school children who had heard Guy DeGenaro talk about his experience as a glider pilot in World War II.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, only about 325,000 remain, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported last Veterans Day. Every day, about 300 veterans of World War II leave us.

I’d like to tell you about one of them.

On his 18th birthday, Nov. 20, 1939, with Europe at war, DeGenaro left his home in New Haven, Conn., and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was a sergeant major shuffling paper when he learned volunteers were being sought for a dangerous mission.

“Almost as a lark, I said I’d put my name down,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2017. He became one of the first class trained in piloting gliders.

An Army website describes gliders as “the stealth technology of their day.” Lacking engines and unarmed, they were powered by air currents and the courage of their pilots. Army Gen. William C. Westmoreland described glider pilots as “the only aviators during World War II who had no motors, no parachutes, and no second chances.”

On D-Day, DeGenaro piloted a British-made Horsa glider about 6 miles behind German defenses in the Normandy invasion. He hit the ground going 70 mph, slowed the glider by hitting two or three Rommel’s Asparagus, the tall anti-glider poles installed by the Germans days before, and finally drew the aircraft to a stop by steering the nose between two trees, sheering off both wings.

“This really could be dangerous,” he later recalled thinking.

Miraculously, no one was hurt. He, the co-pilot and six 82nd Airborne troops clambered from the wreck and made a wild dash for the nearby hedgerow ditch with bullets flying in all directions. Later, a jeep and trailer were unloaded in usable condition.   

DeGenaro served on two other glider missions in Europe during World War II, then made a career in the Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. But he was always thinking ahead. He took advantage of educational opportunities in the military to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

After he retired from the Air Force in 1968, he earned a Ph.D. at the University of Florida and became a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, teaching for 26 years. He then started a management consulting firm and was still working in his 90s.

He married a Texan named Jennie Jennings in 1948. She became a teacher and administrator in Henrico County. When she died in 2014, he continued to live independently, with help from a support team that included a weekly cleaning lady, meals delivered by a catering company and help from a friend with paperwork, shopping and driving him to doctors’ appointments. 

In his 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” Tom Brokaw praises its members’ common purpose and values -- duty, honor, courage, service, love of family and country, and self-responsibility.

The DeGenaros, characteristically of the generation, downplayed their individual roles in making their country and world better. As the generation’s numbers dwindled, he talked more about the war with school groups, in programs at the Virginia War Memorial and with reporters.

Last November, DeGenaro celebrated his 99th birthday with a small family gathering. He’d have a real party when he turned 100 and COVID-19 was in the past, the family agreed.

His mind remained sharp. He kept up with current affairs and the stock market, taking the conservative position in many spirited discussions about politics. His sly smile was a tip-off he was about to zing me. He learned to Zoom so we could talk during the pandemic.

For, you see, I’m Guy and Jennie DeGenaro’s only child. He was my No. 1 reader, always supportive, even when we disagreed. I wish he could read this column. He died Feb. 13.

Several years ago, a 7th grader wrote my dad: “Even though you think you are not a hero you will always be a hero in my eyes.”

Mine too.

(Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. You may contact her at marsha.mercer@yahoo.com)

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, February 11, 2021

In the time of COVID, a shot of hope -- Feb. 11, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this week and felt a surge of relief, gratitude and irrational exuberance.

Irrational because a first dose is just that. A second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is needed three weeks later for full effectiveness. Plus, we don’t know if someone fully vaccinated can spread the coronavirus.

I never expected to get misty over a shot, but I did. Months lost to waiting and worrying about COVID-19, the unpredictable, deadly disease that has upended all our lives, could be nearly over.

Millions of Americans are lining up every day and rolling up our sleeves to get something that literally could save our lives. We are so lucky.

Lucky all the pieces of the puzzle came together. Vaccines are available, and we trust them. We were able to sign up online, and we could get to a vaccination center at the day and time specified.

I pre-registered for a vaccination through the Alexandria Health Department one month and a day before I received the shot.

Yet not all Americans are lucky enough. People in rural areas who lack the Internet or transportation to a vaccination site can, and are, getting left behind. This must change.

At George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, kind and efficient medical staffers wearing masks and plastic shields took my temperature and asked the now-familiar screening questions about exposure to the coronavirus.

I received an orange slip of paper and stood in another short line in the gym until someone at one of the many tables waved me over with a green “READY” sign. After I got my shot, which I hardly felt, staff asked me to wait 15 minutes in case of allergic reaction. Like most people, I had no reaction at all.

“Your arm is going to be sore -- not right away. Probably tomorrow,” the nurse told me. “But that’s OK.” She was right. The soreness didn’t last.

The COVID-19 vaccination delivery system is finally working.

I also signed up online for my elderly dad who lives in Richmond. He got an appointment a couple of weeks later in January. The contact person said everyone on her call list was 88 to 99 years old.

I drove my dad to the center, and we were able to wait in the car until the shot came to him about 45 minutes after his appointed time. I was so grateful we didn’t have to use the wheelchair I’d borrowed – and grateful for the man who helped direct traffic and then went car to car, offering a prayer to each.

But vaccination delivery varies greatly depending on where you live. A friend’s mother has spent many hours on the phone, trying to book appointments for herself and her mother, who’s in her 90s. The experience left her in tears of frustration and anger.

More than 470,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, among them about 100,000 in the last month. Millions have lost their jobs and businesses. And yet, with the rollout of vaccinations, there’s hope.

The number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations nationally is dropping, though it’s still high.

President Joe Biden appears likely to meet his goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days. About 1.5 million shots are being given daily, reported the White House, which is expanding doses and vaccination sites.

Experts say 70% to 90% of us need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, when most of the population is immune either through having had the disease or vaccinations. More outreach is planned to Blacks and Hispanics, who are wary of the vaccines.

As more people get vaccinated and tell their friends and family, others are more likely to want vaccinations, surveys show.

“Perhaps more important than any message is the impact of seeing a neighbor, friend or family member get their shots without any adverse effects,” Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said, releasing a KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor survey Jan. 27.

About half those who want to get vaccinated as soon as possible know someone who has already gotten a dose.

I plan to get my second dose when I can. I urge you to roll up your sleeve, too. We can do this. We must.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

What cows' legs have to do with economic stimulus -- Feb. 4, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

President Joe Biden wants Republican support for his economic stimulus package, but the clock’s ticking.

“We need to act. We need to act fast,” Biden said Wednesday in a private conference call with House Democrats, according to news reports.

To win Republican votes, the president is willing to negotiate on some parts of his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan package, but he doesn’t want to talk endlessly.

He wants Congress to send him a bill to sign by March 14, when extended unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans.

Biden met Monday with 10 Republican senators whose $618 billion counterproposal is one third the size of Biden’s plan. Among GOP provisions -- $1,000 checks to individuals, instead of Biden’s $1,400 checks, and no $15 minimum wage.

Biden wants to “go big,” as do House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and even West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican.

“We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move,” Justice said in TV interviews Wednesday. In other words, pass something and not worry about the cost.

Biden’s choice: Make good on his promise of bipartisanship by watering down his plan to appease Republicans or deliver on the promise of meaningful help to millions hurt by the pandemic.

Biden believes in compromise, but compromise requires both sides act in good faith. As usual, each side is accusing the other of playing a crass political game.

But the wide gap between the packages raises the question whether Republicans seriously want bipartisanship – or just talking points for the next campaign.

We’ve been here before. When President Barack Obama took office in 2009 with Biden as his vice president, the country was sliding into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Obama wanted Republican support for his economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“There was a pervasive nostalgia in Washington, both before I was elected and during my presidency, for a bygone era of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill,” Obama writes in his memoir, “A Promised Land.”

To court Republicans, he shrank the stimulus package – and, many economists believe, made it much less effective, slowing the recovery.

Obama hoped he might “catch GOP leaders by surprise and ease their suspicions, helping to build working relationships that could carry over to other issues. And if, as was more likely, the gambit didn’t work and Republicans rejected my overtures, then at least voters would know who was to blame for Washington’s dysfunction,” he writes.

None of that happened. His $787 billion recovery act passed – without a single Republican vote. Republicans then obstructed his subsequent initiatives at every turn. Congressional Democrats later pushed through the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare -- again with zero Republican votes.

But, voters didn’t blame Republicans for dysfunctional government. To the contrary, in the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans, fueled by the Tea Partiers, captured dozens of seats and control of the House and gained seats in the Senate.

Biden and congressional Democrats know what they’re up against. So, they again are pressing forward with a plan to pass the economic stimulus with only Democratic support by using a budgetary tool known as reconciliation.

If no Republicans join, Democrats could pass the bill with 51 votes in the Senate, bypassing the usual 60 vote requirement. The Senate is split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

Republicans are crying foul, of course, but they used reconciliation to pass the 2017 tax cuts without any Democratic support.

In his memoir, Obama recounts a story Biden shared about his run-in as a senator with Mitch McConnell. After the Republican leader blocked a bill Biden was sponsoring, Biden tried to explain its merits. McConnell held up his hand like a traffic cop and said: “You must be under the mistaken impression that I care.”

Biden is not na├»ve. He knows who and what he’s up against. He believes he can round up a few Republican votes and call the package bipartisan. But Republicans may just keep counting the legs on the cows.

© 2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

What's your FQ? Take our filibuster quiz -- Jan. 28, 2021 column

By MARSHA MERCER

The filibuster is safe, for now.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed the Senate to get on with its work after two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they would not vote to bust the filibuster.

But saying the filibuster is safe is like saying the ground beef you left on the counter with your dog in the kitchen is safe while you go to the living room to greet guests. Which is to say, not very.

Senate traditionalists have long argued that the filibuster protects the political minority’s rights and forces a bipartisan approach by requiring a supermajority to break one.

Since the filibuster impedes the party in power from enacting its agenda, Republicans now want to use it to stifle Democratic plans. Meanwhile, some Democrats want to ditch the filibuster to smooth the way for President Joe Biden, although doing so would also smooth the way for the next Republican president.

One thing is certain: With the Senate comprised of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, the filibuster fight is just heating up.

How much do you know about the filibuster? Take our 10-question quiz.

1)     What’s the origin of the word filibuster?

A.   Italian word for an insect with a long tongue

B.    Dutch word for a pirate, with French and Spanish connections

C.    Old English word for breaking a wild horse

D.   French word for an article of women’s clothing

 

2)    When did the filibuster come to be used to prevent a vote on a bill?

A.   1820s

B.    1850s

C.    1880s

D.   1920s

 

3)    Which of these is not correct?

A.   The filibuster is a tool used to kill or change legislation in the Senate, originally by talking it to death but now by threatening to filibuster

B.    Representatives used to be able to filibuster, but the House changed its rules

C.    Senators used to be able to talk as long as they wanted on any issue

D.   The right to filibuster is in the Constitution

 

4)    Many Americans know the Senate filibuster from the classic 1939 Frank Capra film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” What did Mr. Smith – a.k.a. Jimmy Stewart -- want to build?

A.   A local savings and loan

B.    A hotel

C.    A boys’ camp

D.   A border wall

5)  What does it mean to invoke cloture?

             A. Senators vote to end debate

             B. Senators vote to go on vacation

             C. Senators go to the cloakroom and confer

             D. Senators meet lobbyists behind closed doors to raise money

 6) What’s Rule 22?

             A. A measuring tool invented by Thomas Jefferson

             B. A rule allowing unlimited free speech in the Senate

             C. A rule adopted in 1917 that permits the Senate to end debate with a two-thirds majority vote

             D. A rule prohibiting senators from talking more than 22 consecutive hours

 7) Southern Democratic senators used the filibuster in the 20th century to do what?

             A. Block civil rights legislation

             B. Block anti-lynching legislation

             C. Block rock-and-roll lyrics they thought obscene

             D. Block both civil rights and anti-lynching legislation

  8) Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina holds the Senate record for longest individual speech. How long did Thurmond filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957?

           A. 22 hours and 3 minutes

           B. 23 hours and 59 minutes

           C. 24 hours and 18 minutes

           D. 25 hours and 2 minutes

  9) In 1975, the Senate changed the number of votes required for cloture. How many votes are required now to end debate?

         A. Three-fifths – or 60 of the current 100 senators

         B.  Half plus one -- 51 senators

         C. Half plus five – 55 senators

         D. Three-fourths – 75 senators

 10) A group of Southern Democrats staged the longest filibuster in American history against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How long did that filibuster last?

    A.  40 days

    B.  50 days

    C.  60 days

    D. 75 days

             

 

ANSWERS:

1)    B

2)    B

3)    D

4)    C

5)    A

6)    C

7)    D

8)    C

9)    A

10)  C

Sources: U.S. Senate Historical Office on senate.govarchives.govmerriam-webster.com, Congressional Research Service reports.

Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. Contact her at marsha.mercer@yahoo.com

© 2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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