Defining Brendan Doherty: Romney Republican or Moderate

 Published September 28, 2012, Pawtucket Times

            With the upcoming November election just six weeks away, Republican Candidate Brendan Doherty held a news conference last Tuesday at Memorial, attempting to distance himself from House GOP leadership and from Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s anointed Presidential candidate.

Surrounded by a backdrop of the 294 bed CommunityHospital in Pawtucket’s East Riverview Neighborhood, Doherty, the GOP challenger to Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, came before seniors and supporters to do political damage control, with an agenda to set the public record straight about his positions on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Keeping Social Security, Medicare off the Chopping Block

Charging that Cicilline was misleading to voters on his positions on the nation’s most popular domestic programs, the Republican Candidate pledged his opposition to “privatization” of the nation’s Social Security Program, calling for Congress to keep the Social Security and Medicare programs off the budgetary chopping block.  The former state police superintendent, looking to become Rhode Island’s newest Congressman for the First Congressional District, also supported increased benefits for seniors already enrolled in the Social Security Program.

At the morning news conference, Doherty warned that he has no “secret plan” to cut Social Security and Medicare, as Cicilline charges.  He chastised the Freshman Congressman and his Democratic political operatives for using scare tactics and misleading political rhetoric to fuel a misinformation campaign to link him to Republican Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan’s support for a Medicare voucher program.  Doherty stated that a voucher system would shift healthier Americans to private insurance plans and leave the sickest and frailest American’s in a weakened version of traditional Medicare.

Putting the Spot Light on Fraud and Waste

Doherty, calling himself an “independent thinker” a “centrist” who pledged to reach across the aisle to House Democrats, to pass legislation that would root out fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid.  He noted that a new RAND Corporation study showed that fraud and waste in these two programs may be as high as $98 billion.

“While Congressman Cicilline often speaks of his commitment to protect Medicare from any possibility of budget cuts, he failed to take this common sense action to address the fraud, waste and abuse that accounts for at least $48 billion being diverted every year from the Medicare program and taken away from our seniors who depend on the Medicare program,” commented Doherty.

Doherty, however, looks to push for the Medicare and Medicaid Fighting Fraud and Abuse to Save Taxpayers’ Dollars Act or the Medicare Fast Act (H.R. 3399), as types of legislative proposals he could support if he were elected to Congress.

Cicilline did not mince his words after Doherty’s news conference by continuing to tie his Republican challenger to the Radical Republicans who control the House.  He charged that “My Republican opponent supports raising the retirement age for Social Security and if he got to Congress, would vote to keep the Republicans in control of the House where they would continue to push an extreme agenda that would end the guarantee of Medicare and turn it into a voucher system.”

According to the Democratic Congressman, the Preserving Our Promise to Seniors Act, whish he is a cosponsor, is the best way to extend the life of Social Security Program along with improving the Cost of Living Adjustment formula to give beneficiaries an adjustment based on the cost of goods and services that they regularly purchased.  The Democratic Congressman also opposed the raising the Social Security eligibility age or any effort to privatize the system, these changes supported by many GOP lawmakers.

Responding to the news conference, the Rhode Island Democratic Party issued a release calling Doherty’s pledge to preserve Social Security and Medicare “an empty one,” given the Republican House Leaderships efforts to slash funding for these programs for years.

Countering Doherty’s attempt to label himself a moderate, Bill Fischer, spokesperson for the RI Democratic Party called Cicilline’s Republican opponent a “Romney Republican who has clearly stated he would repeal the Affordable Care Act; raise the eligibility age on Social Security; and will vote for Republican control in Congress.”

“If Doherty were serious about protecting seniors, he wouldn’t be calling for the repeal of our historic healthcare reform,” Fischer said. “Maybe he doesn’t understand the enormous benefits Rhode Island seniors have already received since its passage. Thanks to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, 128,390 people on Medicare in Rhode Island have access to preventative health care services, such as colonoscopies and mammograms.

In Rhode Island’s First Congressional District alone, 7,300 seniors have saved over $4 million on prescription drugs because the Affordable Care Act closed the donut hole.”

TV Spot Ties Doherty to Radical Republicans

             With Doherty’s effort to distance himself from the Washington Republican agenda, Cicilline’s campaign released a new television spot, entitled “Fantastic,” to more firmly politically tie his Republican challenger to the Romney-Ryan agenda in Washington.

“At the end of the day, Brendan Doherty wants Republicans in control of Congress and Mitt Romney setting the agenda in the White House. In fact, he thinks Romney would “be fantastic for Rhode Island,’” said Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers, detailing the spot..

“Rhode Islanders will have a clear choice this November between re-electing President Obama and Congressman Cicilline so we can get our state back on the right track, or voting for Mitt Romney, Brendan Doherty, and the Washington Republicans who got us into this mess to begin with.”

In the 30 second spot, Doherty emphasizes his support for Romney at a March 3, 2012 candidate forum, saying, “I think he’d be fantastic for Rhode Island.”

In January 2012, Doherty formally endorsed Romney for President, describing him as a “proven leader.”  In the same month, Doherty traveled to New Hampshire to campaign for Romney and was later introduced to the Republican presidential nominee by former Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri.

The political spot also outlines areas where Romney and Doherty agree on policy – including their support for repealing President Obama’s historic health care reform law, as well as their mutual opposition to reproductive freedoms for women and the Buffett Rule that would require millionaires to pay at least the same tax rate as the middle class.

As the Dust Settles…

Here are questions that voters in Congressional District 1 must ask themselves before they enter the polls in the November election:

Can Doherty successfully repackage himself as a moderate Republican?  If so, with a Republican-controlled House, captured by a radical Tea Party who philosophically opposes political compromise, as a moderate Republican will he vote for  Democratic initiatives that the majority of his Democratic constituents support.  Or can he stand the “heat in the kitchen” and vote against his House Republican leadership.

Can the voters forgive the former Providence Mayor, now their Congressman, for his statements made about the fiscal health of his City as he left office?  If so, they must determine if it is more important to keep this seat Democratic, in hopes of bringing the political party back to power in that Chamber.

With the November election looming, the Cicilline-Doherty political battle, truly becomes the classic “He said, She said,” debate, with the voters ultimately finding out the truth in the New Congress.

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.

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GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Shifts Debate on Medicare, Medicaid

August 17, 2012 

            With election day just a little over three month away the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, got temporarily knocked off message with his selection of Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisconsin) as his vice presidential running mate.   Before his pick, Romney went after the sitting Democratic President with charges that he failed to bring the nation out of the greatest economic crisis since the great Depression.  President had not brought employment to the millions of America’s unemployed.

            With Ryan on board the debate now has shifted to how his Budget plan (passed twice in the Republican controlled House) would reconfigure the 77 year old Social Security program along with Medicare and Medicaid.  Democrats expressed glee with Obama’s economic performance now being taken off the front page of nation’s

             Newspapers to focus on Medicare and Medicaid.  GOP strategists are working hard to figure out ways to bring a calm to swing states, like Florida, with a large number of voter baby boomers and senior, who vote.

            Democratic critics are zeroing in on Ryan’s Medicare plan, one that would eliminate the current system where every beneficiary would get the same set of benefits, paid by collected taxes, to one that would give each person a fixed amount of money.

             Ryan’s plan would allow those age 54 or younger who retire to be given the government payment to be used to either purchase insurance from the private sector from an approved list or from a government-run program similar to Medicare. People would pay more out-of-pocket if they wanted to purchase a more comprehensive health plan.  The federal government would regulate the participating private insurance industry, also providing more financial assistance to poor and sick.  The program’s eligibility age would increase from 65 to 67 by 2034.

             Finally, Ryan would put the nation’s Medicaid program, that provides health care to the poor and disabled, on the chopping block.  Under Ryan’s plan, funding would be cut by a third and the remaining federal funds would be funneled to the states as a block grant to be used at the state’s discretion.

 Attack Internet Video Highlights GOP Proposed Medicare Cuts

             The Obama campaign moved swiftly to capitalize on the uproar over Ryan’s controversial budget plan of fixing Medicare and Medicaid.  At the beginning of this week the campaign released a new Internet video accusing GOP’s Romney and Ryan of seeking to destroy the nation’s Medicare and Medicaid programs.

             This recently released campaign video, entitled “What do Floridians think about the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it,” ties Romney firmly to his vice president’s prescription of reforming two of the nation’s domestic policy programs, a plan that has recently become a lightening rod, attracting political controversy.  

            To date over 76,479 viewers have watched the Obama campaign video on YouTube, attack the GOP Presidential contender and his running mate. Throughout the one :minute and 42 second video, five older Floridian residents expressed their concerns about the Romny/Ryan’s politically-charged proposal to make draconian cuts to Medicare.

           “It doesn’t make sense to cut Medicare,” says one older woman, who then says, “If we cut it now, what’s going to happen to our middle class?”  Another woman chimes in, “Medicare is a boom for senior citizens who without that would choose between food and going to a doctor.” 

             Not a bad internet video to put a negative spin on Romney and Ryan in Florida, a key swing state where the Republican candidate will shortly visit and the site for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, on August 27, 2012.   

             Republicans are attempting to soften negative attacks being lobbed at the Romney camp by attacking President Obama on his huge cuts to Medicare, amounting to $716 billion, that included in his enacted 2010 Affordable Care Act.  They allege that the President used the cut funds from Medicare to finance his health care reform package.  Democrats have pointed out the hypocrisy of this political charge by noting that Ryan had included $700 billion in Medicare cuts in his own budget plan, many of which can be found in Obamacare, the President’s landmark legislation reforming the nation’s health care system.  

 Romney Distances Himself from Partner’s Medicare Budget Fixes

             Two days ago, Mitt Romney, appearing on “CBS This Morning, Romney moved to separate himself from Ryan’s controversially-charged reforms to completely overhaul  Medicare and Medicaid by saying that “Congressman Ryan has joined my campaign, and his campaign is my campaign now, ” noting that “We’re exactly on the same page.”

             At the Wednesday CBS News interview, when Romney was asked about Ryan’s proposed Medicare cuts, he suggested that the Wisconsin Republican Congressman would support his plan which would not include huge Medicare cuts.  “The president’s cuts of $716 billion to Medicare, those cuts are going to be restored if I become president and Paul Ryan becomes vice president,” pledged the GOP Presidential Candidate, in his first solo interview on “CBS This Morning,” since he selected Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.

             “My commitment is, if I become president, I’m going to restore that $716 billion to the Medicare trust fund so that current seniors can know that trust fund is not being raided and we’re going to make sure – and get Medicare on track to be solvent long-term on a permanent basis,” added Romney.

 Domestic Programs Touching Everyone’s Life

                  “With fewer jobs offering pensions and people struggling to save for retirement, Social Security will be even more important for younger generations,” notes AARP President Rob Romasco, noting that more than one in three working households age 21 to 64 has no individual savings set aside for retirement.  His comment was released last with the polling findings from a 2012 Voter Survey.

             Among the findings, 59 percent of Americans polled fear that the negative effects of the economic downturn on their retirement savings will force them to rely more heavily on Social Security and Medicare — programs they are concerned that elected officials aren’t doing enough to protect. 

           The AARP survey of voters age 50 plus also found that six in ten plan to rely on Social Security and Medicare even more due to the recent economic downturn. The same survey found that the respondents’ top financial worry is prices rising faster than their income, and the overwhelming majority (91 percent) agree that the next President and Congress need to strengthen Social Security so that it is able to provide retirement security for future generations

         “Last year, while politicians in Washington discussed changes like reducing the COLA as part of a backroom budget deal, AARP fought to protect Social Security. One thing we’ve heard consistently from our members and all older Americans is that keeping up with inflation is one of Social Security’s most important features,” he continued.

            “It’s these voices – the voices of Americans who have paid into the program – that politicians should be listening to when they consider its future,” says AARP CEO A. Barry Rand, noting that his aging group has launched “You’ve Earned a Say,” an initiative (www.earnedasay.org) to ensure that voters have factual information about the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid policy debates inside the Washington Beltway, and platform to speak out about how any proposed changes would effect them personally.

            Romney’s selection of Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate has now put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the voter’s radar screen.  

             Now is the time for aging baby boomer and senior voters to send a blunt message to the sitting President, his opponents Romney and Ryan, especially those Congressional candidates that you will meet at public events in the OceanState, or even at your door step when they come to personally ask for your vote. That is, political gridlock is no longer acceptable to you and that the nation’s domestic policy issues must be solved through bipartisan efforts.”

             Meaningful legislative fixes, often derailed by “no-compromise” lawmakers should not longer be sent to Capitol Hill.      

             A Final Note…End the nastiness of this political campaign by educating yourself about the issues.  AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say” will be in evidence McCoy Stadium Sunday (Aug. 19th) when the PawSox play Buffalo in a 1:05 p.m. game. Following the game, the aging group will have a booth as part of the PawSox Fan Appreciation Day. People attending the event can fill out a “You’ve Earned a Say” questionnaire that measures their opinions and concerns on the future of Medicare and Social Security.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.