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Feingold biography a timely resource

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment
By Donald H. Harrison 

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO— It has taken awhile to read the books presented to me by family members for Chanukah, but as it turned out, my grandson Shor’s selection of Feingold: A New Democratic Party couldn’t have been more timely.  As I finished reading the biography written by Sanford D. Horwitt,  I found the news wires currently  filled with speculation that former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is likely to seek the GOP nomination to oppose U.S. Senator Russ Feingold’s bid for a fourth term.

Thomson, who also served as Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush, would be likely to make the health care bill recently passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Barack Obama a major campaign issue, potentially providing a Wisconsin-wide referendum on that controversial measure.

Feingold, who is one of more than a minyan of Jewish senators, is a Democrat with a reputation for being a political maverick.  Along with Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), he successfully pushed for a campaign finance reform bill that brought both men national recognition and fueled McCain’s successful bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.  

Although he’s a Democrat, Feingold grew up idolizing “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, who shaped the Progressive Republican movement in the early 20th century.  In high school, Feingold was a star debater.  At the University of Wisconsin, he missed a straight A average because of one ‘B+,’ for which he apologized to his professor, but even so, his grades were sufficient for admission to Phi Beta Kappa.   He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, spending two years in Great Britain, and later earned a law degree from Harvard Law School.  He practiced a short while as an attorney in Wisconsin before feeling the pull of elective politics, winning an upset victory in 1982 against incumbent Cy Bidwell in a bid for a state Senate seat. 

In his decade in the Legislature,  Feingold developed a reputation as an advocate for senior citizens and for small dairy farmers.  His campaign to label milk of genetically altered cows stirred the opposition of Monsanto Company and other bioengineering companies  but notwithstanding large amounts of lobbying money they put into defeating the bill, Feingold prevailed.  

Feingold was considered a long shot in the 1992 Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate, in which two wealthy opponents, businessman Joe Checota and Congressman Jim Moody, had the financial resources and the name recognition.  But Checota’s and Moody’s campaigns degenerated into a series of negative commercials slamming each other, while Feingold stayed out of the fray.  Instead Feingold promoted his own candidacy with humorous, folksy ‘home movies’ in which he burnished his populist credentials by showing his modest home and the exteriors of the more elaborate homes of his ‘big-money’ opponents. 

Unhappy with Checota’s and Moody’s feuding, Wisconsin Democrats chose Feingold to oppose U.S. Sen. Robert Kasten in an all-Jewish runoff.  Staying true to his upbeat campaign style, Feingold survived a barrage of negative commercials aimed against him by Kasten and his allies and, at 39, entered the U.S. Senate as its youngest member.

Almost immediately, Feingold directed his staff not to allow anyone to purchase their meals for them, nor to accept any other gifts, setting a standard for propriety in the nation’s Capitol.  

Besides by the McCain-Feingold Bill on campaign financing, Feingold’s reputation as a maverick was further enhanced in 1999 when Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia moved to dismiss the impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton.  Feingold was the only Democrat to vote to keep the trial going, joining 55 Republicans.   He said that he believed the trial needed to continue to a conclusion.  Yet, when the final vote came—on conviction or acquittal—Feingold voted for acquittal with his fellow Democrats.

On two other important votes, Feingold also developed a reputation as an independent thinker.  One was his vote against the Patriot Act, which he considered to be a constitutional infringement on the rights of Americans under the guise of protecting the country against terrorism.  The other was a vote against authorization of the War in Iraq.

Whether a liberal independent like Feingold will be able to survive a challenge in the middle of President Obama’s first term obviously was beyond the scope of this biography, which was published at the end of 2007. But as background for any Wisconsin voters who do not already know Feingold—or for those of us in other parts of the country—this book is well worth reading.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

Health Care compromise wins approval, reservations from Jewish officeholders and interest groups

December 25, 2009 Leave a comment

 WASHINGTON, D.C. (Roundup)–Passage by the Senate on Thursday by a 60-39 vote of the Health Care Reform Act prompted the following commentary from Jewish officeholders and interest groups.

Senator Russell Feingold (Democrat-Wisconsin): The Senate health care bill is far from perfect.  I am deeply disappointed it does not include a public option to help keep down costs and I also don’t like the deal making that secured votes with unjustifiable provisions.  I will work to improve the bill, including restoring the public option, when the final version is drafted.

“But, while this bill could and should have been much stronger, it includes very important provisions for Wisconsin that I worked to include.  The bill will bring more Medicare dollars to Wisconsin by improving the unfair reimbursement formula that has siphoned money away from the state for years, and by rewarding the high-quality, low-cost care practiced at places like Gundersen Lutheran and the Marshfield Clinic.  Wisconsin taxpayers also win because we will see a boost in Medicaid funding, so our state isn’t harshly penalized for its leadership in expanding coverage.  The bill also ends discrimination by insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions, expands coverage to 30 million more Americans and reduces the deficit by an estimated $132 billion.  Despite the bill’s flaws, it does meet the test of real reform, and the cost of inaction was much too high.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat-California): “I voted in support of this bill because I believe it remains our best chance at reforming our broken health care system. With this bill, health care transitions from a privilege to a right for all Americans.

“We tried in 1993 and 1994, and failed. More than 15 years have passed since our last effort. This may be our last, best opportunity before we are forced to wait another 15 years for real reform. And our country cannot afford to wait any longer. Our nation’s health care system is unsustainable.

“This bill is not perfect. There are provisions in it that I would like to change. It is a work in progress, and I will continue to push for necessary improvements to lessen any fiscal impact to California.

“However, this bill accomplishes several important objectives:

“It is incremental. There will be time to make needed adjustments before it is fully effective.

“The bill expands insurance coverage and provides new consumer protections from insurance company abuses.

“It is fiscally responsible. This bill will reduce the deficit and prolong the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund.

“It covers 31 million Americans who have no coverage today.

“This legislation leaves the best of our health care system in place. It prohibits insurance companies from denying care based on pre-existing conditions. And it offers tax credits to small businesses to help cover the costs of health insurance policies for their employees.

“To lack health insurance is not just an inconvenience, it also can be deadly. Expanding health coverage is a moral issue which I believe reflects the character of our nation. In the richest country in the world, no one should die because they cannot afford health coverage. For all of the bill’s imperfections, I am convinced that it will mean the difference between life and death for some people. And it is not every day that we can say that about a piece of legislation.”

Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey): “This historic Senate action brings us a step closer to providing affordable, quality health care to millions of Americans who are struggling to pay their medical bills and stay healthy.  In addition to making health care more accessible, this bill will reduce the federal budget deficit, strengthen Medicare and ensure that health care is about people instead of insurance company profits.  I worked hard to include a provision that will help families in high cost of living states like New Jersey have fair access to affordable care. I also fought to include a requirement that will stop insurance companies’ outrageous practice of denying coverage to children with pre-existing medical conditions.  This bill is a win for America and a win for New Jersey.  I was proud to support it and will continue working to ensure a strong health care reform measure reaches the President’s desk.” 

Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan): “The road to health care reform has been long and difficult. This legislation is not perfect; no legislation on so complicated an issue could be. But it would make important reforms to our health care system that will curb insurance-company abuses, begin to control costs, and reduce inefficiency and waste.

“For those who have insurance, it will reduce the uncertainties as to whether their insurance will really be there for them if they develop serious health problems. For tens of millions of working Americans with no insurance at all, or for those who have pre-existing conditions and are denied coverage, it would provide much-needed help.

“Significant challenges remain in resolving the different approaches of the House and Senate, but the Senate today took a major historic step toward providing secure health care for all Americans.”

Senator Arlen Specter (Democrat, Pennsylvania):  “The Senate took a historic step today in seeing to it that quality health care becomes a right in America and not a privilege. While I would have preferred inclusion of a public option, this bill may be improved in conference and is a significant step forward for incremental reform. It took the initial steps of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 to set the stage for the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. That precedent could be followed by future healthcare legislation.

“The bill includes many important advances: covering 31 million more Americans, providing insurance reforms, and preventing someone from being denied healthcare because of a preexisting condition. It also includes two key provisions I urged: funding clinical trials to bring NIH research to practical application and tougher penalties to deter Medicare and Medicaid fraud.”

Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon): “We’ve always known that the path to reforming the nation’s health care system was going to be long and it wasn’t going to be easy, but this legislation takes a significant step in the right direction. So while it’s important to celebrate how far we’ve come, let’s remember this is only a start.  This legislation creates exchanges that we must expand access to.  It puts in place insurance market reforms that we have to make certain get enforced and it gives choice and competition a new foothold that we will build on until every American has the power to choose the health insurance that works best for them and their family.  I pledge to continue this effort in the days ahead as we work to reconcile this legislation with the House and in the months and years ahead as our legislative effort continues.”

B’nai B’rith International: “This bill is certainly not ideal, and we hope some vital missing elements will be restored in conference. The lack of a public option, or any mechanism which would guarantee insurance competition and access to affordable premiums in all states, is especially troubling. But the inclusion of the CLASS Act, which would create a voluntary insurance system to cover long-term healthcare costs that neither current health insurance nor Medicare cover, is welcome news. The elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions will also make lifelong access to healthcare possible for many, but age-rating still requires older Americans to pay too much simply because of their age. Again, this is something we hope will be reconsidered in conference committee.

“With a long and solid record on advocacy for seniors, B’nai B’rith is deeply concerned with healthy aging, which can only be achieved by making sure people have lifelong access to healthcare including prevention, diagnostic, and chronic condition maintenance. Ensuring everyone is covered is a vital aging issue.

“’For decades, reforming our shattered healthcare system has been unacceptably out of reach,’” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “‘This bill—as with the House version—takes historic steps toward truly reforming our healthcare system, and it should be applauded as such. However, it should be seen as the beginning of a process that will make more meaningful changes in our healthcare system. Healthcare is not a privilege just for the wealthy or the employed. Every American deserves preventive medical care.’

“B’nai B’rith has long been an advocate for comprehensive healthcare reform. It is unacceptable that nearly 47 million Americans are uninsured and millions more are underinsured. And far too many Americans are ‘uninsurable’ in the private market tying their healthcare to their jobs—creating a potential double whammy in an unstable economy should employment or benefits be cut.

“’This monumental undertaking no doubt has resulted in some concessions in the construction of the bill,’ B’nai B’rith Director of Aging Policy Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D., said. ‘There are just too many moving parts for everyone to be satisfied. But the Senate bill provides insurance where none existed before. Improvements can come later. What’s crucial now for the millions of Americans without insurance is that they may soon be covered, paving the way for lifelong access to care which, combined with a healthier Medicare, will mean healthy aging becomes a reality.’

“B’nai B’rith urges the House and Senate to work quickly to reconcile their bills.”

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: “The Union for Reform Judaism applauds the Senate’s approval of landmark health insurance reform legislation, as the time is long past due to repair our broken system that leaves over 47 million people uninsured and millions more underinsured each year. We commend our nation’s senators who have been working tirelessly to bring us to this historic moment.

“This crucial legislation would insure an additional 30 million Americans, make health insurance more affordable by increasing federal subsidies for low-income Americans and limiting out of pocket costs and also improve Medicaid and Medicare. While we are pleased to see a commitment to increased access to health insurance, we remain disappointed with key pieces of the legislation. The bill lacks a government-run public insurance option, which would control costs to further improve affordability and accessibility of care. We are also concerned about severe limitations to women’s access to reproductive health services. We must work efficiently to pass health reform swiftly but we cannot allow expediency to overshadow women’s rights avowed in Roe v. Wade or eliminate the essential public option. Conferees must not sacrifice these elements for the sake of political expediency.

“As the bill moves to conference, we remain committed to our vision of comprehensive health insurance reform: coverage must be affordable, accessible and quality and reform must include a public insurance option, rest on a financially sustainable foundation and protect women’s access to reproductive health care. Americans have a right to health care, and we look forward to working with members of Congress toward a healthy future for all Americans.”

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Preceding article incorporates press releases from the aforementioned  Jewish senators and Jewish  public interest groups.

Jewish legislators divided on trying 9/11 suspects in civilian court

November 14, 2009 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release) –Jewish public officials had mixed reactions Friday to the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that suspects in the 9/11 terror attack on the United States would be brought to trial in civilian court.

Among those issuing statements favoring the move were:

U.S. Senator Russell Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin), a member of the Senate Judiciary, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees: “I’m pleased that after more than eight years, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will finally be brought to justice.  I commend the Obama administration for deciding to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York, which shows the world that this country stands firmly behind its system of justice and its Constitution.  As we saw with Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid, and Timothy McVeigh, our system of justice is more than capable of securely, fairly, and effectively prosecuting alleged terrorists.  I remain skeptical that it is necessary to use the controversial military commission system for cases such as the USS Cole bombing.  Despite the changes enacted by Congress this year, that untested system does not have the track record of fairness and justice that our criminal justice system has.  Nevertheless, today’s announcement is long overdue.”

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (Democrat, New York), representative of Ground Zero and Lower Manhattan as well as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties,said:

“I thank the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder for their diligent efforts to bring to justice those who have committed acts of terrorism against the United States.  In particular, I applaud the decision to bring those individuals responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center to New York to face trial in our federal courts.  New York is not afraid of terrorists, we want to confront them, we want to bring them to justice, and we want to hold them accountable for their despicable actions.

“It is fitting that they be tried in New York, where the attack took place.  On that day almost 3,000 innocent men, women, and children were murdered, and New York has waited far too long for the opportunity to hold these terrorists responsible. We have handled terrorist trials before, and we welcome this opportunity to do so again.  Any suggestion that our prosecutors and our law enforcement personnel are not up to the task of safely holding and successfully prosecuting terrorists on American soil is insulting and untrue.  I invite any of my colleagues who say that they are afraid to bring detainees into the United States to face trial to come to New York and see how we handle them.

“Trying these alleged terrorists in New York also will allow family members of 9/11 victims to see these trials and confront these defendants in open court. These families deserve that opportunity, and I thank the Department of Justice for providing it.

“Finally, however, I am disappointed that the Attorney General has decided to pursue cases against other Guantanamo detainees in military commissions.  While Congress has reformed some aspects of that system, the military commissions are no substitute for trials in our federal courts or through courts-martial.  We must ensure that these commissions are not simply used as a lesser vehicle for cases in which the evidence is not sufficient.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (Independent, Connecticut) was opposed to the decision, explaining: “The terrorists who planned, participated in, and aided the September 11, 2001 attacks are war criminals, not common criminals. Not only are these individuals not common criminals but war criminals, they are also not American citizens entitled to all the constitutional rights American citizens have in our federal courts. The individuals accused of committing these heinous, cowardly acts of intentionally targeting unsuspecting, defenseless civilians should therefore be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States.

“The military commission system recently signed into law by the President as part of the National Defense Authorization Act provides standards of due process and fairness that fully comply with the requirements established by the Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions. Earlier this year, when passing the National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate also passed language expressing its clear intent that military commissions rather than civilian courts in the U.S. are the appropriate forum for the trial of these alleged terrorists. I share the views of more than 140 family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks who recently wrote to the Senate urging that the individuals charged with responsibility for those attacks should be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States: It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims’ families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America.”

Senator Lieberman urged the Administration to reconsider its decision and to try those charged with responsibility for the September 11, 2001 attacks using the military commission system that was created by Congress and recently signed into law by the President for that very purpose.

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Preceding incorporates press releases from Senators Feingold and Lieberman and Representative Nadler