The Right to Choose
Because Roe v. Wade has protected the right to choose for so long, those of us who are pro-choice haven’t had any urgent need to think through how to protect that right – until now. So here are seven practical proposals, all legal and feasible, to protect the right to choose:
- Abortion rights should be incorporated, through the 51-vote reconciliation process or through agency rulemaking, as part of Obamacare’s health insurance minimal care, like preexisting conditions. Making this an Obamacare “money bill” puts it within reconciliation. And under the Constitution’s Supremacy clause, the states couldn’t thwart it.
- By regulation or executive order, abortion should be included in all health coverage for military families, federal workers and federal contractors, and their spouses and children. Also, every SSD (Social Security Disabled) and Medicaid beneficiary. Here again, the states couldn’t prevent it.
- Abortion should be a reimbursed and offered procedure in all hospitals receiving federal funding (which is, essentially, all hospitals), either by statute, regulation, or executive order. This also applies at VA hospitals, and federally funded rural health clinics. Abortion is healthcare.
- Every major corporation should reimburse or front travel expenses to women who now must travel to have an abortion. The Fair Labor Standards Act and labor law in “blue” states should incorporate this as a required employee benefit. For others, governments and private donors/NGOs should do the same through small grants.
- There are several “blue” states that had abortion bans in effect before Roe v. Wade, and they should be repealed immediately.
- As long as the science supports it, the FDA should make pregnancy termination pills available without prescription, and also enforce existing federal laws that prevent anyone from interfering in the distribution of a federally licensed drug. (Note to Supreme Court: the Post Office is in the Constitution.) If an Rx is required, it should be available via Zoom.
- “Blue states” can make it a crime for anyone to interfere with the rights of their citizens to terminate a pregnancy, including when those citizens are traveling elsewhere.
After the Alito draft decision was released in early May, helpless anomie settled over many pro-choice leaders. Well, anomie is the enemy. I believe that the right to control one’s own body is the most fundamental right of all. No one should ever interfere in someone else’s decision about whether to have a child. That goes against a bedrock principle of government and civilization: “Mind Your Own Business.” In other words, if you’re against abortion, then don’t have one.
For all of us who support the Right to Choose, we must fight for what’s right.
Ban assault weapons—it’s too easy to kill too many people too quickly. The US banned assault weapons from 1994 to 2004. During that time, assault weapons deaths dropped by 50%. When the ban expired, they went back up—as we often see, sadly, in the news. Here in Orlando, at the Pulse Nightclub, Omar Mateen fired 200 rounds in less than five minutes, killing 49 people. My one-sentence “Freedom From Fear Act” would reinstate the assault weapons ban.
Healthcare is a human right. Every human being, rich or poor, deserves the care needed to stay healthy and alive. That’s what “the right to life” really means. Every civilized society takes care of its own. And COVID has reminded us that even when it’s other people who are sick, it’s a potential danger to everyone. That’s why everyone in America must have healthcare.
Medicare For All. We spend $11,000 per person on healthcare; no one else spends more than $7700. And yet we are 40th in the world in life expectancy. How can we spend so much on health, and get so little health in return? The answer is that health insurance companies charges as much as they can, give as little care as they can, and they call the difference “profit.” There is a conflict of interest between you and your health insurance company. No one asks to be sick, and no one else should make a profit from it. We need Medicare for all.
Tax the rich just like everyone else. Thanks to the “capital gains tax,” and “recognition of profit upon sale,” the rich pay taxes only when they want to, and then they pay far less than people who work. That ain’t right. My “Dollar is a Dollar Act” would eliminate the tax discrimination against those who work for a living. Tax wealth, not work.
Tax corporations the same as people. Corporations get to write off their rent and utilities. People don’t. Corporations get to write off their cars and computer purchases. People don’t. Why not? Human beings should get the same tax breaks that corporations do.
Every profitable corporation must pay taxes. Last year, 55 major USA corporations paid zero in federal income taxes. That includes Nike, HP, the Dish Network and Duke Energy. Together, they made $40 billion in profit, and they received $3.5 billion in tax refunds. President Biden’s 15% minimum tax on corporations would be a good start. Human beings pay federal taxes on every dollar they make; corporations should, too.
End corporate welfare. More than $1,000,000,000,000.00 (one trillion dollars) of the COVID ‘Cares Act’ went to corporate welfare. Corporations, especially oil and gas companies and “private equity funds,” get tax breaks that never go to human beings. That ain’t right. Corporations make enough money already, without being stuffed with taxpayer cash.
Free public college. The City College of New York, which my Dad attended, has been free since 1847. Ten of its graduates have won Nobel Prizes. Thomas Jefferson said that college should be free. What’s taking so long? Should a college education depend on how much money your parents have? Free college helps everyone to be all that he or she can be, which helps all of us.
Guaranteed, universal, free Pre-School Education. ‘Head Start’ – federal funding for pre-school education – is a huge success story. It raises test scores, improves student health, and makes students 10% more likely to graduate high school and 12% more likely to attend college. So let’s make free Pre-School available to everyone.
Help schools in poor areas. Syosset, NY, spends $32,125 per student. Jordan, UT, spends $6333 per student. Because local property taxes fund K-12 education, there are enormous differences. But Brown v. Bd. of Ed., in 1954, said that public education is “a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” The Federal Government should aid the poorest school districts, particularly to support teacher salaries. It should also aid trade schools and apprenticeship programs, which are a direct pipeline to skilled, well-paying jobs.
Paid sick leave and family leave for everyone who works. Do we really want someone to have to come to work sick, under penalty of being fired? COVID has taught us that sick leave is a ‘benefit’ for everyone’s benefit. And the same is true if a family member is sick. Every other developed country in the world provides for paid sick leave by law. Sick leave and family leave not only reflect human decency, but they improve public health, too.
Paid vacations for every employee. There are 20 million workers in America who never get a day off. They will work every weekday until they retire or they die. That ain’t right. And health statistics show that it’s not healthy, either. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and, sooner or later, a dead boy, too. My “Paid Vacation Act” extends that level of respect to the people who do all the work, for everyone.
A $15 national minimum wage. When I was in Congress, I introduced the “Catching Up to 1968 Act,” which raises the minimum wage to $15 because, adjusted for inflation, that’s what the minimum wage was back in 1968. Under the current minimum wage, full-time workers make $1200 per month, and they owe $100 in taxes on that. How can anyone survive on $1100 per month? That’s less than the average Social Security check. Everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and that means $15 an hour, at least.
Equal pay for equal work. It’s 2021, and women still make only 84 cents for every dollar that men make. Hispanic women make 53 cents for every dollar that white men make. Pay discrimination has been illegal since 1963, but last year, the Government filed five cases under the Equal Pay Act—in the entire country—and recovered less than $100,000 for underpaid women. We have to enforce the law.
Cap credit card interest rates. Nebraska caps credit card rates for its banks at 16%. No one claims that it’s impossible for banks to do business in Nebraska. Credit card debt now stands at $800 billion. Who owes that money? Hint: not the rich. Credit card rates are, basically, a tax on poverty. The average credit card rate is 16.2%, and the average 30-year mortgage rate is 3.0%. Ordinary folks deserve a break.
Forgive student loans/Student debt relief. All student debt should be refinanced at the 10-year Treasury bond rate, which has been less than three percent for ten years now. The Government should not be making a profit on college loans, nor should banks. Since public college should have been free all along, the Government should write off the money that students borrowed to pay their own states for higher education.
Forgive crushing medical debt. No one ever asks to be sick, and no one ever asks for a $100,000+ medical bill. But according to many studies, medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy. It is so astronomical that it hardly ever gets paid and, therefore, it can be bought for pennies on the dollar. Since we should have had ‘Medicare for All’ all along, the Government should buy out medical debt, at that huge discount. Being sick is bad enough; no one should be both sick and broke.
Social Security, Medicare & Child Benefits
Increase Social Security. Seniors have gotten nothing but weak “cost of living” adjustments for more than 40 years now. My ‘Seniors Deserve a Raise Act’ would change that. Also, people pay taxes on the money that they pay into the Social Security Trust Fund, and on the money that they take out. That ain’t right. Seniors shouldn’t have to pay taxes on the same money twice.
Medicare for Eyes, Ears and Teeth. When the Medicare Act was passed, in 1965, one line prohibited dental benefits, and another line prohibited vision and hearing benefits. No one knows why. Today, 84% of the public favors Medicare coverage for eyes, ears and teeth, and only 8% are opposed. My “Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act,” a one-page bill, strikes those two lines from the Medicare Act, and sets things right.
Triple KidCash—the child tax credit. We pay for children’s education. We pay for children’s healthcare. (It was my third vote in Congress—it meant a lot to me.) We pay for one meal a day for children, through the school lunch program. Why should we stop there? If parents are willing to devote their time and their love to raising children, shouldn’t they have some more help from all of us? That’s why I support tripling the current Child Tax Credit – which I call KidCash – to $6000 a year. (Having raised five children, I can tell you that it costs a lot more than that.)
Rights, Equality and Privacy
Black lives do matter. Look around—this is not a color-blind country. The average Black household makes $41,000, versus $70,000 for whites. Blacks live four years less. They are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police. Half a century after the Civil Rights Movement began, we are nowhere near racial equality in America. We have to try harder.
Punish racism. In all of America last year, the Federal Government indicted 187 people for civil rights violations. 147 of them were convicted. (By comparison, more than 500,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year.) Does anyone seriously believe that only 187 people committed such crimes last year? The Government needs to enforce the laws against racism.
Demilitarize the police. Months before we saw police in armored vehicles carrying machine guns on the streets of Ferguson, MO, I forced a vote to prohibit the Government from providing such weapons of war to local police. I lost that vote, but President Obama implemented the Grayson Amendment by Executive Order – and then Trump repealed it by Executive Order. Police officers are not soldiers. We need to shut off the flow of military weapons to local police.
Restore the Right to Privacy; eliminate universal surveillance. We learned from Edward Snowden and The Guardian that Big Brother is watching us—all of us. It’s a matter of public record that the Government can obtain our phone records upon request, and every mailed envelope is photographed. Yet the Fourth Amendment promises freedom from “unreasonable searches.” If they’re in our mailboxes, on our phones and in our computers, that’s not reasonable. We all have The Right to Be Left Alone. European law recognizes this; we should, too.
Love is Love. 34 states still have laws banning same-sex marriage. They aren’t enforced only because of the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision. And Obergefell is next on the Right Wing’s hit-list, right behind Roe v. Wade. We need to pass a national law protecting same-sex marriage.
Climate Catastrophes / The Environment
Tax polluters, not people. It was Ronald Reagan who said, “if you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it.” We want less pollution; it’s overheating the planet. (Today, in mid-December, it’s 85 degrees here in Orlando.) So we should tax it. Sweden’s tax on carbon pollution has cut transportation pollution there by 11%, and it raises $2.3 billion a year. In the United States, which produces roughly 120 times as much carbon pollution as Sweden, that would be around $275 billion – enough revenue to cut taxes on 75% of Americans to zero.
End pollution—Save the Planet. In 1958, the year that I was born, the CO² concentration in the atmosphere was 314 ppm. Today, it’s 416 ppm, a 1/3 increase. And, not surprisingly, back then, there were 30 days a year when the temperature in Indialantic, FL was 90° or more. Now, it’s 70 days each year. Last year, it was 100° in Siberia. Planet Earth is changing right in front of our eyes, and we have to work together to cut CO² and methane pollution to save it. The whole world, not just the U.S., should tax carbon and methane pollution until the problem is under control, and the climate catastrophes stop.
The Military-Industrial Complex
Bring our troops home. President Biden, carrying out the treaty commitment that Trump had made, withdrew the last 3500 American troops from Afghanistan. That was only 2% of the US soldiers abroad. There still are 170,000, in more than 150 countries, mainly in Japan, Italy, South Korea, Germany and the UK. They cost us as much as $1 million apiece, each year, to maintain. Bring them home.
Cut military spending. We don’t need to spend nearly $1,000,000,000,000.00 each year to defend ourselves. That’s close to the military budget for every other country combined. The military itself needs to analyze and explain how it could save $100 billion, $200 billion or more each year, without putting us in any danger.
Fix our roads, bridges and schools. The American Society of Civil Engineers says that it would cost $3.6 trillion just to repair our roads, bridges, schools, buses, trains, airports, water and sewer systems, ports and public hospitals. The first “Build Back Better Act” laid out $1 trillion for this, over a 10-year period. That leaves a long way to go. We need to get there. It may seem like a lot of money, but it’s only half of what we spend each year on the military, and our “domestic security” is important, too.
High-speed internet for everyone. The internet is the passport to the 21st century. It has become the center of the economy, entertainment and even social life. Yet around 40 million Americans still have no access to high-speed internet, regardless of their willingness to pay. The government already has appropriated tens of billions of dollars to bring high-speed internet to everyone—just like everyone has a mailbox. Local cable and telephone companies need to be told to take the money, and get the job done.
Protect our rights: Unpack the Courts. In 1971, Lewis Powell laid out a plan for a corporate takeover of the courts, the media, the states and the national government. Two months later, Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court. In fact, Republican Presidents have nominated 15 out of the last 19 Supreme Court Justices (including every one of them for 25 years straight). At the same time, the Supreme Court has become so swamped that it refuses to decide 98%+ of the cases it is asked to decide. We need to Unpack the Courts by adding four more Justices, and lower court judges as well, as Elizabeth Warren has said.
Get Dirty Money out of politics. I was in the courtroom when the Citizens United decision was handed down. I said on MSNBC, “if we do nothing, you can kiss this country goodbye.” I was right. Big Money – Dirty Money – has corrupted American politics to the core. I wrote the Save Democracy Platform to save us from this. Part of it passed the House, but it was filibustered by Dirty Money in the Senate. If I were in the Senate today, I would eliminate the filibuster in order to pass the ‘For the People Act,’ H.R. 1, and start to clean up this mess. Elected officials must be beholden to the voters, not Dirty Money; you cannot serve two masters.
Stop GOP voter suppression. In any democracy, it’s the Government’s job is to get people to vote, not to suppress the vote. But Republicans have passed laws to kill off mail ballots, cut early voting, purge voter lists, cut off registration far before Election Day, close polling places in Democratic areas, and populate the vote-counting machinery with pro-Trump shills. People need to realize that anti-voting policies are anti-voter policies. Here again, we need to eliminate the filibuster and pass the ‘For the People Act.’
Fight GOP lunacy. All across the country, GOP leaders seem to have lost their minds. Here in Florida, they have done everything they possibly could to spread COVID. For instance, they prohibited local government, employers, schools and even cruise ships from requiring vaccination or masks; suppress or avoid testing, contact tracing and quarantine; and even pardoned everyone who violated lockdown and quarantine rules. Here and elsewhere, they’ve relentlessly attacked the right to choose, voting rights and public health. We have to fight back every way we can: with lawsuits, “rulemaking” by the Biden Administration, “federal preemption” of state laws, DOJ and Congressional investigations and, above all, defeating them on Election Day.
Voters should choose elected officials, not vice versa. “Gerrymandering” permits the group in power to extend and increase their power by drawing district voting maps for their own benefit. That’s how “purple” states ended up with crimson Congressional delegations: 19-6 in Florida, 12-5 in Michigan, 10-4 in Ohio and 10-3 in NC. 90% of all voters are against this—including 88% of Republican voters. Passing a simple federal law – like Subsection 2(E) of the “For the People Act,” which I cosponsored in Congress – would end gerrymandering forever. It’s long overdue.
One person, one vote—abolish the Electoral College. Winning Wyoming with 581,000 people, gets a Presidential candidate 3 Electoral Votes. Winning California, with 39.6 million people, gets a Presidential candidate 54 EVs. Do the math – a Wyoming vote is worth 4X as much as a California vote. That ain’t right. The UK got rid of its “rotten boroughs” way back in 1832; what are we waiting for? One person, one vote—it’s not so complicated.
Give Puerto Rico and DC equal voting rights. Puerto Rico and DC have no Senators or Congressmen. Puerto Rico can’t vote for the President, either. Those 3 million people are the largest group in any democracy in the world who can’t help to choose the national leader. Puerto Rico and DC deserve full and equal voting rights. I supported DC statehood when I was in Congress, and the right for Puerto Rico itself to decide on statehood. I always will.
Punish the Jan. 6 traitors. The storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, to stop counting the Electoral Votes, is the closest we’ve ever come to a coup. It was sedition and treason. Those should be the charges against everyone who violated the Capitol that day – and all the traitors who sent them: including Donald Trump (who told the Trumpkins 20 times that day to “fight”), Rudy Giuliani, Josh Hawley, Michael Flynn and, last but not least, ‘The Pillow Guy.’
The Right to Organize
Repeal the “Right to Work for Less” laws. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act guaranteed the right to organize. And in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act permitted states to opt out, allowing workers to have the benefit of collecting bargaining without paying union dues. That’s the so-called “right to work”—the right to work for less, and be a freeloader while your co-workers pay your share. Selfishness should not be incentivized, and the right to organize shouldn’t depend on who controls the state legislature. The Taft-Hartley Act must be repealed.
Let workers form unions by majority sign-up. Majority sign-up for a union, or “card check,” simply means that if most workers sign up for a union, they get one. There would be no need for an “election,” which give the bosses the opportunity to saturate employees with anti-union propaganda, fire all the union activists, and threaten a shutdown if the union wins the election. I voted for majority sign-up in 2010. If a majority of workers sign cards saying that they want a union, then what is the point of an election?
Legalize marijuana. Marijuana is either legal, legal for medical use or decriminalized in 39 states. Yet, somehow, 500,000+ Americans still get arrested each year for possessing pot. That arrest record is a monkey on their backs for the rest of their lives. Banning marijuana makes no more sense than Prohibition did. It’s really nobody else’s business. If you’re against marijuana, then don’t smoke it.
Most drug abuse is a health issue, not a crime. 20% of all inmates are in prison for drug offenses; 65% are addicts, whatever crimes they committed. In federal prison, that costs $36,300 per year. Yet only 11% of prisoners are treated for addiction. Drug treatment centers, in contrast, cut addiction in half, and cost 1/6 as much as prisons. Common sense tells us to attack drug abuse at drug treatment centers, not in prisons.
Make overdose treatment immediately available, everywhere. In the last two years alone, overdoses have killed 200,000 Americans. That’s roughly the number of Americans who died in combat in the Civil War. There is a safe, effective, immediate treatment for opiate overdoses called Narcan (or naloxone). When I was in Congress, I arranged for $140 million in funding, to provide it to all “first responders.” But it should be in every home, every office, even every car—and thousands and thousands of lives would be saved, if it were.