Emily & Andrew Discuss The Party Platforms

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Andrew Pulrang

CDR’s two election bloggers, Emily Munson, a Republican, and Andrew Pulrang, a Democrat, have been discussing how the two parties’ platforms handle disability issues.

Andrew:
What do you like and dislike about the Republican Party platform?

Emily:
I’m proud that the Republican Platform recognizes the sanctity of life. Of course, the Platform opposes public funding for abortion and supports an amendment to the Constitution making clear that the 14th Amendment applies to children in the womb. These recognitions are important, especially considering the number of children selectively aborted. In fact, some go so far as to call selective abortion the new eugenics. Moreover, the Platform opposes euthanasia, assisted suicide, and “the non-consensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, from individuals with disabilities.” Again, I appreciate Republicans’ recognition that such events devalue the lives of people with disabilities in society.

Andrew:
I think you and I agree on assisted suicide. I’m not sure how many of my fellow Democrats would agree though. Democratic disability activists? Yes. But the rest? I’m kind of afraid to ask. Do you have a sense of what rank-and-file Republicans –… as opposed to party leaders — think about assisted suicide?

Emily:
Most Republicans I know oppose assisted suicide. Interestingly, physicians tend to vote Republican, and many physicians are opposed to prescribing mass volumes of lethal drugs. Others oppose it for religious reasons. I imagine that more libertarian-leaning Republicans might view assisted suicide more favorably, but you saw how well Rand Paul did in the primaries …

I was also impressed that the Platform contains a specific section just for Americans with disabilities. In addition to supporting ABLE Act accounts, Republicans also focus on expanding entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities. One huge piece of legislation the Platform supports to this end is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which prevents those graduating from high school to immediate diversion into sheltered workshops. Instead, transitioning young adults will have increased opportunities for integrated, competitive employment.

Andrew:
Speaking of employment, I have heard that the Republican platform also endorses ending the sub-minimum wage. That would be great, but I couldn’t find it in the Platform. Am I missing it?

Emily:
The Platform supports WIOA by name. Under it, transitioning young adults will have increased opportunities for integrated, competitive employment. Referrals to sheltered workshops – the main users of subminimum certificates – will be greatly reduced thanks to this legislation.

In other words, the Republican Platform has a more nuanced view of sub-minimum wage than the Democratic Platform. This is due to the conservative belief that all work is dignified, when done with pride. Though I, personally, take issue with the fact that people with disabilities are devalued by the wage carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act, many Republicans focus on the actual work rather than the wages. Another argument used to defend sheltered work is that many employees choose that path, whether to work side-by-side with their friends or obtain company-sponsored transportation, rather than venture into the community. Again, I value respect for choice, but I think we need to ensure that the choice is genuinely informed. WIOA brings us closer to that goal.

Andrew:
I see. Any major disappointments in regard to the Republican Platform?

Emily:
Perhaps my greatest disappointment is its proposed solution for Medicaid reform: “block-granting the program without strings.” I don’t oppose the idea of block grants, which would give states the ability to innovate, but I do oppose the complete lack of “strings.” For example, I believe community-based long-term care is essential, and I believe it should be managed by the recipients of that care rather than from those entrenched in the medical model. The Platform merely states Republicans “will make home care a priority in public policy,” because senior citizens prefer aging in place. I think we can commit to more than lip service on that front.

Another significant disappointment is the assertion that the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation “threatens … every community in the country.” It appears that Republicans fear that AFFH will preclude local control of zoning. While I generally favor local control, I have witnessed zoning laws being used to prohibit those with low incomes and certain household sizes from dwelling in desirable communities. Often, such decisions keep people with disabilities, racial minorities, and families from becoming residents. If Republicans recognize that “[h]omeownership expands personal liberty, builds communities, and helps Americans create wealth,” why wouldn’t we want to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to access it?

But enough about me. What about you, Andrew? What’s your take on the draft Democratic Platform?

Andrew:
First of all, I’m pleased that it deals with disability issues in two distinct ways. It addresses disability as a distinct category of civil rights issue in a dedicated paragraph in that section. But, it also mentions specific disability issues in other places throughout the document.

Second, the platform breaks new ground on one specific issue: ending of sub-minimum wage for some workers with disabilities. It is a big deal to call for the end of sub-minimum wages. One one level it’s just common sense and fairness. On another, it’s a fairly brave statement because it won’t be universally celebrated, even within the broadly-defined disability community. Even if support for WIOA doesn’t soften my overall view of the Republican Platform, it’s a good sign that there may be bipartisan support to address this long overdue change.

Third, the platform supports several smaller initiatives and policy stands that are important statements of principle, like ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and also things like rolling back voter ID laws and promoting financial assists like low-cost “postal banking” that can make self-sufficiency a little bit easier for disabled people to achieve.

Emily:
I think we’re going to agree to disagree when it comes to state sovereignty and voter ID laws. I am interested in hearing more about postal banking, though. Do tell!

Andrew:
Well, “postal banking” is the idea of using the postal service and its infrastructure to offer free or low-cost banking to low-income people. Many people can’t afford even bare-bones banking, which means they have trouble doing basic things like cashing and writing checks, buying things with a credit or debit card, or just plain having a place to store what little money they have safely. It would help poor and even homeless people reconnect a bit with economic life, and also counteract some of the real rip-offs poor people get into when they use check cashing and payday loan services. But I cite it just because it’s an example of a smallish, innovative, outside-the-box initiative that wouldn’t change the world in a big splashy way, but that can make people’s lives just a little easier.

On the bigger picture though, my main disappointment about the Democratic draft platform is the failure to include the Disability Integration Act (DIA). It’s especially strange since both Clinton and Sanders endorsed it. In fact, the only mention of long term care is the idea of tax supports for caregivers, which is a good idea, but only addresses long term care as a second-hand caregiving issue, not as a civil rights and independence issue. This is a major flaw.

Emily:
I’m also surprised that the Democratic Platform didn’t include more about long-term care. Why you think this is? Are there strong opponents to the DIA within the party or you think the omission was an oversight?

Andrew:
I’m really not sure. The DIA is a fairly new bill, so there are lots of people who don’t know about it. Even the broader issue of long term care is not well understood in the wider political world. Still, it’s a huge omission. If it was deliberate – if there’s real opposition to the DIA – my guess is that it comes either from the nursing home industry or from state lawmakers who are afraid of being forced to provide a basic level of home care services. The Olmstead Supreme Court decision is a strong principle, but the DIA would really pin down how all the states would have to implement it.

Hang on, this just in!

The final Democratic Platform now does include paragraphs on long term care, with a commitment to push for measures that ensure nobody has to go into an institution to get the everyday assistance they need. It doesn’t specifically mention the DIA, and that to me suggests there might be specific objections to it that we will have to explore. But there’s no longer this gaping hole in the party’s disability policies, and the principles are all there.

I’m curious, Emily; do you think a bill like the DIA could get strong Republican support?

Emily:
I believe Republicans generally favor individual liberty and would support deinstitutionalization measures. That being said, the DIA is drafted so broadly that I believe many Republicans will shy away from such a sweeping – and in places, vague – federal mandate. That being said, I’m happy to collaborate with you to take on the nursing home lobby anytime, anywhere!

Andrew:
I noticed that the Republican Platform sort of refers positively to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but not by name. I worry that a less-than-ringing endorsement may indicate how Republicans actually feel about the ADA. This is especially concerning when considering that the Platform also praises deregulation and tort reform. What do you think?

Emily:
Undoubtedly, some Republicans (as some members of any group will be) are jerks. One that immediately comes to mind is Clint Eastwood, who vociferously opposed the ADA. At the same time, I think it’s important to remember that Republicans began as the party of civil rights – all the way back to President Lincoln – and the ADA was passed with bipartisan support. I plan to advocate raucously against ADA notification bills, and I’m hopeful that Republicans will listen once presented with the facts.

Andrew:
Again, we seem to be on the same page with the ADA. So, let me ask you Emily … As disability activist, how do you feel in sync with the Republican Party, and in what ways do you feel at odds with it?

Emily:
Aside from issues with personal care attendants and related funding, the primary need I hear as a disability advocate is for improved transportation. Locally, Republicans have opposed mass transit; the Platform echoes this sentiment by bashing the Obama Administration’s Livability Initiative’s aim to “coerce people out of their cars.” Nevertheless, the Platform also calls for private “passenger service in the northeast corridor” and “high-speed and intercity rail across the country.” If the latter was accomplished, I would be very happy. Nevertheless, I think many Republicans fail to understand that not everyone can drive a car. Not everyone can afford a personal vehicle. Some of fellow partisans have difficulty fathoming someone in any circumstances other than their own.

Similarly, it’s ironic that the Republican Platform rejects “policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation.” I’m not sure many Republicans realize that many recipients of Social Security feel that they cannot marry because, if they have a spouse, they will lose benefits. By not addressing this so-called marriage penalty, Republicans do encourage cohabitation over government-sanctioned marriages.

What about you? How compatible is disability activism with being a Democrat this year?

Andrew:
I feel at home in a party where the idea of government sticking up for oppressed people, and fairly strong social support systems, aren’t considered automatically terrible or a sign of some fundamental moral flaw or national weakness. I feel at home in a party that is by and large open to the idea of dealing with organized constituencies based on shared but unique interests … so there are at least recognized pathways for disabled people to gain some real power and influence. Disability is at least somewhat recognized in the Democratic party as a constituency, not a just as social or medical problem, though this philosophical transformation isn’t finished yet.

Emily:
I see some of the identity politics you mention throughout the Platform. One thing that I immediately notice is strong language about workers’ rights and organized labor. Do you foresee potential conflict with disability rights, particularly as regards the rights of people with disabilities to direct their own long-term care?

Andrew:
Yes. I support strong unions. I support much better pay for home care workers. But unfortunately, those particular workers and their organizations also happen to be steeped in a Medical Model view of disability, where we are passive patients and they are medical professionals responsible for us. I don’t think it’s inherently a union thing. I think it’s inherent in the profession. Either way, I see more conflict ahead. And what makes it worse is that it’s the states that hold the purse strings, so even though both workers and we, their employers, would probably like to see better pay, benefits, and job security, it’ll only happen if states allocate the money, which of course they are not excited about doing. Both sides should probably be hammering on state legislatures, not on each other.

So to me, the Democratic Party a natural home for disabled voters and disability activists, but not a perfect one.

Emily:
What improvements do you think would spiff up your political home, to continue the metaphor?

Andrew:
First of all, Democrats and progressives tend to assume they are “aware” on disability issues, and don’t always respond well when we point out their mistakes and biases. Reaffirming “support” every four years for the 26-year-old ADA is important, but not enough by itself to prove their disability rights bona fides and cement the disability vote.

Second, Democrats and progressives are still torn between two ways of looking at disability It’s the difference between whether you view disability an issue of matter of providing decent care, or whether you see it as a civil rights issue. The platform addresses both, but doesn’t harmonize them well into a unified vision for disability policy.

Emily:
Do you have any strategies for getting Democrats to fully embrace the social model?

Andrew:
I think we’re pretty close right now. But I think we need more disabled people doing activism of all kinds with lawmakers at all levels. I think we have to insist that major candidates for office have disability outreach committees and / or disability issue coordinators who are, themselves, disabled. It needs to become something that all big-time candidates just have to have. They have to see that disabled people are more than just patients and clients in need of care. Our aspirations the same as everyone else’s, but we also have some very specific needs that have to be dealt with just right. Kindness and improvisation only go so far.

Let’s wrap up with a more general question. What’s something about your party and its handling of disability issues that you think is misunderstood by the other side?

Emily:
Frankly, I’m disappointed Republicans chose to open their Platform with a discussion of tax principles, financial markets, and trade policy. It feeds the misconception that Republicans care only about money, and are willing to throw Granny off a cliff if it means we don’t have to pay her Medicare bills anymore. The vast majority of Republicans I know have huge hearts and genuinely want to help people succeed. We need to lead with that positive message, explore more policies that will give people a hand up, and ditch Reagan era growth charts.

Andrew:
I think there’s a perception that the Democratic Party has a “lock” on the disability vote, and I believe that is incorrect. It may be that the majority of disabled people who are politically active do vote Democratic, but I don’t think anyone should assume this preference is very lopsided. I don’t think we really know. Democratic strategists shouldn’t take it for granted, and neither should Republicans.

Emily:
Agreed! If only our Washingtonian counterparts could get together and have a genuine exchange like us! Cheers to collaboration, Andrew!

To read the two major party platforms for yourself, follow these links:

2016 Republican Party Platform
https://www.gop.com/the-2016-republican-party-platform/

2016 Democratic Party Platform
https://www.demconvention.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Democratic-Party-Platform-7.21.16-no-lines.pdf

Contact: Andrew Pulrang
Contact: Emily Munson