Feinstein vows fight for Medicare, social programs


By Juliet Williams


U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told the Democratic faithful on Saturday that they must work to retake the House of Representatives next year or risk deep GOP budget cuts that would hurt seniors and poor people the most.

The four-term senator from California, who faces re-election next year, told delegates at the state party’s annual convention that conservatives and the tea party are pursuing a “radical, ideological agenda to dismantle the social and economic safety net of our country.”

“In the five months since Republicans have taken control of the House, they have tried to systematically dissemble the American dream by targeting environmental protection, investments in education and infrastructure, and most recently health care reform and Medicare,” Feinstein said. “The majority party in today’s House of Representatives is more radical, more hostile to working people, more determined to undermine a Democratic president than the Gingrich congress in 1995.”

Feinstein also slammed a budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Wisconsin Republican’s plan would fundamentally restructure Medicare and cut social-safety-net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. Republicans have rallied around Ryan’s plan, although it has drawn mixed reactions at budget town halls around the country.

“The Paul Ryan budget is unfair, irresponsible, and a non-starter in the Senate,” Feinstein said.

Tom Del Beccaro, chairman of the California Republican Party, said rather than criticize Ryan’s effort to restrain spending, Feinstein should suggest her own spending cuts.

“The federal deficit is a far greater risk to social programs” than Ryan’s plan, Del Beccaro said. “A bankrupt government is not a compassionate government, and Dianne Feinstein, as far as I can tell, has not been an effective voice on reining in the deficit. I mean, think about it, Ryan’s budget doesn’t call for a balanced budget for years to come.”

No Republican has so far stepped forward to challenge Feinstein’s seat.

This weekend’s meeting is the party’s first statewide gathering of Democrats since the party beat back a nationwide Republican surge last November. They elected Democrats to all nine constitutional offices, picked up a seat in the state Assembly, defended Sen. Barbara Boxer’s post and returned Jerry Brown to the governor’s office after three decades.

But governing has proved harder than winning elections. Brown has so far failed to win the two Republican votes he needs in each house to place his proposal on the ballot to extend temporary income, sales and vehicle taxes for five years, following through on his campaign pledge not to raise taxes without a vote of the people.

He signed into law $11.2 billion in budget cuts, leaving California’s deficit at $15.4 billion.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, won applause from the crowd Saturday when he promised that the state Assembly would not approve an all-cuts budget, but instead would pursue GOP votes for taxes.

California Teachers Association President David Sanchez told delegates that teachers would hold daily sit-ins at the state Capitol in mid-May in an effort to push Republicans to support tax extensions in the Legislature, without going to the ballot in the fall, when the temporary increases in the sales, income and vehicle taxes would already have expired.

“I believe the governor made the effort to put it before the people and he was stopped from doing that, so he doesn’t really have much recourse. If he goes to an all-cuts approach, it’ll be even more devastating for our schools,” Sanchez said.

Brown was scheduled to address the convention Sunday, but his office announced Saturday afternoon that he had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his nose and would not attend. His office said he was recuperating at home.

During her luncheon speech, Feinstein also touched on nuclear power. She said nuclear energy can be safe, but only if we are “eternally vigilant” in ensuring safety throughout the fuel process. She has urged the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to establish regulations that would encourage plant operators to move more quickly to store spent fuel in dry casks, rather than in pools that must be kept cooled.

Nuclear energy is among the issues activists are debating at this weekend’s convention, where nuclear energy opponents want the party to adopt a resolution opposing its use in California and calling for the closure of the state’s two nuclear plants, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near San Luis Obispo. — AP