John Dingell, longest serving member of Congress, dies at 92
By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER
Friday, February 8
DETROIT (AP) — Dubbed “Big John” for his imposing 6-foot-3 frame and sometimes intimidating manner, former Rep. John Dingell bolstered that reputation with the head of a 500-pound wild boar that greeted visitors to his Washington office. The story behind it also helped: The Michigan Democrat is said to have felled the animal with a pistol as it charged him during a hunting trip in Soviet Georgia.
Yet the congressman — whose nearly six decades in the U.S. House made him the longest serving member of Congress in American history — was hard to typecast. An avid sportsman and hunter, he loved classical music and ballet. His first date with his wife, Debbie, whom he affectionately introduced as “the lovely Deborah,” was a performance of the American Ballet Theater.
He also amassed more than 250,000 followers on Twitter, which became an outlet for the outspoken congressman’s wry takes and quick wit.
Dingell mastered legislative deal-making but was fiercely protective of the auto industry back home in Detroit, and he was a longtime supporter of universal health care. He also was a dogged pursuer of government waste and fraud, helping take down two top presidential aides while chairman of a powerful investigative panel.
“He taught me how to shoot a rifle. I remember he said shooting a rifle is a lot like legislating,” former Ohio Rep. Dennis Eckhart told The Associated Press in 2009. “You have to be very, very sure of your target, and then when you get your chance, don’t miss.”
Dingell, who died Thursday at age 92, served in the House with every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama. Elected in 1955, following the sudden death of his congressman father, he had a front-row seat for the passage of landmark legislation including Medicare, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, all of which he supported, as well as the Clean Air Act, which he was accused of stalling to help auto interests. His hometown, the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, was home to a Ford Motor Co. factory that was once the largest in the world.
Yet one of his proudest moments came in 2010, when he sat next to Obama as the historic $938 billion health care overhaul was signed into law. Taking up his father’s cause, Dingell had introduced a universal health care coverage bill during each of his terms.
“Presidents come and presidents go,” former President Bill Clinton said in 2005, when Dingell celebrated 50 years in Congress. “John Dingell goes on forever.”
Dingell’s wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, said her husband died at their home in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb.
“He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather and friend,” her office said in a statement. “He will be remembered for his decades of public service to the people of Southeast Michigan, his razor sharp wit and a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of all who walk this earth.”
The announcement was quickly followed by an outpouring of tributes. Former President George W. Bush said he spoke with Dingell on Thursday and “thanked him for his service to our country and for being an example to those who have followed him into the public arena. He was a fine gentleman who showed great respect for our country and her people.”
Clinton said Dingell’s “respect for his constituents, his colleagues of both parties, and the institutions of Congress are a valuable reminder today of what a noble calling public service can be.” Former President Barack Obama echoed the sentiments, adding: “John Dingell’s life reminds us that change does not always come with a flash, but instead with steady, determined effort.”
For 14 years he chaired the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees industries from banking and energy to health care and the environment. He also led its investigative arm, which produced several high-profile cases.
His investigations led to the resignation of former Stanford University President Donald Kennedy after the California school misused hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research funds, and the criminal conviction of one of President Ronald Reagan’s top advisers, Michael Deaver, for lying under oath. His investigations also led to the resignation of Reagan’s first environmental protection chief and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford. She stepped down after being cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to share subpoenaed documents with a House subcommittee investigating a Superfund toxic waste program.
“I’ve gotten more death threats around here than I can remember,” Dingell told the AP in a 1995 interview. “It used to bother my wife, but oversight was something we did uniquely well.”
His critics called him overpowering and intimidating, and his Washington office was decorated with big game trophies. And he often used his dry wit to amuse his friends and sting opponents. Even when hospitalized in 2003, following an operation to open a blocked artery, he maintained his humor. “I’m happy to inform the Republican leadership that I fully intend to be present to vote against their harmful and shameless tax giveaway package,” he said from the hospital.
Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on July 8, 1926, John David Dingell Jr. grew up in Michigan, where his father was elected to Congress as a “New Deal” Democrat in 1932. After a brief stint in the Army near the end of World War II, the younger Dingell earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Georgetown University.
Following the sudden death of his father in September 1955, Dingell, then a 29-year-old attorney, won a special election to succeed him. But the newly elected politician was no stranger to the Capitol.
Alongside his congressman father, Dingell was serving as a page on the House floor when President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan on Dec. 8, 1941. He supervised elevator operators while in college, and when he became the longest-serving U.S. House member in history in 2009, he recalled entering the chamber for the first time — as a 6-year-old — and being in awe of the East door.
“I had never been in a place like this. I was a working-class kid from a Polish neighborhood in Detroit, and this was quite an event for me,” Dingell told Time magazine at the time. “I’ve only begun in later years to appreciate what it all meant.
Dingell won more than two dozen elections during his career, at first representing a Detroit district but eventually shifting because of redistricting to various southeastern Michigan communities. He became the longest-serving member of Congress on June 7, 2013, when he surpassed the former record holder, the late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd.
“The length of time is really quite unimportant,” Dingell told the AP in an interview in 2009. “It’s what I have done with that time.”
Dingell, at age 87, announced in early 2014 that he would not run for a 30th full term because he could not have lived up to his own standards. Continuing the family tradition, his wife, Debbie, successfully ran for her husband’s seat in 2014.
“I don’t want people to be sorry for me. … I don’t want to be going out feet-first, and I don’t want to do less than an adequate job,” said Dingell, who by that time was using a cane or motorized cart to get around the Capitol.
Obama awarded Dingell the Presidential Medal of Freedom later that year.
Dingell suffered a heart attack four years later, in September 2018 at age 92. He was hospitalized but was soon “cracking jokes as usual,” his wife said at the time.
An autobiography, “The Dean: The Best Seat in the House,” written with David Bender, was published in December. Forewords were written by former President George H.W. Bush, who had died only a few days before its publication, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Dingell, in his later years, used Twitter as an outlet for his quick wit. In January, he noted the negative 7-degree temperature in Hell, Michigan, and retweeted a tweet from the Detroit Free Press that said the “Detroit Lions are going to win the Super Bowl” now that Hell had frozen over.
Along with his wife, Dingell is survived by two daughters, two sons, one of whom served 15 years in the Michigan Legislature, and several grandchildren.
See AP’s complete coverage of John Dingell here: https://apnews.com/JohnDingell
White House report tries to shift Trump health care rhetoric
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
Friday, February 8
WASHINGTON (AP) — A new report from the White House tries to shift the Trump administration’s combative rhetoric on health care, suggesting changes to the Affordable Care Act under President Donald Trump do not fundamentally undermine the health law.
The Council of Economic Advisers report , released Friday, says Obama-era subsidies that help low- and middle-income customers pay their premiums will help keep HealthCare.gov afloat even if some healthy people drop out or seek other coverage because of Trump’s changes. Nearly 90 percent or customers get taxpayer-provided assistance.
The report reflects the outcome of 2018 midterm elections in which Democrats successfully campaigned on keeping the ACA and effectively ended Trump’s drive to repeal it. Democratic 2020 White House hopefuls are seizing on health care as an issue, with some pushing for a government-run system that would cover all Americans and replace the ACA, better known as “Obamacare.”
The council is a White House agency that advises the president.
Larry Levitt, of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said it suggests to him the administration is trying to move on from the battle over the ACA, which Trump and Republicans in Congress failed to repeal.
“The president seemed to take pride in undermining the ACA, but now his administration is resisting the argument that they have undermined the health law,” Levitt said. “They can point to benefits of deregulation but will also have to live with the costs, which include higher premiums for middle-class people with pre-existing conditions.”
The ACA has risen in popularity with the public.
The report looks at three big changes under Trump that affect former President Barack Obama’s health care law. They are congressional repeal of the law’s unpopular fines on people who go uninsured, “association health plans” for small businesses and low-cost short-term health insurance that doesn’t have to cover basic benefits like prescription drugs.
“These reforms do not ‘sabotage’ the ACA but rather provide a more efficient focus of tax-funded care to those in need,” says the report, casting the administration’s changes as “de-regulation.”
It comes as House Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are moving to shore up the ACA, including trying to undo some of Trump’s insurance changes. Although such a rollback seems unlikely to succeed under divided government, there has been bipartisan support for measures that would help reduce premiums and guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions. Restoring the ad budget for HealthCare.gov slashed by Trump is also a possibility.
About 10 million people continue to get private insurance through the ACA’s subsidized markets, or exchanges, and another 12 million are covered by its Medicaid expansion.
Casey Mulligan, chief economist for the White House council, said it turns out that the health law’s penalty for people going uninsured wasn’t really essential for the program to function. He said the subsidies were more important.
“Removing the tax penalty and opening up more affordable options was able to save taxpayer dollars, give families more choice, without destabilizing the exchanges,” he said.
The report didn’t address constitutional arguments in a Texas court case against the ACA brought by red-state officials. But its economic analysis could have a bearing on that case.
The plaintiffs contend that the whole law was made unconstitutional by congressional repeal of the fines on the uninsured. A federal district court judge agreed, and that ruling is on appeal. The Justice Department has said in connection with the case that it will no longer defend the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Now the White House report undercuts the notion that the tax penalties at issue in the case are central to the health law. Officials at the Council of Economic Advisers said they’re not policymakers or lawyers, but economists.
The report also claims $450 billion in consumer benefits over the next 10 years based on broader availability of less costly insurance options, reduced taxpayer spending on subsidies and the cancelled fines. But it acknowledges that premiums will go up for some middle- and upper-income consumers.
Kaiser Foundation analyst Levitt said $450 billion seems high to him.
Online: CEA report: http://tinyurl.com/y7vbzorb
Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists
February 8, 2019
Author: Anne Lusk, Research Scientist, Harvard University
Disclosure statement: Anne Lusk does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Designing for bikes has become a hallmark of forward-looking modern cities worldwide. Bike-friendly city ratings abound, and advocates promote cycling as a way to reduce problems ranging from air pollution to traffic deaths.
But urban cycling investments tend to focus on the needs of wealthy riders and neglect lower-income residents and people of color. This happens even though the majority of Americans who bike to work live in households that earn less than US $10,000 yearly, and studies in lower-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Boston have found that the majority of bicyclists were non-white.
I have worked on bicycle facilities for 38 years. In a newly published study, I worked with colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston groups focused on health and families to learn from residents of several such neighborhoods what kinds of bike infrastructure they believed best met their needs. Some of their preferences were notably different from those of cyclists in wealthier neighborhoods.
Thanks to recent investments, New Yorkers can ride an almost continuous stretch of protected bike lanes, greenways and bridges for 25 miles through four boroughs of the city.
Cycling infrastructure and urban inequality
Bike equity is a powerful tool for increasing access to transportation and reducing inequality in U.S. cities. Surveys show that the fastest growth in cycling rates since 2001 has occurred among Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American riders. But minority neighborhoods have fewer bike facilities, and riders there face higher risk of accidents and crashes.
Many U.S. cities have improved marginalized neighborhoods by investing in grocery stores, schools, health clinics, community centers, libraries and affordable housing. But when it comes to bicycle infrastructure, they often add only the easiest and least safe elements, such as painting sharrows – stencils of bikes and double chevrons – or bike lane markings, and placing them next to curbs or between parked cars and traffic. Cycle tracks – bike lanes separated from traffic by curbs, lines of posts or rows of parked cars – are more common in affluent neighborhoods.
Compared with white wealthier neighborhoods, more bicyclists in ethnic-minority neighborhoods receive tickets for unlawful riding or are involved in collisions. With access to properly marked cycle tracks, they would have less reason to ride on the sidewalk or against traffic on the street, and would be less likely to be hit by cars.
In my view, responsibility for recognizing these needs rests primarily with cities. Urban governments rely on public participation processes to help them target investments, and car owners tend to speak loudest because they want to maintain access to wide street lanes and parallel parking. In contrast, carless residents who could benefit from biking may not know to ask for facilities that their neighborhoods have never had.
Protection from crime and crashes
For our study, we organized 212 people into 16 structured discussion groups. They included individuals we classified as “community-sense” – representing civic organizations such as YMCAs and churches – or “street-sense,” volunteers from halfway houses, homeless shelters and gangs. We invited the street-sense groups because individuals who have committed crimes or know of crime opportunities have valuable insights about urban design.
We showed the groups photos of various cycling environments, ranging from unaltered streets to painted sharrows and bike lanes, cycle tracks and shared multi-use paths. Participants ranked the pictures according to the risk of crime or crashes they associated with each option, then discussed their perceptions as a group.
Studies have shown that awareness of criminal activity along bike routes can deter cyclists, and this is an important concern in low-income and minority neighborhoods. In a study in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, I found that African-American and Hispanic bicyclists were more concerned than white cyclists that their bikes could be stolen. Some carried bikes up three flights of stairs to store them inside their homes.
From an anti-crime perspective, our focus groups’ ideal bike system was a wide two-way cycle track with freshly painted lines and bike stencils plus arrows, free of oil or litter. Conditions around the route also mattered. Our groups perceived areas with clean signs, cafes with tables and flowers, balconies, streetlights and no alleyways or cuts between buildings as safest. They also wanted routes to avoid buildings that resembled housing projects, warehouses and abandoned buildings.
For crash safety, participants preferred cycle tracks separated from cars by physical dividers; wide cycle track surfaces, colored red to designate them as space for bicyclists; and bike stencils and directional arrows on the tracks. In their view, the safest locations for bike facilities had traffic signals for bikers, clearly painted lines, low levels of traffic, and did not run near bus stops or intersections where many streets converged.
Rules for the road
We compared our results with widely used bicycle design guidelines and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles to see whether those sources reflected our participants’ priorities. The guidelines produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the National Association of City Transportation Officials provide engineering specifications for designing bicycle facilities that focus on road elements – paint, delineator posts and signs – but do not describe design features that would protect vulnerable humans bicycling through an environment at night. Our study asked people about what kinds of surface markings and features in the surrounding area made them feel most comfortable.
As an example, our groups preferred street-scale lighting to brighten the surface of cycle tracks. In contrast, tall highway cobra-head lights typically used on busy urban streets reach over the roadway, illuminating the road for drivers in vehicles that have headlights.
In higher-income neighborhoods, cyclists might choose bike routes on side streets to avoid heavy traffic. However, people in our study felt that side streets with only residential buildings were less safe for cycling. This suggests that bicycle routes in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods should be concentrated on main roads with commercial activity where more people are present.
Decisions about public rights-of-way should not be based on how many car owners or how few bicyclists show up at public meetings. Our study shows that city officials should create networks of wide, stenciled, red-painted, surface-lighted, barrier-protected, bicycle-exclusive cycle tracks in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods along main streets. This would help residents get to work affordably, quickly and safely, and improve public health and quality of life in communities where these benefits are most needed.