Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Pledge to America

This past Thursday, Republican leaders unveiled their legislative agenda for the next Congress, which they are calling the “Pledge to America.” Unfortunately, however, the plan contains the very same policies that led to the economic crisis in the first place.

In short, the pledge calls for a reduction in government regulation, a repeal of the healthcare reform, extending large tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans, ending stimulus spending, and undoing all the successes the Obama administration has accomplished.

First, why do we need government regulation? Without it, Wall Street was able to conduct business in an irresponsible manner that resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Bankers got greedy, misled the public, and contributed to the housing market bubble. Without government regulation, credit card companies were able to raise interest rates on existing balances without notifying you and entrapped students into a never ending pile of debt. Without government regulation, private banks handled federally backed student loans, costing taxpayers billions of dollars in subsidies and making it harder for students to pay back loans.

Second, without healthcare reform, whose provisions only just started to take effect, millions died due to lack of adequate insurance; students were not covered under their parents’ insurance; pre-existing conditions dominated your insurance policy; Medicare finances were being depleted; the cost of prescription drugs steadily increased; and taxpayers were forced to pay thousands extra in premiums for unnecessary and avoidable trips to the emergency room.

Third, extending tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent will do nothing to help our staggering economy. One major proof: the tax cut for the richest has been in place since 2003. But instead of investing, they have saved; instead of increasing paychecks for employees they have given out large corporate bonuses; and instead of hiring American workers, they have outsourced jobs. Throughout Bush’s 8 years in office, even with a 35% tax rate (as opposed to 39% during Clinton), there was only a total net growth of 3 million jobs, and ZERO in the private-sector. Clearly, the tax cuts did not, and will not work. Also, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the CBO, extending the tax cut will cost an additional $3 trillion over 10 years in lost revenue.

Finally, what’s wrong with stimulus spending? What’s wrong with funding public works projects, extending unemployment benefits, and increasing support for cash-strapped state governments so they won't have to lay off teachers and police officers? What’s wrong with saving the auto-industry and allowing companies like GM and Chrysler to make profits and start hiring American workers again? What’s wrong with helping troubled homeowners avoid foreclosures; giving small businesses tax cuts and assist in their lending? What’s wrong with going from an economy where we were losing 750,000 jobs a month to now creating more than 3 million new jobs? The answer is nothing. But the very same Republicans who denounced the Obama stimulus spending plan are quick to embrace stimulus spending when it comes in the form of tax cuts for the rich.

If this is where Republicans are planning to take us after November, I want to get off at the next exit.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Party of November

The economic recession has left Americans little cause to celebrate. However, after closer examination of the state of our union today, we start to find a glimmer of hope in our collective future.

Last week, President Obama and his administration once again proved they are doing all they can to help America create jobs through the recent passage of the Small-Business lending bill.

The bill will provide tax breaks and other incentives to the sector of our economy that provides the most new jobs, yet have been hit the hardest by the economic downturn: small businesses. Specifically, it creates a $30-billion small-business lending fund, easing access to credit, and provides $12 billion in tax breaks to encourage investment, entrepreneurship and hiring. And it will NOT add a single dime to our deficit.

Up to now, our tax code has provided billions of dollars in tax breaks that encourage companies to create jobs in other countries. However, according to White House economist Jason Furman, eliminating these tax breaks and closing the corporate loopholes will provide an estimated $300 billion in new revenue.

But once again, the leaders across the aisle are saying no. Senate Republicans have held this job creating measures hostage for the last few weeks, urging, instead, of an additional tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. In fact, without the help of 2 Republicans who broke away from the pack and helped break the GOP filibuster in the Senate, this bill would not have passed.

So what made Republican Sen. George LeMieux of Florida and Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio wise up? Neither of them are seeking re-election.

At a time when small business owners are struggling to make payroll and holding off hiring, we need leaders who are not fancy to the political whims of an election but, instead, are concerned about helping the average American.

But if we can only expect leaders on the right to vote for progress in an “off-year” (when they are not concerned about getting votes), does that really account for a party truly concerned with Americans? Can we really count on the Republicans to help us through the recession after November?

It seems not.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Call of Freedom?

Photo by Thomas E. Franklin
After much heated debate, the pastor of a small Florida church has finally agreed to cancel his plans to burn copies of the Koran later this week. It seems that religious freedom and religious tolerance have triumphed once again.

As many from both sides of the political spectrum have noted, not only would burning of the holy book of Islam, one the largest religions in the world, be an act of cruelty and racism, but it would have also endangered our American troops stationed in Muslim countries. The event would have proven what extremists have been saying all along, and would undermine U.S. policies in the Arab world, making it even more dangerous for Americans and our brave soldiers.

But time and time again, Americans prove their ability to unite and stand steadfast against oppressive radicalism. Americans stood up for the values that our Founding Fathers envisioned for us, and that many across the world live without. I can think of no better way to commemorate 9/11 than to honor those values of America: equality and freedom.

As this weekend marks the 9th year after we were brutally attacked on American soil, it also marks the great strength and resilience of Americans. I have never seen more unity and love for our great nation than the months following September 11, 2001. Although tragic, 9/11 taught us that when we, as a society, truly come together, we become the most powerful nation in the world. This is what America is all about.

However, in the years following, we have seemed to lose sight of that America. Whether it is the racial propaganda against our president, the discriminatory laws against our immigrants or the growing hateful sentiment of our American-Muslim community, Americans are becoming distant from our founding values. This is why I continue to support the Islamic center 12 blocks from Ground Zero.

The same hateful emotions that caused the Florida pastor to plan the burning of the Koran have also fueled the debate for the building of this center. But having this type of disrespect for any religion is inappropriate anywhere in America. It is not only highly offensive to many Muslims across the world, but it should be offensive for people who value the ideals of America.

Also, just as the Koran burning would have endangered our American troops overseas, cancelling the construction of the center would give in to radicalism and increase anti-American feelings abroad. It would show the world that America is fighting a war against the entire religion of Islam, not just the extremists. This would, without a doubt, increase the terrorists’ ability to recruit, and ultimately increase aggression and violence against our great nation.

Americans answered the call of minorities wanting the right to sit at the front of the bus; Americans answered the call of women wanting the right to vote; Americans answered the call when a pastor of a small church wanted to burn holy texts. But when will Americans answer the call of American-Muslims wanting the right to practice their religion? When will Americans stand united once more to show the world that we are still the most powerful nation in the world?

America, please pick up.