The Republican onslaught continues. Public sector employees are just the current manifestation of an effort by Republicans to get back into power — to retake the House of Representatives, the Senate, and ultimately the White House. Central to the Republican strategy from the first day of the Obama presidency has been a concerted effort to slow and delay the recovery of the American economy.
The lesson of the events in Wisconsin for progressives is clear. When you let the opposition set the political agenda and frame the political discussion, losing is inevitable. The conservative, tea party narrative asserts that government has been living beyond its means, and that government needs to cut back just as American families have had to cut back. And who can argue with that?
The America I love is a tolerant place. It’s a place where we see diversity all around us. We don’t worry about the race or religion or sexual preference of our neighbors. And we treat one another as fellow Americans – disagreeing from time to time about many things, but not being disagreeable.
State governments across the US are facing record budget deficits in the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2012 that begins July 1, 2011 in most states. Altogether, total state shortfalls could exceed $140 billion in FY 2012. The biggest deficits look to be in California, Nevada, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas — states that have seen big reductions in revenues because of the collapse of the financial and housing markets. In these states, the deficits range from 30 to 45 percent of the total state budget.
The Obama Administration does not appear ready to re-open the health care reform debate any time soon. Having paid the political price for focusing on health care reform instead of job creation during his first two years in office, President Obama appears to understand that it’s still “the economy, stupid.” It will be up to the Republicans to bring to the table alternatives to the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
Despite all the rhetoric these days about tax and budget cuts, the reality is that we will only see real improvement in employment prospects for our nation’s workers if we start seeing strong economic growth. What’s needed is the kind of strong, sustained economic growth that provides American businesses assurance that as they hire more workers there will be sufficient economic demand for the goods and services those workers help deliver.
Deficit reduction will need to be high on the legislative agenda of the 112th Congress. Government is borrowing too much — current policies are just not sustainable. The solutions are simple — spend less, increase revenues, or both. The politics of deficit reduction are ugly, and not at all good news for the American middle class.
Thinking back over the past year, and on the events in Tuscon, AZ this weekend, I found myself reflecting back over some things I wrote this summer. We don’t yet know the motives of the deranged mind of Jared Loughner — but whatever they were, we need to heed this wake up call about the tone of the political debate in this country. Talk of 2nd Amendment remedies, and bullseyes on websites targeting members of Congress, are the kinds of inflammatory rhetoric and free speech that if not tempered, will likely lead to more political violence and represent a real threat to our democracy and our way of life.
As members of the 111th Congress leave town for the Christmas holiday, it’s a little sobering that despite the appearance and reality of partisan gridlock, the outgoing Congress was among the most productive in decades. A partial listing of legislative accomplishments:
health care reform
hate crimes legislation
credit card reform
student loan reform
pay discrimination legislation
US automaker bailout
the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
a 2% 2011 payroll tax reduction
food safety legislation
repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
health care and compensation for 9/11 responders
President Obama and some very unlikely allies in Washington, DC have given the American people a Christmas present of sorts. As a result of a bipartisan agreement between the President and Republican leaders in Congress, middle class taxes will not only not go up — all working Americans will see a nice boost in their take-home pay — by as much as $2,000 per taxpayer on the first $106,800 in earned income. The long term unemployed will see their unemployment benefits continue for up to 13 months, and millions of taxpayers will continue to claim the child tax credit. The college-tuition aid program has also been extended, as have the earned-income tax credit for low-income Americans, and tax breaks for small businesses.