Time to Fix the Economy and Congress
Now that Congress has gone on yet another month-long recess, I hope they get an earful at town hall meetings from constituents who are extremely frustrated by their lack of action on legislation to spur on the economic recovery. Once again, the President has called on them to take concrete steps to pass bills aimed at creating jobs and strengthening the working class. So far, his calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears among GOP Congressional members, who seem to be determined to continue the strategy they have used since gaining control of the House in 2011 – obstruct anything constructive from happening until they can take control of the White House again and really screw things up.
Most of the talk in conservative circles of late has once again been about holding the government hostage and threatening to shut it down, this time over funding the Affordable Care Act. The only snippets I have seen so far of town hall meetings on cable news have involved Tea Party hardline activists regaling their Republican Congressional representatives with calls to stand on principle and refuse to pass any legislation funding the aspects of the law to go into effect in the next fiscal year. They would rather shut the government down than allow access to affordable health care to millions of their fellow citizens – despite the fact that some 40 attempts by the House to repeal the law have gone nowhere, and the portions of the law that have gone into effect so far have worked well.
Specific issues change as time passes, but the unwillingness of this Congress to pass any legislation whatsoever to make life better for the vast majority of the population or try to improve the economy remains a constant. Calls to raise the minimum wage, spend money on improving infrastructure, education or any other idea that does not immediately benefit the top 1% of the population result in silence. and legislative inaction. Legislation called for in February’s State of the Union Address such as raising the minimum wage, gun safety legislation and immigration reform, have either failed in both chambers or stalled in the House. Nominations of key Presidential appointments have stalled important regulatory and judicial work for years.
This country needs more and better paying jobs. Our government policies for decades have been predicated on improving the corporate bottom line at the expense of the workers.Tax incentives to send jobs overseas, as well as allowing companies to claim their profits there, have enabled them to increase profits while decreasing their taxes. The same goes for wealthy individuals. Attempts to achieve more tax fairness have gotten nowhere in Congress.Instead, the aim has been to decrease taxes even further on those at the top of the economic pyramid by reducing expenditures like food stamps, unemployment benefits, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Never mind that many of these expenses would be less necessary if employers simply paid a living wage to workers for their labor, facts like that don’t enter the equation because that is seen as another unnecessary and undeserved expense. Thus, they seek to further enrich themselves by impoverishing their workers.
Demand in this economy will remain sluggish as long as its main component – the workers/consumers – continue to see their slice of the economic pie lessened and economic inequality increased. Inequality of income and wealth has also furthered inequality of opportunity in education, health care, and the ability to advance economically within our society. Few deny that children of wealth have an easier lot in life than children of poverty. Government’s role should be to mitigate these inequalities, not reinforce them or even worsen them, as has been the case here for over a generation now.
While the President has been giving lip service to the need to stem the tide of increasing inequality and renew the hopes for a better future which have frustrated for so many for so long now, there has been little or no tangible evidence that the government is moving nearly quickly enough on many fronts to bring these hopes to fruition. Republicans may be the main stumbling block in many areas, but many Democrats in Congress also fall prey to acting against the interests of the people they represent in order to curry favor among potential campaign donors. Even the Affordable Care Act was only a partial measure that is still years from total implementation, and it is being fought tooth and nail every step of the way by the forces trying to preserve wealth and privilege of a chosen few over the welfare of the many.
Thus, health care reform became mangled by the “need” to preserve or increase the profits of the insurance, health maintenance and pharmaceutical industries, rather than achieving the original goal of providing affordable healthcare for all. This is true mainly because these industries’ interests are represented better in Congress than the people are. They lobby. They contribute significant campaign funds to the coffers to re-elect their friends in Congress or elect the opponents of those who are not their friends. Health care should be a right for all, independent of personal monetary assets.So should education. Making individual starting points so disparate not only is unfair to those at the bottom of the ladder, it is not beneficial for society as a whole. Why replace a hereditary monarchy with a plutocracy that is every bit as confining and only gives the appearance of providing equal opportunity for all to rise to the top?
Other legislation that is highly popular and should be easily and rapidly passed, such as gun control legislation and immigration reform, become so bogged down and watered down as to become almost meaningless if they ever get passed at all. Financial regulations such as those in the Dodd-Frank Act have met with foot-dragging in implementation as well. It took three years for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to have a director approved in the senate. Regulations to end “too big to fail” financial institutions and avoid many of the pitfalls causing the recent financial collapse have also met with stiff resistance and the danger of a recurrence remains.
If we are ever to reverse the economic trends towards increased inequality in our society, we must start by getting more of the big money influence out of our politics. We also must eliminate more of the barriers to success that have been established to favor the rich over the rest, especially in the tax code and the way in which goods and services are distributed in our society. Obama’s proposal to lower the corporate tax rate while eliminating loopholes would only be a step in the right direction if accompanied by more jobs with higher wages and resulting increases in revenues. Lowering the rate without increasing the benefit for society as a whole would only result in higher deficits or further attacks by the right on the social safety net, which would be unacceptable because it would only help sustain the status quo.
Arguments against raising wages at the low end of the scale have been proven wrong time and again. This is true economically as well as morally. Arguments against regulating capitalism and financial institutions have proven dangerous in the all-too-recent past. Allowing enough members of Congress to continue the disastrous path they have been pursuing for the past several years is unconscionable. I hope that enough of us will make ourselves heard by our representatives during this recess to encourage them to start acting in our interest in facing the choices they must make in the coming months. The current situation has endured for far too long. We need to take back our government now. Further delays only make the situation worse. We cannot afford another year of their intransigence.
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