Gearing Up for 2014
As 2013 closes as another legislative clone of 2011 and 2012 from the standpoint of Congressional inaction, 2014 seems to be shaping up as another year of banging our heads against walls trying to get any progress out of that body. The 2014 elections stand out as a chance for changing the lethargy and actually achieving something of value before the next Presidential campaign. The income inequality speech given by President Obama last week may provide an excellent jumping off point for potential legislation at the federal, state and local levels as well as for Congressional campaigns to move this country forward in reforming our government and priorities.
The President has made similar progressive speeches in the past which have led to little in the way of results other than the passage of the Affordable Care Act and financial reform, neither of which is completely implemented yet. Congressional Republicans seem content to ride out the remainder of the Obama Administration obstructing in any way possible any legislation or appointments the President or Congressional Democrats may propose. Attempts to increase job creation and improve the national infrastructure while increasing the minimum wage have fallen on deaf ears, particularly in the GOP controlled House. The only way forward in breaking this gridlock appears to be replacing enough of the obstructionists to return to Congress the ability to perform its Constitutionally defined duties.
Despite the fact that the 2010 elections resulted in a great deal of gerrymandering to the advantage of Republicans in many states, polls show that the American people agree to a great extent with the points made by the President in his last speech, as well as similar points made in previous speeches. People know that we have an unacceptable degree of economic inequality that needs to be addressed by legislation at the federal level. Legislation raising the minimum wage has been passing at the state and local levels in areas controlled politically by Democrats. Public referenda dealing with raising the minimum wage have also been successful in some states, even including a minimum wage in some state constitutions and provisions for cost-of-living adjustments
Recognition that wages are not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living and that opportunities for economic advancement in our society have diminished dramatically in recent decades has become widespread. Tired arguments opposing progressive measures such as a living wage have become stale. Economic claims made repeatedly by opponents of raising the minimum wage ring hollow when they are not borne out by the evidence accrued over the years when the wage has been raised. Simply repeating the same old claims with no proof that they are valid no longer carries much weight, especially as evidence to the contrary increasingly exists.
There is no economic reason that workers in the service, retail and fast food industries must be paid starvation wages. Examples exist of at least some corporations in each of these sectors which do pay employees living wages while remaining profitable. Forcing people to work their butts off for a pittance which forces them to seek outside assistance to make ends meet is both unnecessary economically and morally deplorable. Raising the minimum wage to make up for wage stagnation since its purchasing power reached a high several decades ago has been mentioned by many, even before the first mention made by the President in this year’s State of the Union Address. Legislation has been voted down unanimously by Republicans in Congress. This hurts the overall economy as well as constituents for each and every member of Congress.
Republicans continue to hammer away at cutting programs which make it possible for increasing numbers of people to support themselves and their families in the face of a deep recession and sluggish recovery benefitting mainly the very wealthy. They continue to preach austerity policies which have been repeatedly renounced by most experts, and refused to allow revenue increases to be a part of solving budget deficit and debt issues. They are politically opposed to such basic concepts as that everyone should have adequate food, housing and health care. Their politics of blaming the victims of policies aimed at improving the economic status of those who need it least at the expense of the rest of us should make for some lucrative campaign fodder for those running against GOP Congressional incumbents, even in the so called Red states. People who are struggling economically are not uneducated, lazy bums out for a free ride at taxpayer expense, as they are often portrayed by those unwilling to help make their lives better.
Everyone in the House is up for re-election next year. GOP members need to explain to voters in their districts why they have voted to repeal the ACA some 40 times and closed down the government in a vain attempt to refuse it funding. Do they even care that they appear to not want many of their constituents to obtain adequate health care? They also should be taken to task for repeated attempts, many successful, to defund or cut funding to programs upon which many depend in our current economy, while at the same time refusing to consider any legislation designed to improve the economy so that such programs as food stamps and unemployment insurance will be less necessary.
GOP members of Congress and state legislatures also need to answer some fundamental questions about their stance on providing tax breaks to the wealthy and to highly profitable corporations which should be asked to pay more for the huge benefits they have reaped from this society for the past several decades. Subsidies for agriculture, fossil fuel producers, along with tax laws that enable some very wealthy people to pay tax rates considerably lower than many middle class families ( and some, including corporations, none at all) need to be addressed. Continuing to cut spending has been proven to be a tremendous drag on the economy. Putting more money in consumers pockets would increase demand, along with the need for more people to do jobs to meet the increased demand. Refusing to .look at increasing revenues has not served our nation well in the current recovery, and is in fact, making matters worse for most of us. Trying to balance the budget on the backs of the young, the elderly, the poor and infirm while protecting the hoarding of vast sums of wealth by a privileged minority is unacceptable in a society which supposedly prides itself on its stances on issues of human rights and equality.
Building on successes progressive forces have been making in states where they have some control over their state and local governments is important. The fact that many people, particularly in the GOP controlled states that have repeatedly refused to participate in implementing the ACA, are being left behind in the quest for affordable health care needs to be made clear to all. States which refused to expand Medicaid and/or establish state health care exchanges are proving to their residents that they are not being treated the same as their counterparts living in states that have done so. Enrollment figures on a state–by-state level should bear this discrepancy out well before next November.
Similarly, comparing states which have raised their minimum wage above the federal one and not suffered economically, will serve us well. Providing examples that the naysayers still employing the old trickle-down economic model have the economic veracity of the flat earth society will serve to increase support for similar legislation elsewhere and at the federal level. We need to elect more people to office at every level who seek to help decrease poverty and economic inequality, not increase it. To stem the tide requires a willingness to stop redistributing productivity gains upward and start redistributing more downward in order to produce a more just distribution of the wealth in our society. The current trend of attacking worker rights and decreasing the economic viability and mobility of the vast majority of our people will only result in the production of increasing numbers of Detroits, homelessness, hunger and despair.
Focusing on the 2016 election alone will be disastrous in terms of moving the government forward in the meantime. If we don’t change the focus of Congress from constant fiscal crisis management to implementing programs already in existence and strengthening those which are being constantly weakened due to cuts or inaction, people will continue to suffer. Taking back some statehouses and governorships is also important. Grassroots activism is necessary to ensure our voices are heard, especially in light of the many attempts being made in some states to make it harder for people to vote. We need to fight for gains at every level of government to help strengthen our fight for a more just and equitable society for all people, not just those rich enough to afford it or fortunate enough to live in a state that cares about all its people.
The progressive agenda is far better suited to meet the needs of all people in this country than the oligarchic model being foisted on us from the right. Some of the worst served by their representatives in Congress and state legislatures are those who continue to vote against their own self-interest, especially in the red states, where the representatives vote for cutting social programs that are used the most by their own constituents. By demonstrating to them that their current government is treating them as second class citizens compared to those in other states may help to turn some red states purple or blue. 2010 shows that a rapid turnaround is possible as the result of a midterm election. 2014 needs to be when we start turning it back around in a more positive direction.
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