Sunday, November 12, 2006

We Can!

Everyone probably has different ideas about what they hope the new political alignment in Congress will achieve (or fail to achieve). Here is my wish list:

1) Iraq, of course. I think both Republicans and Democrats are hoping the bi-partisan Iraq Strategy Group, led by James Baker and our own Hoosier statesman, Lee Hamilton, will come up with some solutions everyone can live with. No one quite knows what to do about Iraq and there are no easy answers but maybe the ISG can provide a framework to build on - something midway between "stay the course" and "cut and run", giving both Republicans and Democrats cover to meet in the middle. My own preference would be to give the Iraqis a deadline, and not a very long one, to get their act together and then say, "we got rid of Saddam for you; you voted; you have a government; most of you hate us and want us gone, so as of _____ it's your baby, do the best you can with it - we're out of here." I don't expect that to happen.

2) My number two priority is heathcare. I think it is time to re-visit the national health care issue. We were so spooked by the Harry and Louise ads about Hillary's healthcare program that we ran terrified into the arms of the HMO's and "managed care". Now all the things Harry and Louise warned us about if we went with Hillary have come to pass anyway. Our premiums keep going up even as our benefits go down - if we are lucky enough to even have health care. More Americans families are forced into bankruptcy by medical bills than for any other reason.

I believe national health care makes good economic sense as well as being the morally right thing to do (we are the only industrialized nation without some form of universal health care for its citizens). Our health care premiums keep going higher because we have to help pay for the treatment of Americans who don't have insurance and can't pay. One reason our auto companies are doing so poorly is that they have to pay huge group health premium on their employees, whereas companies in other countries do not have this expense. Furthermore, I know many people who would retire and who could afford to retire if retirement income was the only consideration. Instead, they'll keep working until they are 65 because they can't afford health care until they are old enough for Medicare to kick in. This means fewer jobs open up for younger people who are looking to move in or move up. Many in the medical community worked against national healthcare. They were afraid they would be dictated to by the government but would government be any worse than the insurance companies who now determine both treatment and payment with their profit margin being the bottom line?

3) Reform tax policies. Democrats want to reduce the taxes of the middle class (even the upper middle class) by doing away with the Alternate Minimum Tax. It is the right thing to do but they need to make up that tax income from somewhere else in light of the budget deficit. I think they should re-institute the top tax rate the highest income achievers paid during the Clinton administration. The rich got richer under Clinton. Lots of Americans became millionaires and even billionaires. The tax rates then didn't act as a drag on competitiveness or motivation for success. The upper, upper classes have had some glory years of economic gain under Bush but its time to slow the gravy train down a little.

Corporations have probably benefitted most from Bush policies but they need to start being forced to be good American citizens. No more tax breaks for moving overseas; no more windfall profits on oil and gas; no more giveway deals on leasing land for logging, mining or drilling; no more no-bid contracts for re-building Iraq with bonuses and cost-overruns approved even as they didn't achieve what their contracts called for. I could go on and on.....

4) Do away with earmarks with which incumbents try to buy permanent seats in Congress. Come up with some formula to give each state x amount of dollars, based on population or amount of taxes sent to the federal government or whatever and then let the states decide what their most pressing needs are for that money. Hopefully, the states themselves would be more sensible than to build "bridges to nowhere". Museums and swimming pools and parks are nice but we all have to be willing to give up some things if we don't want to leave enormous deficits for our kids and grandkids to have to pay.

5) Rebuild New Orleans. The fact that this country cannot even manage to reconstruct one of its major cities a year and a half after it was devastated simply amazes me. America is the land of enterprise, the nation that rises to challenges. We rebuilt whole freakin' countries after World War II and now we are not even capable of rebuilding a city? Bring in Dutch engineers if our own aren't capable of figuring out a levee system to save New Orleans from flooding. It's not just for New Orleans itself, it is for our own sense of national pride. If we do not have the will and the spirit and the creativity to do this then America has lost something invaluable. We are no longer the country that sent a man to the moon and and built an interstate highway system and the Golden Gate Bridge and......

6) We simply must achieve energy independence from foreign oil. Everything should be on the table on this one. Fuel standards, gas taxes, big bucks on research and development. I would maybe even go along with off-shore drilling and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge if it was accompanied by all the other policies that could lead to energy self-sufficiency. We can't afford to need Middle-east (or South American) oil so badly that we have to hold hands with authoritarian regimes like the Saudi royal family.

7) I'm an economic populist. I think it is past time to re-negotiate NAFTA and CAFTA and all the other trade agreements that have not been fair to the American worker. Ideally, trade agreements should bring the lower-class workers of other countries up, not bring our own down. Not only are we dependent on middle-east oil but it seems we are also dependent on other countries for everything else. We are so busily exporting our industrial base, I doubt we could even clothe ourselves anymore if we didn't buy from China. If the rest of the world shut us off, we wouldn't have televisions or sneakers or lamps or computers or even some of our crucial military components. We wouldn't be able to call customer service about our credit card bills or get a'hold of tech support to help us with our software problems. I'm not sure just what America does produce anymore. Evidently, we don't even have any companies that are capable of managing our ports.

8) I want the new Congress to pass stiff ethics legislation. I want them to limit the influence of the lobbyists. I want them to start thinking about what's best for the American people and not just their big donors. I want experts to sit in on energy meetings and disease control meetings and education meetings and environmental meetings. I want union representatives to be included on labor meetings. I don't care if the lobbyists sit in too to present their side of the story but theirs shouldn't be the only voices to be heard.

Those are my main hopes for America's future. They all have one thing in common. It seems to me that in the last several years, America has become a "we can't" country. We can't give our citizens health care; we can't rebuild New Orleans; we can't become energy self-sufficient; we can't build cars and televisions and keep ourindustries and jobs in America; we can't write fair tax laws; we can't legislate ethics in our leaders; we can't find a way to end a war and bring our soldiers home. It's all so hard, we "just can't". If I have ever believed one thing about America, it is that we "can" do anything we set our minds too. This fearful, "we can't" America just seems so alien to anything I ever believed about my country. I believe we "can" and I hope we "will".