There are many important issues bubbling up all around the nation and the world that haven’t been addressed, thanks in part to the Republican Congress that has proven itself to be the most worthless thing to Americans that doesn’t have the last name of Kardashian.
Climate Change, the economy and long term unemployment, voting rights, racism, The War on Women, a nuclear treaty with Iran and a negotiated end to the civil war in Syria…many important topics for Pres. Obama to address. However, he has been mentioning along the way that there is one issue that he will be taking on as his top priority in what remains of his final term. This is expected to be in the spotlight in his State of the Union speech tomorrow night (BTW, we will be hosting a simultaneous live chat during his speech…the best way to watch it!).
Income inequality. The huge and quickly growing gap between the very wealthy and 99% of Americans (and the world). Of all the urgent issues weighing on this nation, this may be the most important and critical. As the Middle Class continues to shrink, as more people and especially single mothers with children find themselves in poverty (even though many are working) and unable to afford the minimums of food, clothes and housing, the nation itself continues to disintegrate in profound and far reaching ways.
It is obscene that in an era when the richest 85 people in the world own the same combined wealth as the poorest half of the world, 3.5 billion people, that these 85 and their like fight so cruelly against billions of others getting a penny more in earnings, let alone keeping the wages they currently have.
This kind of unrestrained and deviant greed is not sustainable and is destroying the fabric of our nation. One could reasonably connect the dots from income inequality to the current polarization in this nation, the corruption in our democratic system and politics, the ongoing pollution of the planet increasing Climate Change, our economic problems, so much of the difficulties we face are hinged on the majority having their income and power usurped and the wealthy and corporations increasing theirs.
When the people are weakened, when they are economically oppressed, they are often turned against each other and otherwise distracted from exercising the power that a united people would have. United we stand, divided we fall and all that. This is exactly the scenario the wealthy have worked towards and work each day to strengthen. Their political power has risen, policies that suit them and harm the public continue to have priority for that reason. Money is power and when money is concentrated in so few hands, so is power.
So where to start?
As I’ve written about previously, if the minimum wage is raised, it has been proven statistically not to reduce employment (as the dishonest corporatists howl in phony alarm) but it of course increases income to millions of Americans which they have to spend to purchase other goods and services…increasing the revenues of other businesses and spurring on more demand for greater employment. Also, as the minimum is raised, it brings up wages that are kind of pegged to it as paying above minimum wage. A rising tide that lifts many boats. A raise in the minimum wage could be the first and strongest campaign that Pres. Obama pursues following the SOTU speech and it is a winner for him and the Democratic Party to campaign on in this election year.
There are Republicans too who support this but of course, as soon as Pres. Obama announces that it is a priority of his, Republicans as a whole will have to oppose it as a litmus test because their only philosophy is to fight whatever Obama supports…even if they agree with it. Still, in these times when income inequality, joblessness and poverty are just as serious for rank and file Republicans as they are for Democrats, it is a very unpopular position to oppose such a long-delayed and justified increase right now.
The reality is that adjusted to inflation, today’s minimum wage should be $10.56 to simply equal the minimum wage of 1968 for example, when it was $1.60 (for a little perspective, a gallon of gas cost .34 cents then so we are looking at around a ten times increase in various costs of living since then). Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, around 30% less than what was regarded as the minimum wage people need to be able to pay their necessary expenses.
So it is likely that Pres. Obama may make raising the minimum wage a top priority since it would have a direct impact on aiding those with the lowest incomes (and reducing the cost to the government and taxpayers for subsidizing those low wages of greedy corporations) and make for a better economy. What else can Obama support and take action on when it comes to income inequality?
Tax policy. The revisions to tax policy Pres. Obama and the Democratic Congress pushed through last year were a step in the right direction but so much more needs to be done. Taxes are the one tool that can directly address income inequality and return the unfair gains of the wealthiest to support the programs and tax breaks that benefit 99% of Americans.
Some alleged Democrats, especially those emoprogs who have been as anti-Obama as the Tea Party, continue howling against Obama making any deals on Social Security or Medicare because they think he is willing to sell seniors out for some reason.
First, no, he has never displayed an interest in destroying the income and medical care for seniors. What he has shown is a willingness to compromise on minimal reforms…in exchange for higher taxes on the wealthy and ending subsidies for billion dollar industries. In particular, he has mentioned the possibility of supporting Chained CPI for Social Security cost of living increases but only if the Republicans supported higher net taxes on the wealthy and subsidy reform.
The big picture is always the most important one to view. Looking solely in the short term, it would seem like agreeing to any reduction in cost of living increases, which chained CPI would cause for Social Security recipients, is a bad thing (it is a disconnect though how Social Security COLA increases are seen as critical but COLA raises for minimum wage don’t even exist). For the record, Social Security increases…not the benefits earned and paid but COLA increases that may or may not occur in one year or another based on inflation, could be $3 a month less in those years due to Chained CPI.
However…if such a change was part of tax reform and didn’t go into effect until those currently working went on Social Security, it could be a big win for Americans. That is, if those in the 99% had their income taxes lowered while the wealthy and corporations had their net taxes increased (actual rates could be reduced for all but removing tax breaks for the wealthy would result in higher taxes paid), future seniors could be bringing in ten times or more than the $3 per month in SS increases they wouldn’t have in the future (in some years but not all). All that future seniors would need to do is to put aside $6 a month of their increased income into savings and they would have double the amount they would have received in SS raises if Chained CPI wasn’t implemented. So they will be better off by far, especially after such a deal increased their monthly income, recharged the economy, created more jobs, lifted wages and improved the government’s ability to pay for social services.
And there can be efforts that are tangential to income inequality, issues caused by the unjust enriching of the the wealthy, that Pres. Obama can address. He can stand up against the Keystone Pipeline which could put hundreds of millions in the Koch Brothers’ pockets but end up polluting our nation and poisoning the ground water of the Midwest. That would hammer citizens in that region with huge monthly increases in their expenses to pay for potable water and drastically raise the cost of water across the country. He can promote voters’ rights actions by the Department of Justice and press a vote in Congress to update and repair the Civil Rights act so that the politicians who are elected to vote on economic issues are put there by the people to represent them and not the wealthy. Pres. Obama can also seek additional tax breaks for Americans who struggle with the costs of their own or their children’s education. There are indeed numerous actions and approaches he could take to better the economic picture for the 99%.
One would expect President Obama to address many issues in his SOTU speech tomorrow night, both domestic and international. Economic injustice is not the only pressing issue but it does seem to be pressing hardest on the majority of Americans and in all directions. It will be very interesting to see and hear what exactly Pres. Obama’s plans are to confront it and if it will indeed be the central issue of his final term in office.
Any other issues that you think President Obama will or should discuss in his SOTU address?