With President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union address at Capitol Hill fast approaching, there are a seemingly insurmountable number of domestic issues which must be addressed in our nation; items which all have significance to the growth of the nation and the lives of its people both in the short-term and long-term.
It is critical that the economy takes center stage in 2014. With the continued, albeit slow, movement forward of the past four years in job growth, this year the nation can make a great stride forward – if Republicans in Congress decide to stop their obstruction of critical legislation which will provide economic growth.
A significant minimum wage increase with additional increases tied to future inflation would lift the incomes of the working poor and provide greater financial security going forward, allowing them greater opportunity for upward advancement. Furthermore, such a wage increase would reduce the need for financial aid from the federal government and sharply reduce the all too common business practice of purposely subsidizing employee income through taxpayer funding.
Meanwhile, an extension of unemployment insurance benefits would help 1.6 million Americans who have been unemployed for the long-term through no fault of their own. The extension would also help the economy by saving jobs due to the continued stream of revenue the benefits feed back into the economy.
Student loan repayment relief, possibly through a lowering of minimum payments based upon income along with a lowering of student loan interest rates would help recent graduates who had difficulty finding jobs which pay a salary high enough to support the costs of loan repayment. Furthermore finding ways to make education more affordable by reducing the actual cost of education would help to reduce the student loan repayment problem on the front end. In addition, investing in elementary, middle, and high school education will give all children from all levels of society greater opportunity to succeed.
The passage of a jobs bill which would focus on reinvestment in the nation’s infrastructure would not only help create jobs, it would also help the nation’s businesses in their logistics planning and create greater public safety by modernizing the nation’s roads and bridges which are badly in need of repair and are more commonly becoming a greater risk to public safety. Greater development in mass transit would likewise ease the burden of the nation’s road systems and would help to grow business and bring people closer to greater economic opportunities.
Immigration reform legislation must pass in 2014. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill; all that is holding up its full passage in Congress and a presidential signature is the republican leadership in the House of Representatives, so afraid that it will pass that they refuse to allow a floor vote on the Senate bill. This legislation will not only help to remove the civil rights abuses and human rights abuses inherent in the shadow economy which our present system has created, it will also lift the economy for all Americans regardless of citizenship status.
While the Republicans in Congress continue to push for budget reductions in vital programs for the poor such as “food stamps,” they remain silent on corporate welfare. This corporate welfare is dished out as financial gravy to corporations by the tens of billions of dollars each year, mostly to companies which do not even need any aid. Hopefully there can be a push in 2014 to stop the GOP war on the poor and instead focus on eliminating not only corporate welfare handouts, but also focus on eliminating unfair exclusive tax loopholes which only the wealthy and corporations enjoy.
Energy independence and environmental investment are two areas which cannot be discussed separately. While greater energy independence for the United States is critical, it must be gained through greater investment in clean energy sources such as solar and wind in order to combat climate change. While our nation must continue to use oil and gas at least for now, it is time to develop a solid long-term energy policy which reduces oil and gas reliance by expanding solar and wind investment initiatives.
With the virtually full enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as of January 2014, focus on healthcare should now shift to creating greater regulations on the extremely varying costs of the exact same medical treatments at varying hospitals and other medical facilities and the cost of prescription drugs. While it may be too soon politically to talk about adding a public insurance plan option, if private insurers continue their attempts to sabotage health care reform, the idea of a single payer “Medicare for All” type of system may become necessary sooner rather than later. After all, Medicare and the VA have both shown that quality affordable healthcare is possible with low overhead costs. If the private insurance companies cannot find a way to do so as well, then in order to keep health care costs manageable, then they should not be in the business.
Illustrated by the continued efforts of the right impose restrictive laws which limit the rights of other who do not share their political philosophy, civil rights, is something which requires constant vigilance. The nation must make a U-turn on the restrictive voting rights legislation which has gripped our nation. It appears that the courts recently have found such laws in violation of individual rights, though there must be an acceleration of this process so that no one of legal age to vote is denied the right to vote.
While equality for all regardless of sexual orientation has been moving quickly in the correct the direction, for those directly effected, LGBT equality rights are still not moving at a fast enough pace. Even when equality is finally on paper, however, there needs to be greater understanding by all. Even those who may find offense due to their beliefs, religious or otherwise, must be educated so they may understand that variances in sexual orientation are a natural occurrence and that the actual crime is to force a person to live in a manner which is contrary to who they are.
Gun violence must be addressed, though the power of the gun lobby seems to be unbreakable. Yet, with continued effort and time perhaps common sense legislation on gun safety and responsible gun ownership will prevail. Though one must ask, “How many thousand unnecessary gun fatalities each and every year will it take to make even the staunchest yet rational gun rights supporters say, ‘enough is enough!’”
Last but definitely not least, the Republican Party’s platform position of denying women the right to equal pay as well as refusing women the right to have full control over their own bodies must be addressed and condemned as nothing short of an attempt to force women into a subservient role and as a violation of their civil rights.
As has always been and will always be, the state of the Union is indeed “a work in progress.” Our nation is all about its people and the right to self-determination through the availability of opportunities for all.