The country seems turned off and tuned out to the Congress, politics generally and the federal government in particular. The good news is the emerging grassroots movement exemplified by The Dreamers and the burgeoning campaign among low income workers around the nation, offering a clear challenge to the political gridlock, the inaction and non-work by Congress. Seeking to respond to this grassroots energy and to combat the frustration many people are feeling around the country, President Obama presented an optimistic tone, an uplifting message and a new plan of action to move America forward.
JOBS & UNEMPLOYMENT: The number one priority for the President and Congress must be jobs, public and/or private, getting this economy back on tract, growing it in a balanced fashion, which will create stronger consumer demand. While 8.2 million jobs have been created under his administration, unemployment in the U.S. remains at unacceptable levels, especially in African Americans and other minority communities. The President must continue to urge Congress to pass an extension of unemployment insurance for 1.5 million Americans – a number that is growing daily – and Food Stamps for those in need through no fault of their own.
ECONOMIC INEQUALITY: President Obama spoke directly of the need for jobs and the need to close the income inequality gap.
INCOME: Bolstered by a burgeoning nationwide grass roots movement of low income workers, President Obama announced an Executive Order requiring government contractors to raise the minimum wage from $7.25-to-$10.10 – potentially covering 2 million workers, including janitors at the National Zoo, cafeteria workers at the Smithsonian, and the men and women who sew uniforms for the military. The President must match his words with action by making sure in his order that these workers and other direct workers for the Federal Government are immediately paid at the higher rate.
The President announced that he’ll pressure Congress to pass the Harkin-Miller bill which would increase the Federal minimum wage nationally for all low wage workers to $10.10 and index it to inflation thereafter.
IMMIGRATION: President Obama expressed his vision of America, imploring Congress to take up immigration reform previously passed by the Senate. It should be done comprehensively, but if the same result can be achieved incrementally that’s progress. Immigration advocates remain frustrated at the high level of deportations taking place under this administration that continues to divide parents from their children. Immigrants who contribute so much to our economy and the moral fabric our nation deserve a pathway to citizenship.
VOTING RIGHTS: Republicans have launched an all-out attack on democracy and voting in state-after-state. That can only happen because of our states’ rights and local control voting system in 13,000 separate and unequal local election jurisdictions. The fundamental right-to-vote is not explicitly in the U.S. Constitution and President Obama should launch a crusade to put the right to vote in our Constitution. He promised to “fix” our broken system, but common sense “reforms” will not fix it. Only adding a constitutional right to vote like H.J. Res. 44 can do that.
GUN VIOLENCE: While gun violence continues to kill Americans and bring tragedy to families and communities, the President failed to even mention common sense gun laws. Congress should pass reasonable gun legislation in order to reduce violent killings in America, reiterating his prior theme that the families of gun violence deserve a vote – up or down – from Congress.
BIG VISION AND BOLD ACTION: Challenges for the President & Congress remain. The Holy Bible tells us that without vision the people perish. In my judgment, what was missing in the State of the Union Speech was a big vision and proposed bold action - a big vision and bold action of infrastructure investment to provide a foundation for private economic development; a big vision and a bold action plan for preserving our planet from negative climate change; a big vision and a bold plan to dramatically reform education for all of our children; and a big vision and a bold plan to provide safe, sanitary and affordable housing for all Americans.
CONCLUSION: The President’s State of the Union Address reflected a positive attitude that tells us he still has faith in the American people; that he is willing to work in a bipartisan manner with all of the American peoples’ political representatives; and that he still believes that our democratic institutions can be responsive to the needs of the American people. It’s time to engage the disengaged; empower those disenfranchised; turn cynicism into hope and pain into power. That’s not a bad outcome for a State of the Union Address.
For Info: Michael L. Peery
Rainbow PUSH Communications