President Obama: ‘Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security…They Strengthen Us’

Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

During President Obama’s second inaugural address yesterday, he affirmed we’re stronger when we work together:

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone….No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.

He also lifted up working peoples’ shared belief in a robust social insurance system.

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

Our journey as a nation is not complete until we achieve equality and economic opportunity for all.

For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

Read the entire inauguration speech transcript here.

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Our 2012 Endorsements

Working America has endorsed the following candidates and ballot initiatives in the 2012 election. These endorsements do not cover all the candidates and ballot issues in which we have a stake, but they all reflect the passion of our members and the values of our organization.

On November 6, please consider the following as you go to vote:

Barack Obama for President

Elizabeth Warren for U.S. Senate, Massachusetts

Claire McCaskill for U.S. Senate, Missouri

Martin Heinrich for U.S. Senate, New Mexico

Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senate, Ohio

Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate, Virginia

Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate, Wisconsin

Joe Miklosi for U.S. Congress, Colorado, 6th District

Ed Perlmutter for U.S. Congress, Colorado, 7th District

Betty Sutton for U.S. Congress, Ohio, 16th District

Mark Critz for U.S. Congress, Pennsylvania, 12th District

No on Proposal 1, Michigan

Yes on Proposal 2, Michigan

Yes on Issue 2, Ohio

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Barack Obama for President

We’re proud to support President Barack Obama for re-election on Tuesday.

Four years ago, the nation was in crisis. We’d seen nearly a decade of stagnating wages, growing corporate power and steady erosion of the middle class. We were squandering time and resources we could have been using to rebuild America and create a fairer economy. In the fall, an under-regulated, irresponsible and out-of-control financial system detonated, which led to a massive recession and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs every month. We nearly lost a major American industry as the recession crippled auto companies.

Today, we’ve seen nearly three straight years of jobs being added in the private sector. Though things are still tough, we stopped the nosedive of our economy avoided the catastrophic depression that seemed imminent in 2008. We saved nearly a million jobs or more by rescuing the auto industry. And what’s more, we passed much-needed reforms to our health care system and our financial system that will help protect working people and rein in corporate power. None of this was inevitable, none of it was easy, and none of it would have happened if our hard work hadn’t elected Barack Obama as our president.

President Obama also signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and an important credit card reform bill. He passed the Recovery Act that halted the economic collapse, cut taxes for working-class and middle class families and invested in our schools, our infrastructure and new kinds of energy. And he appointed champions for working people to the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Labor Relations Board and the new Consumer Financial Protection Board.

We haven’t agreed with the president on everything, but when it comes down to it, he’s shown that he wants to make America work better for middle class and working-class families. His values and his priorities are the same ones we hear from ordinary people at their doors thousands of times a week: building prosperity by strengthening the middle class, ensuring a great education for our kids, keeping the promise of Social Security and Medicare for today’s retirees and tomorrow’s.

Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, has been hard to pin down on a lot of issues, but on the basic economic issues that matter most, his views are remarkably clear: he thinks corporations and the very wealthy are the most important actors in the economy, and so in order to make the economy work we have to tilt it ever-further in favor of those rich and powerful actors. He said we should “let Detroit go bankrupt” rather than investing in the auto industry. He named Paul Ryan as his running mate—endorsing a radical plan to demolish Medicare and leave seniors at the mercy of private insurance companies. As a finance-industry CEO, he exemplified the worst trends in our economy, stripping companies of value for himself and his shareholders and leaving the people who worked for those companies stranded. In his business career, he was referred to as a “pioneer” of outsourcing, and his proposals would give companies further incentives to ship He’s maddeningly unspecific about much of his tax plan, but every serious analysis shows that he would give bigger tax breaks to millionaires (like him) than even George W. Bush did. And he has declared time and time again that his top priority is repealing the health care reform and Wall Street reform that President Obama worked so hard to pass.

This isn’t a close call. President Obama’s skill and leadership in stopping the economic collapse and putting in place health care reform and Wall Street reform would be enough to earn him a second term—but the case for a vote for Obama is even clearer when you compare it to what a Romney administration would look like.

On Tuesday, we recommend a vote for President Obama—and we hope you’ll get your friends and family to the polls, too.

Photo by Intel Photos on Flickr

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Two Years After Passage, Affordable Care Act Having a Positive Impact

It was two years ago today that President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, after months of heated political conflict and decades of attempts to build a health care system that ensured everyone had access to care.

While much of the bill has yet to be implemented, the numbers are already impressive: 5.1 million seniors paying less for prescription drugs, 2.5 million more young people able to stay on their parents’ plan if they don’t have coverage of their own, broader access to preventative care and the end of discrimination against women in insurance pricing.

These aren’t just points on a graph—they’re real people, people like the Josephson family of Jacksonville, Florida, who were surprised they were able to get coverage for their two-year-old son’s eye condition. As the Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young reports:

Two years later, health care reform has had real and profound effects on some Americans. Insurance companies can’t deny coverage to sick children, young adults can stay on parents’ workplace plans until they turn 26, people with pre-existing medical conditions now have a fallback plan when they can’t find insurance anywhere else, and senior citizens are paying less for prescription drugs.

In a long, comprehensive piece, Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff points out that there’s another aspect to the Affordable Care Act that’s already underway: a major reform in how health care gets delivered so that costs are lower and quality is higher.

It includes 45 changes to how doctors deliver health care — and how patients pay for it. These reforms, if successful, will move the country’s health system away from one that pays for volume and toward one that pays for value. The White House wants to see providers behave more like Baptist Health Systems, rewarding health care that is both less costly and more effective.

Over the next two years, we’ll see even more benefits of the Affordable Care Act kick in.

Working America members have long pointed to access to health care as one of their top priorities, and they worked hard across the country to get the Affordable Care Act passed. Through phone calls, rallies, letters, and Congressional visits, we managed to overcome the multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns and get the Affordable Care Act passed. It’s important to keep up the effort to make sure politicians don’t neglect or undermine our health care.

Next week, the Supreme Court will consider challenges to the law. For millions of uninsured people, this will be a decision of historic importance. We’ll be watching closely, too see if the major progress we’ve made in the past two years gets reversed—or whether we can move forward with the promise of making affordable, quality health care available to everyone.

Photo from Creative Commons, via Talk Radio News Service on Flickr.

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Obama, Romney and the Auto Rescue: What Is the Economy For?

Today in Michigan and Arizona, Republicans go to the polls to register their choice for the Republican presidential nominee. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama spoke at a gathering of United Auto Workers members in Washington. Although the election is still months away, of course these events aren’t happening isolated from one another.

There’s a bigger question at play here than who wins the prettier headline on a Beltway paper tomorrow, and it’s a question we’re sure to keep fighting about all year. It’s “what is the economy for, anyway?”

It’s a good question, because how you measure the answer says a lot about what you think we need to do to fix it. Do we measure the economy purely by whether a line on a chart is pointing up or down? Do we measure it by whether the very wealthiest people are able to make themselves endlessly wealthier? Or is the health of “the economy” measured by something a little more tangible, a little broader?

You don’t have to pretend President Obama has been perfect on every issue facing working people to notice that there’s a difference in how he and Republican candidate Mitt Romney talk about the auto rescue program—a program that, largely, has worked to keep the industry alive and make it profitable again. While Romney used his time in Michigan to bash the auto rescue as a “bailout” for unions and push an economic agenda that would shift money away from Medicaid into upper-class tax cuts, Obama defended the auto rescue as part of an economy where we all have a stake in each other’s success.

You know why the “bailout for unions” storyline completely collapses under examination? Because union members—the people who, after all, built these companies—gave up a lot to save them. They made concessions on wages, benefits and retiree pensions. They offered to lose things that they had fought and bargained for because they wanted to protect the industry not just for them but for workers after them. It will not be easy to win back the things that were promised them, things they let go at personal cost. As the president said, that’s actual sacrifice. That’s not the action of a greedy special interest looking to loot the taxpayer, that’s the action of a group of people who understand what “the economy” really means.

If you think “the economy” is purely about the bank accounts of the 1%, maybe a program like the auto rescue doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if—like our members do—you think of the “the economy” as meaning how we’re all doing, then saving those jobs, for the past three years and for the future, is vital.

When the people we talk to talk about the economy, they mean something simple. Can I get a job? Can I stay out of debt, feed my family, and not go bankrupt if I get sick? Will I and my neighbors be able to stay in our homes? Will my kids be able to get a decent education and build a life for themselves? After a lifetime of hard work, will I be able to retire? Candidates of both parties need to look at what they’re saying about “the economy” and figure out how it answers those questions.

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The Republican Primary’s Parallel Universe

In case you couldn’t tell from the 20 debates, constant news coverage and firehose-like flow of ads, there’s a Republican presidential primary underway. But to listen to the candidates—particularly on the economy—you’d think they were running for president of a different planet, one eerily like ours but facing totally different problems.

Let us count the ways that the Republicans’ economic conversation is totally out of touch with actual reality here on Earth.


Clap louder, Mitt.

  • Jobs. At Wednesday’s debate, the word “jobs” was uttered hardly at all, and zero times by candidate Rick Santorum. In a larger sense, when these candidates talk about “creating jobs” they mean one thing: directing more money to the very wealthiest and to big corporations—through tax cuts or through removing regulations designed to protect consumers and workers. This might make a little bit of sense if the biggest problem facing the economy were corporations not having enough money. It’s not. The problem is a lack of consumer demand, because too few people have jobs and wages are falling behind.

  • Debt and Deficits. These aren’t the most important economic issue we face—continued too-high unemployment is. But by the standards of the Republicans’ own rhetoric, they’re important enough to serve as the basis for attacks and talking points. So it seems strange that the plans proposed by Romney, Santorum and Gingrich would increase the debt—and, more specifically, increase the debt by more than Obama’s proposals would. And they don’t build up this debt by investing in long-term needs: they do it by demolishing revenue through massive tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthiest. Which brings us to…

  • Taxes. The public consensus is overwhelmingly clear—to afford the things we need, we should be able to ask a little bit more from the very richest than the current historic low rates. All of the Republican plans do exactly the opposite. For example, Romney’s plan would deliver a $264,000 tax cut to the top 0.1%. As economist Justin Wolfers noted, “Romney’s new tax plan is massively regressive relative to current code. Most of the spoils are going to the rich” – and the same is true of the other Republican candidates. And even as they propose these massive tax cuts for the wealthy, they propose devastating cuts to Medicaid and other programs that working-class people rely on. It’s redistribution, upwards.

  • Housing. In many ways this is the most baffling omission of all. In recent days, Republican candidates have been avoiding the subject entirely even as it’s clearly one of the most important factors in the financial crisis. A few months back in Nevada, Romney offered up “let it run its course and hit the bottom” as his solution to the foreclosure crisis (the housing version of “let Detroit go bankrupt”), though he softened how he talked about it in Florida a few weeks later. But mostly it’s been crickets and tumbleweeds. Forgive me if I’ve missed this, but has any Republican candidate, or even any Republican in Congress, weighed in on the mortgage-fraud settlement or the underlying issue of mass abuse of the foreclosure process?

Let’s not get into issues like the minimum wage, rebuilding infrastructure, keeping teachers in classrooms or protecting the freedom to form a union and collectively bargain—all issues that matter to our economy. We’d be naïve to expect this batch of Republican candidates to say anything constructive.

During Republican primaries, the candidates are pitching to a small audience, and their proposals are kept in line by harshly ideological enforcement mechanisms like talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh and the Wall Street-funded Club for Growth. But with their pledges and proposals now, they’re committing themselves to a totally fictional vision of the economy in the fall.

Out in the real world, Working America staff talk to around 20,000 people every week in neighborhoods across the country and stay in close contact with our members, so we have a pretty good sense of what a broad group of working- and middle-class people care about in this critical year. They want to make sure they can get and keep a good job, be covered if they get sick, send their kids to good schools, stay in their homes and retire with some security. I don’t know what world the Republican primary is taking place in, but it’s not the one where our members live.

(Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr.)

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Priorities: The Bad Choices Inside Today’s Payroll Tax Deal

This morning, President Obama signed into law a deal that extends the payroll tax holiday for the rest of the year. With the economic recovery still fragile, it’s good to keep this payroll tax cut in place to help keep a little extra money in working families’ pockets. But the flaws of today’s deal—flaws forced through by Republicans in the House, but passed with big numbers from both parties—really illustrate the cluelessness and callousness of policy-making.

Unemployment Insurance: The compromise does, indeed, renew unemployment insurance, but dramatically cuts back the number of weeks that the jobless can draw on it, to 73 weeks or even fewer in some states. The problem of long-term unemployment is still a serious one, with about 40% of the unemployed out of work for six months or more, so pulling away this lifeline is silly. In addition, the deal imposes humiliating conditions on the jobless before they can draw on the benefits they paid into. The net result will be that far too many people who depend on UI will lose it.

Pensions: One of the ways the deal pays for the UI extension—and another provision to keep Medicare payments to doctors at current levels—was to charge future federal employees more for their pensions. This pits workers against each other—pulling money away from future retirees in order to support unemployed people now. Congress’ willingness to go after these pensions is a bad sign.

Health Care: Another way that the bill is paid for is with a sizable cut to a fund meant to pay for preventative care services under the Affordable Care Act. Preventative care for those who can’t otherwise afford it helps them stay healthier and lowers their longer-term medical costs. Cutting this fund isn’t just morally loathsome; it’s economically short-sighted.

With cuts and new conditions on unemployment benefits, a major hit to the Affordable Care Act and an attack on public-sector workers, it seems like the details of this bill are a big ideological win for the hard-right Tea Party caucus of congressional Republicans. That they’d demand this kind of ransom as the price for passing the payroll tax holiday is infuriating; that so many ostensibly pro-worker members of Congress would let them is just depressing.

When President Obama first offered up the American Jobs Act, it was funded in a popular, common-sense way—with a small surcharge on income over $1 million. It also included a broader set of job-creation components, including investment in infrastructure and support to state budgets for keeping teachers and firefighters on the job. Provisions of this bill were blocked by Senate Republicans because they were not willing to exchange a tiny tax increase on millionaires for literally hundreds of thousands of jobs for working people.

Politics is about priorities. The people we talk to across the country have their priorities: they want to see the very richest pay their fair share and use that money to create jobs and support communities. In Washington—particularly among congressional Republicans—they have their priorities exactly backwards. It’s sick people, retirees and the jobless who have to sacrifice, not those who are already doing well.

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President to House Republicans: “Seriously?”

Update 3:55 p.m.: It looks like the House Republicans have bowed to overwhelming public pressure and agreed to the short-term extension.

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“Have we become so dysfunctional that even when we agree on things we can’t do it?” President Barack Obama asked today. It’s a good question.

We’re still not really close to an agreement on an extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut that will expire in ten days. The easy answer is for the House to pass the short-term extension passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin in the Senate—but the Tea Party radicals who keep Speaker John Boehner on a short leash are preventing that. The President is pushing hard to try and break the deadlock this week.

The consequences of failing to pass an extension? Millions of people cut off from the lifeline of unemployment insurance, and 160 million people facing a payroll tax hike. “”So many of these debates get reduced to which party is winning and which party is losing,” Obama said in a statement today, “but we should remind ourselves this is about the American people.”
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Obama said that more than 30,000 people have written in to explain what the end of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits would means to them. For working-class and middle-class families, those dollars represent heating oil, food, gas for your car to get you to and from work, or school supplies. For the economy as a whole, it’s fewer dollars that van flow to local businesses.

Today, Ohio Working America members rallied outside Speaker Boehner’s district office to demand an extension. That’s just one of the ways that voters are letting their representatives know that failure on this is not an option. (You can take part, too—click here to call your member of Congress.)

“This is exactly why people get so frustrated with Washington,” Obama said. He’s right. It’s time for Boehner to get it together and pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, and then get to work on an extension for the rest of 2012.

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Protecting Home Care Workers

The Obama Administration has proposed some new regulations to protect home care workers. From the New York Times:

Labor unions and advocates for low-wage workers have pushed for the changes, contending that the 37-year-old exemption improperly swept these workers, who care for many elderly and disabled Americans, into the same “companion” category as baby sitters. The administration’s move calls for home care aides to be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s main wage and hour law.

and

These workers, according to industry figures, generally earn $8.50 to $12 an hour, compared with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The White House said 92 percent of these workers were women, nearly 30 percent were African-American and 12 percent Hispanic. Nearly 40 percent rely on public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.

While industry experts say an overwhelming majority are paid at least the minimum wage, many do not receive a time-and-a-half premium when they work more than 40 hours a week. Twenty-two states do not include home health care workers under their wage and hour laws.

Home care workers assist elderly people with all aspects of their lives, including bathing, exercise, and remembering to take medications. They may also prepare meals, and do housework. They may be dealing with clients in varying stages of dementia. There’s a great deal of skill required to do this kind of work.

These are also workers who don’t get sick days, any sort of benefits, and if their client dies – well, that’s just too bad. No more paychecks for them.

Predictably, the opposition is gearing up:

“The president’s goal is commendable, but the likely result of this new rule is reduced hours for home care workers and higher costs for taxpayers,” said John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Work Force Committee, and Tim Walberg, a Minnesota Republican who heads the panel’s subcommittee on work force protections. “Moreover, our nation’s elderly may pay the greatest price in the form of more costly services and fewer opportunities to obtain the care they need in the comfort of their own homes.”

In other words: Caregivers are good enough to take care of the elderly, but what they do isn’t real work, therefore they don’t deserve the sort of protections that other workers are entitled to.

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So What’s Happening with the Payroll Tax and Unemployment Insurance?

This shouldn’t be particularly complicated. Two key policies keeping working families afloat—a temporary cut in the payroll tax and an extension of the time people out of work can draw unemployment insurance—are set to expire in a matter of days, pulling money out of the pockets of millions.

Congress had an easy choice available. Since our economy continues to struggle with high joblessness and low consumer demand, our elected leaders should have simply renewed these policies. But never underestimate the hostility of the House Republican majority to simple governance and their indifference to the economic condition of working-class people.

On Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed—after a lot of negotiation—a bipartisan compromise that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance in the short term. It’s not perfect, but it would at least avoid pulling the rug out from under 160 million workers and millions of unemployed people. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, asked Senators of both parties to come to a compromise, which passed 89-10, on the assumption that the House would vote on the same bill today.

But since nothing can be simple with this Congress, not even the most no-brainer extension of basic economic relief, House Republicans may very well defeat the compromise bill tonight. The political-journalism term of art for this might be “playing hardball,” but the more accurate term is “throwing a tantrum.”

See, the House Republicans’ stance is that they will accept nothing less than the passage in full of HR 3630, which, among other things, would end unemployment insurance for 3 million people. They would rather see the economic damage that results from the rise in the payroll tax than accept a bipartisan compromise.

It’s worth noting that the House Republicans’ strategy here is to bundle together the important payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance extensions with unrelated riders aimed at scoring political points. This is sure to upset people who signed this pledge, right?

We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with “must-pass” legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.

Once the authors of that pledge hear about the House Republicans’ violation of that principle, they’re sure to…oh. Wait.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent nails it: the caucus that controls the U.S. House is “extreme, intransigent, self-indulgent and hostile to basic norms of governing.” To that I’d only add “clearly completely uninterested in the real-world effects of their decisions.”

Photo of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner by Gage Skidmore on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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