After watching the President’s State of the Union Address, I must confess that I am puzzled. I have no idea where our country is going.
To be sure, the President did resist tipping the boat over entirely and reverting to conservative economic themes. He did caution against solving our problems on the backs of the vulnerable and he did suggest further help to a troubled economy through added investment in schools, infrastructure, and research And, in an encouraging way, he challenged opponents of health care reform to come up with suggestions about how to make it more effective.
Obama also deserves commendation for his strong endorsement of ways to provide a path to citizenship for immigrant children brought here without documents.
But here is where the confusion comes in – the President also proposed a five-year freeze on “domestic” spending, endorsed corporate tax reform, and pointed to deficit reduction as an important undertaking.
How are we going to do these things as a practical matter?
The fact is that the programs that will be “frozen” with the objective of deficit reduction are programs that protect the vulnerable. Social Security and Medicare were put in place in order to protect the elderly from falling into utter penury. Medicare provides a basic health protection for the poor.
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid comprise the largest portion of the domestic budget. When you throws in federal education funding – the biggest portion being assistance for low-income students – it becomes very hard to conclude that the goals of frozen spending and deficit reduction will not fall on the shoulders of the vulnerable.
Taking any version of corporate tax reform that increases federal revenue off the table further complicates the problem – especially when we consider that corporate profits have never been higher than they are now!
There was no hint in the President’s speech that there will be any help for state governments, many of which are slashing programs for the vulnerable – a lapse that deepens the confusion about how we can achieve the President’s stated goals.
Progressives need to press an agenda that opposes fixing an economic mess resulting directly from irresponsible corporate greed by increasing the incidence of poverty in the U.S. We need not be confused by these dilemmas.
We need to continue to hold the greedy accountable for the consequences of their greed. We need to defend health care reform and push for funding and policies that overcome disparities associated with race. And we need to keep pressing for a clear economic agenda that creates jobs, education, health care, and economic security for everyone – including undocumented immigrants of any age, creed or color.