Arshad Hasan: State of the Union: Episode IV — A New (Progressive) Hope

Over the last couple of years, the focus of Washington has been austerity, austerity, austerity. Conservatives believe cutting taxes and cutting spending to lower the deficit will lead us to economic recovery. Democrats believe they have to do whatever they can to keep the conservatives happy in the name of bi-partisanship. The result has been the economy recovering at a snail’s pace, keeping workers out of the work force, thereby keeping revenues from coming in.

In fact, most recently, a new CBO report highlighted just how much Washington’s obsession with austerity has hurt our economy. Talking Points Memo summed up the report perfectly:

But if you retrain your gaze from the government’s balance sheet to the real economy, you’ll see the impact of that austerity is fewer people working and slower growth. According to CBO, the recovery won’t really pick up steam until next year, and the economy won’t have recovered until the end of 2017, when it will reach its output potential, and unemployment will fall to 5.5 percent.

We’ve spent the last two years talking about austerity, and the American people have tired of this approach. By rejecting the Romney-Ryan ticket and electing progressive heroes to the senate like Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, the American people sent a clear message to John Boehner and his Tea Party Congress: “it’s the economy stupid!”

The State of the Union is the president’s first big opportunity to retrain our nation’s focus on economic prosperity instead of austerity. It is his chance to say to the Tea Party Congress: we’ve spent the last two years trying your way, it didn’t work, and the American people rejected it.

It’s the time for leadership and a bold progressive vision that builds an American economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

Focusing on growth will improve the economy, and a wonderful side effect is that it will eventually reduce the deficit and eventually the debt. We’ve seen the approach before under the last Democratic president who not only led us through a time of robust economic growth, but also left us with a surplus. This is much better than what his Republican counterparts can say. For growth first to work, we must be bold.

The president must call on Congress to invest in infrastructure and education, strengthen the social safety net, and raise revenue so we’re able to fund these programs. Here’s what I hope to hear the president highlight.

Now is the time for a robust investment in America’s future. For decades the foundation of success in this country comes down to the fact that previous generation of Americans invested in a top notch education system and robust infrastructure. Over the years when it comes to education we have rested on our laurels and let the rest of the world catch up. President Obama must call for bold action on ensuring our school system continues to be one of the world’s best. This not only means hiring more teachers, but also investing in the physical plant needed to give students a top notch education.

Beyond education we must invest in our infrastructure. Remember a few years ago when an interstate bridge collapsed in Minnesota? My little brother was just a few blocks away from the bridge. This always left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Why is it that in the richest country in the world, we have an infrastructure that literally crumbles and collapses without warning? Yet roughly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges exist in this country. We need these fixed up, improved, or rebuilt. And yes, that takes money, and yes that requires hiring people to do the work. The president must call for a robust investment in an infrastructure for the 21st Century. This includes not just bridges, but roads, and even high speed rail.

I was pleased to see the president include significant funding for high speed rail in the stimulus. Unfortunately, there were a number of republican governors who denied the funds to try and score political points with their radical Tea Party base. The president must continue to push this common sense investment, and he must pressure the GOP governors into thinking their state will get left behind without it. High speed rail makes sense, and the American people agree.

Next, the president must commit to strengthening our social safety net. Here at DFA we have long worked to protect the progressive values of the New Deal, and our members want to see the president draw a line in the sand and say “I will not tolerate any benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” And simply saying “no cuts” is not enough. We must go further. We are the party of solutions, and we must offer our own plan to maintain and even strengthen these programs for decades to come. On Tuesday night, the president must offer solutions for the big three that keep intact their promise for future generations. This would include supporting bold ideas such as “Scrap the Cap” that would eliminate the cap on Social Security taxes so that all income is taxed instead of the first $ 113,000.

Finally, the president must continue to push on new revenues and ending corporate welfare. The American people understand that we must continue to invest in a robust economy. If the 2012 election showed anything, it showed that the American people know taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, and ensure enduring success for generations to come. A few policies we would like to see the president support are addressing the difference between earned income and investment income, ending tax breaks for oil, as well as ending corporate welfare such as oil subsidies.

Since the election the president has been noticeably more assertive and more progressive. The American people respond to strong leadership, and I hope that he continues to build upon the strong progressive agenda laid out in his inaugural address, and lays out bold specifics in this year’s State of the Union. What do you hope to hear him propose?

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