When Barack Obama is sworn in as president of the United States on Jan. 20, he will inherit a series of problems more severe than at any time since the Great Depression. Here are just a few of the issues that he, the Congress and all Americans must confront:
The middle class is continuing its steep decline with unemployment soaring, and millions of people in danger of losing their homes, savings and health insurance. The dream of a college education is fading away for many working families as college costs go up while incomes go down. This year, as a result of the economic downturn, the bailout of Wall Street, ongoing tax breaks for the very rich and the war in Iraq, our nation will have a record-breaking deficit and a huge $10.4 trillion dollar national debt.
As a result of Wall Street greed, recklessness and dishonesty, our entire financial system is in danger of collapsing. The taxpayers of this country have seen trillions of their dollars placed at risk in the largest bailout in world history.
Our health care system is disintegrating. Despite spending far more per capita than any other country, 47 million Americans have no health insurance, even more are underinsured and we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
We are currently involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which cost us not only the lives and well-being of our soldiers, but over $10 billion a month. These wars are also stretching the Army and our National Guard to the breaking point.
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Despite the reality of global warming we have not broken our dependency on fossil fuel and foreign oil, and have made only slight advances in moving toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
Those are some of our problems. There are solutions. Where do we go from here?
The very good news is that we are finally seeing the end of the most incompetent and reactionary administration in the modern history of this country. It is my hope and expectation that, in very short order, President Obama will begin moving this country in a very different direction from where Bush has led us, and I look forward to working with him in that effort. The time is long overdue for the U.S. government to begin representing the needs of our middle-class and working families, and not just the greedy, the wealthy and the powerful.
Here are some of the initiatives that I will be fighting for as soon as the new Congress reconvenes in January:
- A major economic recovery program which invests at least $400 billion in each of the next two years to create millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our infrastructure and moving us toward energy independence, sustainable energy and energy efficiency. In Vermont and throughout the country our roads and bridges are crumbling, our water systems and wastewater plants need major repair and older schools need to be modernized. Millions of homes and buildings are wasting huge amounts of energy and need to be properly weatherized, and we must be aggressive in improving and expanding our public transportation. Further, we now have the opportunity to create many new jobs by advancing such renewable technologies as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.
- An investigation as to how the greed and recklessness of Wall Street financiers caused the greatest financial collapse since the 1920s. Those who are responsible for this debacle must be held accountable, and not be allowed to walk away with huge fortunes while the middle class bails them out. Most importantly, we must build a new financial system which discourages short-term and reckless profiteering and re-establishes proper governmental safeguards and regulations.
- Legislation to provide health care to every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship. In addition, we need to greatly expand our primary health care capabilities by educating and sending more doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals into rural areas and other medically underserved parts of our country.
- An orderly process to bring our troops home from Iraq as soon as possible. We also need a national conversation about the best way to proceed in Afghanistan.
Vermonters often ask me whether I am pessimistic about the future of our country. My honest answer is that I am not. Difficult times often bring out the best in people. Now, in this moment of great national crisis, I am confident that with new national leadership and strong grass-roots participation we can come together and create the kind of nation that all of us know America can be.