By Sarah Audelo and Gregory Cendana
We were surprised to learn from Gary Bauer ("Obama's Anti-Youth Agenda," Politico, July 9) that Obama's agenda has thus far failed young people in America. We were more surprised that Mr. Bauer, at age 63, considers himself a viable spokesperson for the millennial generation.
Obama's record on youth issues certainly worthy of examination, but it's hardly the disaster portrayed by Mr. Bauer, who seems intent on cramming every conceivable right wing talking point into his critique.
So, as millennial voters who actually cast ballots for President Obama, we would like to offer a different perspective on the topics Mr. Bauer put forth: jobs, health care, abortion and youthful (though he would likely say naïve) idealism.
We don't know anyone who isn't concerned about the economy and what that means for prospective employment. But we also understand that this recession started long before President Obama took office. Last year's stimulus bill directly funded tens of thousands of summer jobs for youth in 2009 and, if passed by the Senate, another bill would do the same this year. Unfortunately, the focus continues to be on creating summer jobs, rather than opportunities for year-round employment. With summer already halfway over, it's too little too late. We needed the President to get involved long before now, and we needed him to push for much more intervention.
Even more importantly, President Obama oversaw the passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. One of the signature pieces of Obama's agenda that directly addresses the needs of young people in America, this new law will allow millions of young people to attend college and graduate without crippling financial debt. The law expands access to college education with more than $60 billion to fund for federal Pell grants and community colleges, keep interest rates low on federally subsidized student loans, and strengthen loan forgiveness for graduates pursuing a public service career.
Can Obama do more? Certainly, and we hope he will. But to see a truly anti-youth jobs agenda, look to Arizona: The state legislature recently proposed paying anyone younger than age 22 only 75% of the state's minimum wage. That's $5.44 an hour. At least the Obama Administration is taking steps forward, not backward.
Given rising youth unemployment, the importance of the health care reform benefit allowing young people to stay on their parents' health care plan through age 25 cannot be overstated, especially since young people are the second highest uninsured demographic. Health Care Reform also expanded Medicaid to include roughly 9 million currently uninsured young adults and, thanks to the Senate, provides $75 million a year for comprehensive sex education programs. Beyond health care reform, the President's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative is an historic breakthrough for young people's health and well-being.
All the news wasn't good, however, on the health care reform front. The Obama administration and Democrats in the House kept a Republican amendment in the bill authorizing $250 million for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. These programs prohibit information about condoms and birth control for the prevention of pregnancy and disease. It's troubling when a Democratic administration and its congressional allies stand on the sidelines while ideology trumps science, public health, and the rights of young people to accurate information about their sexual health.
But, back to Mr. Bauer and his assertion that, because of Obama's health care reform policies, "young people will bear a heavier burden of the medical costs of older Americans." Please, we all know that Medicare and Social Security embrace the same cost-sharing principles -- and they continue to be wildly popular, as they have been since the New Deal. The last time conservatives pitched our generation on abandoning these principles, President Bush was trying to privatize social security. How did that one work out?
If President Obama has "advanced the abortion rights cause more than any president in history," it's surely news to the pro-choice movement. With a Democrat in the White House and strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, we could have finally pushed for public funding by ending the Hyde Amendment. We might not have succeeded, but President Obama and the Democrats didn't even try.
By defending the status quo rather than progressive principles, Obama ceded so much ground that he was forced to sign an executive order reaffirming the ban on federal funding for abortion care. As a result, women -- young women and low-income women in particular -- continue to find their right to safe, affordable and confidential medical care under attack.
Early on, President Obama declared "this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill." With all due respect, Mr. President, abortion care is health care.
Mr. Bauer intentionally misreads Obama's pledge that he was doing this "for the next generation" as a direct promise to millennials. He implies that the 66% of young people who voted for Obama did so because of idealistic slogans and fancy campaign swag.
But millennial voters are not just concerned about ourselves. We're doing this for the next generation too -- for our younger siblings, for our children, and for generations yet to come. Civic engagement isn't motivated solely by self-interest, but by a belief in the American ideal. Obama's campaign resonated with so many millions of young people not because he promised us immediate solutions to our own intractable problems, but because he promised an approach to government that embraced our responsibility to one another and to the society in which we live.
Obama's agenda was predicated on the idea that we are all in this together and that politics that divide by age, race, gender, sexuality, and religion are the politics of the past. Mr. Bauer seems to embrace, if not relish, these divisions. President Obama wants to consign them to the dustbin of history. So do we.
But that doesn't mean the president has done enough. On two of the great human rights issues facing our country -- immigration and LGBT equality -- Obama needs to show that his leadership extends beyond the delivery of a single speech. On both issues, young voters trend progressive by wide margins. We are looking for leadership, not rhetoric.
Millennial voters have a responsibility to hold President Obama accountable for his promises, for his actions thus far, and for the opportunities he failed to embraced. But we have an equally important responsibility to be a part of the solution to the problems facing this nation.
The Obama administration has already accomplished much to improve the lives of young people in America, but the real work -- for all of us -- still lies ahead.
Sarah Audelo is the Senior Manager of Domestic Policy for Advocates for Youth. Gregory Cendana is the president of the United States Student Association.
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