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Progressives Should Stop Carping and Start Fighting

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Now's the time for progressives to put our actions where our big mouths are.

Now that President-elect Obama and the House leadership have teamed up to propose a economic recovery package that is the most far-reaching piece of major domestic legislation in a generation, it's time for bloggers and grass-roots activists to stop nit-picking every decision and utterance of Obama and his team and instead focus our energies on helping implement his courageous agenda.

Now's the time for progressives to put our actions where our big mouths are.

Now that President-elect Obama and the House leadership have teamed up to propose a economic recovery package that is the most far-reaching piece of major domestic legislation in a generation, it's time for bloggers and grass-roots activists to stop nit-picking every decision and utterance of Obama and his team and instead focus our energies on helping implement his courageous agenda.

Within hours of Obama winning the election, erstwhile supporters made great sport out of finding fault in seemingly everything he did (or didn't) say or do. Even though Obama was months from taking office and actually exercising power, the long knives of the Left were already carving him up. Obama was derided for supposedly appointing too many moderates, not automatically adopting every suggestion penned by Paul Krugman, charging for some inaugural events (gasp!), and not committing to immediately placing anyone who worked for President Bush in front of a firing squad. It's as if many of Obama's supporters expected him to undo eight years of damage in eight hours.

Besides, few of the criticisms of the new President-elect had anything to do with matters that would impact the actual day-to-day living conditions of average Americans.

The first truly meaningful test of the new Administration is the economic recovery package it hammered out with the House leaders. Obama and his team have passed this test with flying colors. Their proposal would dramatically shift resources from the federal government - which, in the last eight years, have been used overwhelmingly to make the rich wealthier, the middle-class poor, and the already poverty-stricken even more destitute - to helping working families and the unemployed not only weather this current economic storm but to actually prosper in the long run.

Keeping their promise to usher in historic levels of openness and transparency, the Democrats have rapidly placed the entire text of the proposed bill - and the Committee report language supporting the bill - online.

The proposed tax provisions are remarkably progressive. They would boost the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families still in poverty and provide serious tax relief for low- and middle-income families. Yet, despite entreaties from conservatives, the bill does not include a reduction in the estate tax paid for by the nation's wealthiest heirs.

As an anti-hunger advocate, I am overjoyed that the bill would provide the largest investment in new nutrition assistance funding in decades, including a huge hike in food stamp (recently re-named SNAP) benefits, more funding for after-school meals for kids, a large increase for senior meals, and a boost in dollars for emergency food and shelter programs. That funding would provide a very meaningful down payment towards reaching the goal - set by President-elect Obama and recently reiterated by USDA Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack - of ending child hunger in America by 2015.

When it comes to non-nutrition money, the bill would fund a virtual "wish list" of items and causes activists have long-championed but which have been under-funded or not funded at all during the decades of conservative Presidents and Congresses. Here are just a handful of the hundreds of vital programs to be funded under the House proposal:

• $16 billion to repair public housing and make key energy efficiency retrofits;

• $6 billion to weatherize modest-income homes;

• $31 billion to modernize federal and other public infrastructure with investments that lead to long term energy cost savings;

• $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration investments;

• $10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption;

• $79 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks to key services, including $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities;

• $15.6 billion to increase the Pell grants to make higher education more affordable;

• $4.1 billion to provide for preventative care and to evaluate the most effective health care treatments;

• $43 billion for increased unemployment benefits and job training;

• $39 billion to support those who lose their jobs by helping them to pay the cost of keeping their employer provided health care under COBRA and providing short-term options to be covered by Medicaid;

• $8 billion for loans for renewable energy power generation and transmission projects;

• $300 million to provide consumers with rebates for buying energy efficient Energy Star products to replace old appliances, which will lower energy bills;

• $6 billion for broadband and wireless services in underserved areas to strengthen the economy and provide business and job opportunities in every section of America with benefits to e-commerce, education, and health care;

• $100 million for rural business grants and loans to guarantee $2 billion in loans for rural businesses at a time of unprecedented demand due to the credit crunch;

• $300 million to upgrade job training facilities serving at-risk youth while improving energy efficiency;

• $20 billion for school construction and modernization, including $14 billion for K-12 and $6 billion for higher education;

• $2 billion to provide child care services for an additional 300,000 children in low-income families while their parents go to work;

• $2.1 billion to provide comprehensive Head Start development services to help 110,000 additional children succeed in school; and

• $2.5 billion for block grants for public assistance to help states deal with the surge in families needing help during the recession and to prevent them from cutting work programs and services for abused and neglected children.

As a senator once said, apocryphally perhaps, "a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money." This package is indeed real money.

Significantly, the Democratic proposal makes good on Obama's promise to make an increase in national service a centerpiece of his Presidency. It would provide an extra $200 million to put approximately 16,000 additional AmeriCorps members to work doing national service, meeting needs of vulnerable populations and communities during the economic crisis.

If enacted, these measures would go a long way toward placing America on the road to recovery and prosperity. Their importance dwarfs the importance of every speech, appointment, or event of Obama to date.

But their implementation is by no means secured. House Republicans will try to chip away at the package, and Senate conservatives will try to derail it entirely.

Now is the time for all good progressives to come to the aid of country. Now is the time to rally around this forward-thinking economic plan and work our hearts out to get it passed.

This is no time to continuing carping about some perceived imperfections in the new President's policies or statements. This is a rare window of opportunity to enact massive, meaningful change. It would be a crime for us to allow our eternal quest for the perfect to halt a real chance at the very, very good.

Nothing any of us could possibly be doing right now could possibly be nearly as important as ensuring that members of the House and Senate pass the full recovery package.

It's time for progressives to stop whining and get to work.

Bill text

Committee report language supporting the Bill