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Rep. Mike Honda

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The Fight for the 99 Percent

Posted: 12/15/11 11:03 AM ET

This week, I stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow Democrats in Congress, fighting to extend unemployment benefits for nearly 2 million Americans and to preserve a payroll tax cut for the American worker.

This fight is to ensure that the voice of the 99 percent -- the great majority of hard-working, honest Americans -- is heard in the halls of Congress over Republican proclamations that Medicare and Medicaid, social security, schools for our young, and every other indispensable social program must be gutted to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

Republicans' refusal to act on anything other than tax cuts for the rich is an economic and moral failure of leadership -- it flies in the face of the fact that countless American families, a great cross-section of the 99 percent, are in utter crisis.

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the number of people living in poverty has reached an all-time high in the United States, despite our position as one of the wealthiest countries in the world. According to the report, "the number of people living in poverty in America rose by nearly 4 million to 43.6 million in 2009 -- the largest figure in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been available."

Children are most directly affected by this crisis; an astounding one in five American kids live below the poverty line. Throughout the course of the 2009 downturn, the report explains, the number of children in the U.S. living in poverty rose by 1 million, increasing the children's percentage to an all-time high of 21.6 percent by year's end. The situation is even bleaker for black and Hispanic youth, whose poverty rates exceed the national average by 16.6 and 10.7 percentage points, respectively. We also know that poverty rates for certain Asian ethnicities are off the charts as well.

These numbers are heartbreaking; they demand fierce and urgent action.

As a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and the U.S. House Budget Committee, as well as the Budget task force chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I authored the People's Budget in the 112th Congress. The People's Budget is a bold and innovative plan to eliminate our deficit and put American families back to work; the People's Budget saves Medicare and Medicaid, brings our troops home, ends our addiction to oil, transforms our nation's infrastructure, and guarantees that American industry is able to do what it does best -- dream big, innovate and win.

The 99 percent demand that Washington focus on the endemic problem of economic inequality in America. The People's Budget was ahead of the curve on these issues. The plan's unveiling was an urgent call to close the economic opportunity gap in America. The People's Budget -- first and foremost -- is a fair deal for working families. The plan forges a fair tax code, asking the wealthiest individuals, oil companies raking in record profits and Wall Street banks that gambled away our money to pay their fair share. The plan also thwarts skyrocketing health care costs and makes crucial investments in public education, transportation, infrastructure and R&D.

The plan's solutions to America's middle class crisis have been hailed by Jeffrey Sachs, widely considered to be the leading global economic advisor of his generation. Sachs wrote on the Huffington Post, "Their plan is humane, responsible, and most of all sensible, reflecting the true values of the American people and the real needs of the floundering economy."

Budgets speak to just more than analyses and data, they testify to our values as a nation. Where the Republican budget forsakes our solemn oath to protect seniors, the People's Budget guarantees their safety and security. Where the Republican budget forgets the steel in the spine of the American economy was laid by the middle class, the People's Budget guarantees full access to the American dream for all. Where the Republican budget explodes our national debt, the People's Budget creates a budget surplus.

With so many families in crisis this holiday season, I am particularly mindful of a quintessential American principle: I am my Brother's keeper. I am my Sister's keeper. When the programs that protect our nation's most vulnerable populations are the first to be brought to the chopping block by Republicans, we must consider whose brothers and sisters are really being kept.

This fundamental question drives my work in Congress this week and into the new year, when I will be sure to get to work on solutions to win the future for ourselves, our children and future generations to come.

That's what the 99 percent want. That's what the 99 percent deserve.

U.S. Representative Michael Honda is Silicon Valley's Representative. He has represented the 15th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives for a decade. In Congress, Rep. Honda is a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees and Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

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