It's difficult not to consider Barack Obama's first year in office as one of the most successful in American presidential history. Saving the economy from the brink of collapse with the Recovery Act, Stimulus Package, and the recent Health Care Reform bill are major acts of legislation that will help turn our country around. But it's still too early to take a victory lap. There is just too much else to do to clean up the giant mess the President was handed when he took office. Here's a quick look at four critical areas that need to be addressed with all due haste:
Is there another issue more crucial to the average American family right now? Doubtful. But, help is on the way. New legislation would grant employers an exemption from their 6.2% Social Security payroll contribution for every new employee hired through the rest of the year (provided said employee had been out of work for at least 60 days). Employers would also be allowed an additional $1,000 income tax credit for every new employee kept on the payroll for 52 weeks. The measure also would make it easier for businesses to write off equipment purchases and would pump billions into federal highway and mass-transit funding programs, which hopefully will jump-start construction projects. The bill's cost is set to be offset by tax code modifications. Last week, the Senate passed a $140-billion package that contains a series of industry-friendly tax breaks such as a credit for research and development, as well as extensions of unemployment benefits and COBRA insurance subsidies for the unemployed through the rest of the year. It is now under consideration in the House. It is expected the Senate will also consider legislation that would provide struggling small businesses with increased access to credit.
This winter Global Warming deniers attempted to plant the ridiculous notion that because it snowed, there is no such thing as Global Warming. Right. In fact, Climate Change is an extremely serious problem that has to be solved sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, "cap-and-trade" (allowing facilities to buy and sell pollution credits in order to meet a national limit on greenhouse gas emissions) is stalled and perhaps dead in the Senate. However, Senators Graham, Kerry and Lieberman have been working for months to develop an alternative to cap-and-trade, which the House approved eight months ago. They plan to introduce legislation next month that would apply different carbon controls to individual sectors of the economy instead of setting a national target. A good idea, but more certainly needs to be done. Alternative energy needs to be feverishly pursued with the ultimate goal of transitioning our nation's primary energy source from petroleum to Green sources.
Anger over the banker's bailout is still fresh in the minds of Main Street America, who see their credit card rates continue to rise. Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, offered a revised "Restoring American Financial Stability" bill and was quoted in The Hill newspaper vowing "We will have financial reform adopted this year." Dodd's legislation would give more power to the Federal Reserve to oversee bank holding companies and create a system to avoid taxpayer-funded bailouts of the financial industry - signaling an end to the "too-big-to-fail" line of thinking. His bill would also set up a consumer protection bureau, but not as a separate agency. The bureau would fall under the Fed. The legislation would also give corporate shareholders a "say on pay," including the right to a non-binding vote on executive compensation. It would require more disclosure of exotic financial instruments (such as derivatives) and would create a new program at the Securities and Exchange Commission, aiding whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing. If enacted, these measures would prove to be positive steps in further regulating an industry that desperately needs oversight. I would urge Congress to put further restrictions on the financial industry's credit card practices - a measure that would have broad support from the public.
Foreign Troop Deployment
Newsweek Magazine's recent expose on the failed attempt to train an Afghani police force is nothing short of shocking. Producing almost zero trained personnel in eight years has cost American taxpayers $6 billion. (And we can't afford Health Care Reform?!) It is a reminder of the monetary cost America's military reach around the world. Do we still need thousands of troops in Germany? It is time to re-think the United States' troop deployment as a matter of sensible national security as well as fiscal responsibility. The Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act, signed in May of 2009, is a good start at reigning in wild military spending. Much more should follow.