President Barack Obama passionately called for a bipartisan effort to restore “American values” at his third State of the Union address this week.
Americans are used to this kind of seemingly hollow rhetoric, as we have consistently heard these calls on both sides of the aisle and so far, the results just haven’t added up. But, beneath the rhetoric, the President actually laid out sensible, practical ideas that can redefine our domestic policy for centuries ahead. These measures are not merely band-aids; they get to the core of the issues and institute serious, landmark reform. Here are President Obama's top five policies:
1. A fair tax code. Last year, Mitt Romney had an income of near $20 million, and paid about 14 percent in taxes. His rival, Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, made around $3 million, but paid around 30 percent in taxes. My question is simple: If you have a third grade education, how could you possibly find a system fair that allows someone to make seven times your income, but pay half as much in taxes?
Tuesday night, the President once again outlined what he calls “The Buffet Rule,” which would ensure that anyone making over $1 million pays at least 30 percent in taxes. Forget the fact that 30 percent is still a historically low rate; at least it corrects for our extremely unjust system. Fundamentally, those who have benefitted most from our system should be obligated to pay more into it. This is long overdue.
2. Filibuster reform. Our system of government is so renowned because of its decentralization of power and its understanding that no one person should ever gain too much power. Ironically, however, we have in place a system that completely destroys that standard. The filibuster allows one individual to block any legislation, even if it has support in the Senate, House, and presidency.
The President proposed that all federal appointments be subject to a simple up or down vote in the Senate – no filibusters. Dating back to the Bush administration, the Senate opposition has developed ridiculous tactics, such as having one Senator bang the gavel to signify a session, to prevent the president from employing legitimate recess appointments.
Filibuster reform, however, should not only focus on appointments. Instead of allowing one Senator to block legislation indefinitely, the filibuster should require Senators to continue speaking and gain support as time progresses. Otherwise, obstructionism takes over, and nothing can ever get done without a highly unlikely super majority of support. The filibuster as it is makes a joke of our legislative process. Let’s reform it.
3. Keeping kids in school. The best plan laid out by the President was one that is long overdue: No longer allow kids younger than 18 to drop out of high school. The United States currently has a high school graduation rate well below the OECD average, and lags far behind Denmark, Japan, Poland, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and many others. Consequently, the U.S.ranks 12th in college graduation rates among 36 developed countries.
With all the talk about lowering college tuition and increasing funding for Pell Grants, the U.S. can get more kids into college without spending anything. Once a student drops out of high school, there is no chance he or she will attend college. By keeping them in high school, we can drastically increase the chances of that individual's attending college. And it will cost us nothing.
And by ensuring more kids enter college, we also tackle the growing unemployment problem. Our national unemployment rate is 8.5 percent. For those with a bachelor's degree or higher, however, it is just 4.1 percent. If we just keep kids in high school, we are guaranteed to see some drop in overall unemployment. And, again, it’s all free.
4. Money in politics. We all remember the 60 Minuets report that unveiled the consequences of allowing members of Congress to fend for themselves on the stock market. Inexplicably, members of Congress currently face no penalty for trading on sensitive information they obtain from the work they do in government. That’s simply outrageous, and the objection is simple: Why should members of Congress enjoy special privileges?
5. Cracking down on Wall Street. On the 2008 campaign trail, then-Senator Obama struck a nerve with voters by tapping into a very logical approach: investigating and prosecuting those who broke the law and caused a global economic collapse. Unfortunately, it never happened, and the biggest thieves on Wall Street have enjoyed their bailouts and suffered no consequences; all at the expense of the American people.
Tuesday night, the President ordered his attorney general, Eric Holder, to investigate the ruthless crimes committed on Wall Street. Who knows what they will find. But one thing is certain: By employing a double-standard and completely turning a blind-eye to the abuse and possible crimes committed leading up to 2008, we are only asking for it to happen again.
The greatest thing about these five plans is that they are innovative; they represent a new approach and have not yet been subject to much discussion. Thus, they lack the kind of ideological opposition that so often defines the issues debated in Congress. They all get to the core of the issue, and institute serious reforms that will cost virtually nothing. Now that the plans have all been laid out, it’s time for Congress to act. If our government wishes to portray itself as competent or responsible, it can start by getting all five of these plans on the President’s desk by the end of next week.
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