How to Make the State of Our Union Stronger
Last night President Obama unveiled a variety of new proposals focused growing our economy, strengthening the middle class, and keeping Americans safe. Here’s a closer look at six of the president’s proposals that could be real game-changers.
1. Executive action on climate change. “I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. Obama urged Congress to pass a standard cap and trade bill along the framework developed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman. That measure ultimately failed, and Obama warned that if Congress does not act, he will take executive action and direct the Environmental Protection Agency to limit emission standards for power plants imposed under the Clean Air Act. Obama also proposed a federal fund for states that pursue energy efficiency and halve their energy use. After all, climate change is contributing to a growing number of extreme weather events that that is costing the United States billions:
2. Investing in infrastructure and creating jobs. “I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.” The average American bridge is now 43 years old — and a 2008 Department of Transportation survey determined that 72,868 are “structurally deficient,” while 89,024 are “functionally obsolete.” Obama’s plan calls for “$50 billion in frontloaded infrastructure investment includes $40 billion that would be targeted to the most urgent upgrades, like the 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.” Economistsestimate that new federal spending for infrastructure “would generate $1.44 of economic activity for each $1 spent” and in reviewing the economic impact of the Recovery Act, the Congressional Budget Office “found that infrastructure investments and purchases by the federal government for goods and services had the largest jobs multiplier impact of all the stimulus elements”:
3. Universal preschool. “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.” Obama is urging Congress to provide low- and moderate-income 4- year-old children with high-quality preschool, while allowing states a great deal of latitude and flexibility to run their own programs. At-risk children without early childhood education are more likely to drop out of school, become teen parents, or get arrested for violent crime, and they are less likely to attend college. Investing in those children early would reduce societal and economic costs later in their lives, while also increasing economic mobility. A recent study showed that Chicago’s preschool program generates “$11 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent initially on the program.” As the University of Chicago’s James Heckman has found, “investing in early childhood development for disadvantaged children provides a great return to society through increased personal achievement and social productivity.” Another study found even larger benefits:
4. A pathway to citizenship. “Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.” Immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship is essential to the economy. A naturalized immigrant will earn “between 5.6 percent and 7.2 percent more within two years of becoming a citizen,” boosting consumer spending and overall economic growth. Immigration reform would add up to $5.4 billion in new tax revenue over the first three years, and a cumulative $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy over a decade:
5. A livable wage. “Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.” Raising the minimum wage to $9 “restores the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage back to where it was in 1981.” In fact, had the minimum wage had simply kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be over $10 per hour today. The increase will disproportionately help women and minorities, since they make up a majority of low-wage workers, without negatively effecting employment:
6. Enhancing gun safety. “Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.” In the aftermath of the Newton tragedy, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have begun working on legislation to ensure that everyone who purchases a firearm undergoes a background check, among other reforms limiting access to military-style weapons. Residents in 45 states can buy guns through private sales without undergoing the otherwise-mandatory background check. 40 percent of all gun sales are purchased without any screening, including 80 percent of guns used in crimes:
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The case for making preschool available to every American child.
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