President Obama will address the nation Wednesday night, offering an outline of his approach to budget and deficit issues. The president, who has already bent too frequently and too far to satisfy the demands of CEOs and bankers who want to balance the budget on the backs of working Americans, will send the clearest signal yet about whether he is going to give Wall Street what it really wants — the so-called "entitlement reforms" that would begin processes of privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
He will also signal whether he plans to run for reelection in 2012 as the candidate of the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman or as a "post-partisan" centrist who will abandon basic premises of the the party and its political base. The latter prospect worries Congressman Pete DeFazio, who says that Obama needs to "act like a Democrat."
DeFazio is especially concerned that Obama will abandon principles of progressive taxation that demand the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share. Recalling that the president backed off his 2008 campaign commitment to let the Bush-era tax rates on the wealthy expire in order to cut a December deal with congressional Republicans, DeFazio says: “Remember, the president did run on that, and he did cave on it in December.”
DeFazio says congressional Democrats need to put more pressur on Obama to stand on principle against the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin; and their corporate paymasters.
“There are a number of us in the caucus now pushing back very hard on our leadership,” says DeFazio. “Who knows where they’ll end up, but maybe we can take enough D’s with us to make them uncomfortable and to make them stick with making the president act like a Democrat."
DeFazio’s concerns are legitimate. But others worry that Obama will go further to the right, not just by embracing Reagan-era trickle down economic strategies but by actually going along with calls for radical charges in how Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid operate.
A key union, the 160,000-member National Nurses United, anticipated the president’s speech with a blunt message with regard to the budget debate.
“America is not broke, it’s just deficient in political courage and leadership,” argues Jean Ross, RN, an NNU co-president. “It’s time to tell Wall Street and the politicians they finance in Washington and state governments that the American people have sacrificed enough. There can be no more cuts in healthcare programs for seniors, the disabled, and the disadvantaged, and no reductions in retirement security.”
The NNU national executive board recently passed a resolution declaring that the union — an powerful force in the political of California and an increasingly influential player in battleground states such as Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Florida — will not endorse any federal candidate in 2012 who supports cutting or privatizing parts of Social Security.
“We expect the President and our elected leaders in Congress to stand up, and protect our most basic safety net programs, which start with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” says Ross. “For 30 years, we’ve seen a massive shift of our nation’s wealth and resources transferred from Main Street to the executive suites. The result, record profits, and unbridled corporate corruption and thievery, while wages for working people stagnate, and income and health insecurity soar.”
These messages are important ones for the president as he prepares his speech. And they are being heard across the country.
In Massachusetts Sunday, at a forum organized by Progressive Democrats of America, California Nurses Association policy director Michael Lighty outlined the CNA/NNU’s new Main Street Contract for the American People.
Massachusetts Congressmen Mike Capuano and John Olver were among those applauding the details of the contract, which was written in the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s "Economic Bill of Rights."
The NNU documnt declares that: "Every American should be entitled to:
• Jobs at living wages, with a new national policy based on re-investing in America.
• A good, affordable education.
• Guaranteed healthcare for all.
• A secure retirement, with the ability to retire in dignity.
• Decent shelter and protection from hunger.
• The right to collectively organize.
• A just taxation system where corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share.
• Restoring the promise of our founding – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all."
That’s a doable agenda, both from a budget standpoint and a political standpoint — as the mass mobilizations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and other battleground states have illustrated the popular anger over "austerity" proposals that attack unions and public services while cutting taxes for corporations and resdistributing state spending to serve special interests.
But this doable agenda won’t be achieved with further compromise on the president’s part. It is not enough to criticize Republican proposals to privatize Medicare, slash Medicaid, and make further deep cuts in safety net programs, says NNU’s Ross. While the GOP plans are “obviously reprehensible,” she explains that "without real leadership from the other party (Democrats) and the White House, and a clear road map for an alternative vision, these mean spirited proposals, and continued handouts for the wealthy and corporate elites, will surely follow. It’s time for the President to stand up for the working people of this country, not the corporations which brought us an economic tsunami.”