On Tuesday, President Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address. He rightly called for Congress to take specific actions to strengthen our economy, national security and improve the well-being of all Americans in the long term.
In his remarks, the President outlined what the Administration is calling a “blueprint for an economy built to last” which includes two important themes – investment in our future and reducing income inequality.
In the past 22 months, the private sector has added 3.2 million jobs. Unfortunately, continued losses in public sector employment remain a drag on our unemployment level and 13.1 million individuals are still looking for work.
By investing in our nation’s failing infrastructure we can create jobs, and lots of them. The President’s American Jobs Act would create 1.9 million jobs. It has been introduced in the House and Congress should pass it this year.
President Obama also discussed the importance of becoming energy-independent, both for our economy and for our national security, noting that “nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.” Though I do not support the Administration’s efforts to continue to rely on drilling for a finite supply of oil offshore, the President is correct in calling for “a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.”
Robust investment in renewable energy can create thousands of high-paying, high tech jobs. Virginia’s shores are home to some of the best corridors for wind power. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is a bipartisan goal, and I hope to see Congress take up and pass measures to promote cleaner, renewable sources of energy.
Our economic recovery and long term growth rest on creating opportunities for middle class success. A child who was born into poverty shortly after WWII had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of reaching the middle class as an adult . But in recent decades the United States has seen exponential growth in income inequality. In the previous 30 years, the top one percent of income earners saw their after-tax income rise by 275 percent. This increase in wealth did not ‘trickle down’ to working Americans. If the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born into poverty today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.
Contributing to the inequality are unfair tax breaks and lower tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. During his remarks, President Obama recognized Debbie Bosanek, secretary to wealthy businessman Warren Buffet, as an example of our rampant inequity – she pays a higher tax rate than her boss.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2005, individuals with incomes of $8.6 million and more paid a tax rate of 17.5 percent, nearly the same rate as middle class Americans making less than $100,000. Our budget cannot be balanced and strong investments cannot be made if the Federal Government does not make our tax system more equitable.
I was pleased to see Obama call for Congress to enact tax reform referred to as the “Buffett rule” to raise the tax rate for those who make more than $1 million a year. One easy step to even the playing field is to allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire at the end of this year. By doing so, our nation can get closer to reaching primary budget balance within ten years.
Tilting the playing field in favor of the wealthy is not who we are as a nation. As the President eloquently put it: “Let’s never forget: millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same.”
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.