Independent Rebuttal to the State of the Union

I always find it interesting that the party not represented by the President of the United States is obligated to have a rebuttal to the State of the Union message. I for one have never liked these as we have but one President. The media though is biased toward conflict, so it feels it must air a rebuttal position. With that said, neither party wants to address the real issues of the day in the manner in which is needed.

I think the President made some good points and had some good ideas, but I agree with the GOP that only 3% of the speech was addressing a major issue – the deficit and debt. On the flip side, the GOP does not even want to talk about a key lever to help resolve the issue and that is tax increases. So, we have two sides that don’t want to step up to the plate and do what is needed.

The US is a great country, but we are kind of like Grizabella the old cat in the play “Cats” whose glory may be behind us if we don’t do anything about it. I have cited in earlier posts and to others that the best identification and prescription for the US challenges can be found in the book “That Used to be Us” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. Taking liberties with a few of their thoughts, plus a few of my own, here is an independent’s view on the State of the Union. The President’s ideas are closer to what is needed, but he falls short of what is truly needed and that is a shame. The GOP, unfortunately, is well off the mark and tends to want to talk too much about religious ideals rather than governance of a country.

Debt and Deficits

First and foremost, we need to let the extended Bush Tax cuts expire at year-end. We did not need these when passed ten years ago, they did not create jobs like the GOP touts and Bush’s own Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, was fired for voicing his criticisms. This and the two wars are the major reasons for the deficit as Bush came into the White House to a budget balanced by President Clinton. All Americans, not just the wealthy, need to pay more in taxes.

Adopt the Bowles-Simpson plan as a very good working draft and build off of it with an implementation of 2014. Compare the tax revenue to that produced by the above change to let the Bush Tax cuts expire. We need more revenue due to the shortfall. Yet, move forward with the aggressive consideration of the spending cuts and other measures noted in the Bowles-Simpson plan. This was a bi-partisan plan by some smart people who were less political.

Economy

Per Friedman and Mandelbaum, more manufacturing needs to be done in the US for a key reason that the best ideas for improved processes and products oftentimes come from the people on the production floor. Work with local and state governments and Chambers of Commerce to incent the creation, development and expansion of US manufacturing. The Mayors tend to get these issues, so work with them to build, advocate and communicates success stories. Double down on new and green technologies and training. Find out the best spots in the development continuum for public money.

Make it a mission to understand where the obstacles are in the governmental approval process and streamline them. Erskine Bowles was asked to lead the Small Business Administration and he took the a 42 page application down to two pages. Regulation is needed, but bureaucracy is not. If someone has to weigh the pros and cons of getting governmental help due to bureaucracy it is too intrusive.

The GOP will not like this one, but increase the minimum wage. We have 50 million people in poverty. The cost will show up in less return for shareholders and increased prices, but that is a preferable burden that will keep more people off the streets. More taxes will be collected and people will spend more. And, do not eliminate healthcare reform. It still needs improvement and has seen changes some already, but we need more people with access to care. We have already seen a flattening of some costs with 1 million more young adults kept on their parents’ plans.

Education

The US has too short a school year, typically 180 days. When you take away wasted days at the end of the first and last semesters, there are really only about 172 days of learning. Contrast that with over 200 days for our major global competitors. Extend the number of days and find and incent better teachers. The Teach for America program is a wonderful marriage of passion and intellect. Let’s try and keep the good ones longer and give them more liberty to devise their version of the syllabus.  Give Principals more power to move on the lesser quality teachers through training, mentoring or dismissal. It is unfair to perpetuate bad teaching and is a disservice to all constituents, including teachers.

Community colleges have the power to help in retraining America. Give them the opportunities to link with business. It is a push-pull exercise. The example the President gave of the woman in Charlotte with Central Piedmont Community College and Siemens is dead on accurate. That is precisely what is needed. Private colleges and state colleges also need to be refined to meet the needs of the employers. The private colleges are priced way too high due to over staffing and lucrative benefit packages. People cannot afford to attend them. I would provide incentives to places that have affordable education, just like a parent would with his or her children.

Energy

Global warming is here folks. Wake up GOP as you are behind everyone else in the world. Stop dragging down our country with your inane, oil funded rhetoric. We have to move down the path of a better energy policy. We need to incent the investigation, development and deployment of alternative energy – solar, wind, hydro, biomass, etc. – and make good ideas scalable. The President increasing the mileage standards on cars is very good measure as is the tough EPA standard on coal. Yet, we need more. Increase the gas tax to pay for this exploration, pay for electric/ hybrid car infrastructure and improve roads, bridges and public transportation. Toll roads and bridges can also help in this process.

And, emphasize conservation as a major energy resource. Green building should continue to be incented and highlighted. Goodwill Industries, in fact, has a training program for unemployed workers around green construction, e.g. Some green initiatives can be used to pay for development through capitalized future savings. Let’s figure out more ways to do this.

Political Changes

Let me close with some bi-partisan ideas, but ideas few have the chutzpah to do. Yet, if we did only these changes, much of the above could be discussed in a less confrontational way.

– Impose term limits on all elected officials. The President can only serve two terms, so we should impose a two term limit on every role in the Federal, State and Local governments. This turnover would address the old saying “power corrupts”  and provide new blood into the equation. It may also attract better candidates.

– Every taxpayer should be obligated to give $3 for example to the Federal government and state governments to be used to finance all campaigns. All other campaign funding would be made illegal, end of story. Then shorten the election process to 90 days for federal and state elections and 45 days for local elections. The Presidential election could be stretched to 120 days allow for traveling the country. Yet, electronic town halls could be used, as well. This will stop the endless campaigning. As individuals, if you want to make this happen, do what I do and turn down the sound on ALL political ads, no exception. You are only missing lies, half-truths and innuendos anyway. If no one is listening, then the money will stop.

– Implement rules to protect the integrity of the office. Insider trading in Congress is a conflict of interest, period. Fix it.  If an incumbent damages the role by his or her actions, censure, suspend or fire that person. The Catholic Church forgot the role of the Priest is larger than the incumbent and has damaged its reputation maybe beyond repair by not heeding this message. Elected officials are not much better at this than the Catholic Church.

These are my thoughts on the State of the Union borrowing heavily from others. The best ideas are a compilation of a lot of little ones. Look for ways to find them, do them and celebrate them. Of all things, our diversity of thoughts and ideas is what makes this country strong – like most positive changes, they usually occur on the ground closer to the action.

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