Senator Tom Harkin
"The Middle Class Is Also Too Big to Fail"
or "O., Hearken unto Harkin, O."
This morning Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) addressed the Center for American Progress (CAP) on "Rebuilding the Middle Class." Some of the material echoes his response to the president's SOTU this year.
Harkin, who has served in Congress for thirty-eight years--the first ten in the House before he defeated an incumbent to gain the Senate seat he has held for five terms in one of the most conservative states in the country--first referred to his landmark contribution to U.S. legislations and lifestyles, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a milestone in the uphill battle in this country to procure equal opportunities for all: equal access to education, health care, and presumably everything else FDR declared to be the Second Bill of Rights, which elaborated on the "pursuit of happiness" clause in the Declaration of Independence.
The son of a coal miner and ROTC Scholar at the level of higher education, Harkin still lives in the humble home in Iowa where he was born, he said. In 2009, when Senator Ted Kennedy died, he took over as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and especially Kennedy's lifelong concern to legislate affordable health care for all Americans.
The senator described his "elegant definition of the American dream": Amanda G. is a young Iowan social worker and her husband a teacher. The couple dreams not of huge wealth but inspiring careers, financial security throughout life, and higher education for their children.
The Republicans are misguided in their premise that this country can't afford to rebuild its middle class. "The middle class is also too big to fail" (see title above), implied by this, quotes the words of the Vice President of Economic Policy at CAP, Michael Ettlinger.
And then came a fact that always mystifies me: the United States has the highest per capita income in the world and is the richest country in the world. Think of the $1.1 trillion deficit this year and the astronomical national debt (is it around $14 trillion or even more?).
Harkin said that the huge growth in technology and other global changes contributed to the problems of the middle class, along with bad policy decisions that included the encouragement of outsourcing.
He stressed the importance of not only job creation but the need for good jobs. To the claim that the government can't create jobs, he referred back to all of Abraham Lincoln's accomplishments for the common welfare even as this country fought the Civil War, as well as to FDR's federal initiatives that so fostered the survival and growth of the middle class.
Harkin's Rebuild America Act comprises comprehensive legislation encompassing 1) infrastructure and manufacturing; 2) preparing all workers for twenty-first century-level employment; 3) empowering workers; 4) pensions; and 5) strengthening families.
Under the first heading come supporting a manufacturing economy--overseas they are doing better at promoting domestic industry; financial opportunity; trade laws; changing tax laws; and promoting more research and development.
Under the second heading appear challenge grants to encourage skills training, for both recent immigrants and other special-needs populations as well as others; and the need to improve the quality of teachers and supplying financial incentive in this process.
The third heading encompasses raising the minimum wage, with cost-of-living increases as needed; overtime pay; unionization and other recognition of workers' rights; and penalties to employers who do not adhere to the preceding categories.
Two-thirds of the disabled populations are now unemployed, the senator told us. Tax credits are needed to address this situation until it improves.