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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/20/11

Jobs -- Saving the Middle Class

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just returned from Las Vegas where I gave one of the keynote addresses to 3,000 delegates from the United Steelworkers of America.  Earlier in the week Nancy Pelosi addressed the convention.  President Obama also spoke to the delegates via a video message.  Tomorrow, I will be doing an online chat with members of Blue America.   On Sunday I will be speaking to Democrats in New Hampshire at the Merrimack County annual picnic.  In September I will be speaking with Progressives in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

Here's the message I'm delivering.  It's simple, straight-forward and appears to be resonating.

Yes, deficit reduction is important, but it is not the most important issue we face.  We are in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and if the middle-class is to be saved we need to create millions of good paying jobs in the very near future. And we can do it.  Here are three approaches that I will be working on to create the jobs we desperately need when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.

First, we must rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.  That means repairing our roads, bridges, highways, dams, culverts, sewers, clean water systems, subways, schools, public transportation and affordable housing. When we do that we not only create millions of good paying jobs, but we also make the entire country more productive and competitive in the global economy.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has graded America's roads, public transit and aviation with a "D." They say that we must invest over $2.2 trillion over the next five years simply to get to a "passable" condition. Today, the United States invests just 2.4 percent of GDP on infrastructure. Europe invests twice that amount. China invests almost four times our rate -- roughly 9% of their GDP annually. On rail alone, the Chinese invested $186 billion from 2006 through 2009. Within two years China will open 42 new high-speed rail lines with trains that can reach speeds of more than 210 miles per hour.   By 2020, China plans to add 26,000 additional miles of track for freight, 230,000 miles of new or improved roads and 97 new airports. There is no question in my mind that if we hope to compete in the global economy, we must increase our investment in our transportation infrastructure.   

Second, we have got to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. When we do that, we break our dependence on Middle East oil, we cut greenhouse gas emissions, we decrease air pollution and we put millions of Americans to work building American made solar panels, building American made wind turbines, building American made heat pumps and weatherizing millions of American homes with energy efficient products and technologies -- all made in America. This is a win, win, win, win approach.

Third, we have got to fundamentally rewrite our trade policy laws so that American products, not jobs are our number one export. Simply stated, our current trade policy of unfettered free trade has been a disaster for American workers and must be reformed. Over the past 30 years, we have been told by the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama that unfettered free trade will increase jobs in America. They have been proven wrong. NAFTA has led to the loss of over one million American jobs. Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China has led to the loss of over 2 million American jobs.

Over the last decade, over 50,000 manufacturing plants have been shut down in America and the number of manufacturing jobs we have is a fraction of what it used to be. You know it as well as I do! It is harder and harder to buy products MADE IN THE USA. And mark my words, if the George W. Bush unfettered free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama are signed into law by this President, even more American jobs will be lost. I will be doing my best to fight against these job-killing free trade agreements and come up with a trade approach which is based on the principles of fair trade, not unfettered free trade.

Let me conclude by thanking all of you for what you do in fighting to make sure that government represents all the people, not just the wealthy and powerful. These are very tough times for our country. There's no question about that.  But despair is not an option. This fight is not just about what happens to our lives. More importantly, it's what happens to our kids and grandchildren. For their sakes, we cannot give up the struggle.

Thanks for your support.

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)

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