An issue-oriented agenda
BY JACK REED
ELECTION DAY 2002 in Rhode Island was an affirmation of the basic issues that are important to Rhode Island’s working families. Citizens voted for candidates who they believe will take action to address essential priorities like creating new jobs, providing affordable health care and housing, and improving the quality of teachers and neighborhood schools.
But while the election nationally was perceived as a significant victory for the Republican Party and President Bush, few GOP landslide victories occurred. In the races for control of the Senate, votes for both parties were almost as evenly divided as they were for the 2000 presidential race. Tuesday’s election could be regarded as less about policies and more about personalities.
Nevertheless, the results have given Republicans in Congress, working with the president, the opportunity to pursue an agenda that regrettably does not "put families first."
If there is a lesson from Election Day 2002 for Democrats, it is this: candidates need to advocate ideas that enable voters to draw a clear distinction between Republicans and Democrats. I believe that in a few key races, Democrats failed to provide voters with a clear alternative, especially on the economy, and offered overly cautious and too-carefully modulated messages.
In the coming months, there will be a virtually unstoppable legislative effort to make the tax cuts for the richest one percent of Americans permanent and confirm President Bush’s conservative nominees for judicial positions.
In addition, over the next two years, the White House and a Republican Congress will work together to approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a prescription-drug plan promoted by pharmaceutical companies.
There will also be a renewed effort to approve the CARE Act — also known as the "faith-based" initiative — to make it easier for religious organizations that provide social services to obtain federal grants and contracts. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has been pressing Congress to approve the bill without explicitly prohibiting employment discrimination and preventing religious-service providers from using government funding to convert people seeking food, shelter, and medical assistance.
We must continue to maintain our resolve against Iraq, but avoid precipitating unilateral American action. Pressure from Democrats in the Senate has helped keep on track the Bush administration’s pursuit of a multilateral approach to confrontation with Iraq, rather than the "go it alone" tack initially advocated by the president. The United Nations vote last week was a positive sign, and the Bush administration should continue to work within this framework to ensure multilateral opposition to Iraq.
As I stated on the floor of the Senate last month, acting alone would increase the risk to our forces and to our allies in the region and increase the burden that we must bear to restore stability in the Middle East. The surest way to reduce the dangers and ensure the long-term success of our policy towards Iraq is to lead an international coalition to enforce United Nations resolutions.
Democrats must now begin to define our agenda and the issues we will pursue during the next two years of the 108th Congress.
Democrats should focus on the issues that matter most to working people — their health, their paychecks, their families, their homes, their neighborhoods, and their future. During the next Congress, Democrats should fight to improve access to health care for all Americans, secure tax breaks for lower- and middle-income families, and make greater investments in education. Democrats should also work to craft legislation that will provide an affordable, comprehensive and reliable Medicare prescription-drug benefit for all Medicare beneficiaries, and resist any effort to privatize Social Security. We must also work to prevent common-sense gun-safety legislation, such as the ban on assault weapons and the Brady Bill, from being taken off the books.
The economy and the drastic impact of the Bush tax cut last year — which increased the deficit — were largely ignored in election campaigns. Improving the economy and reversing the recent trends of rising unemployment, slowing productivity, and a sluggish stock market all require a carefully balanced economic plan, and the federal government has a significant role in stimulating investment through targeted programs. Democrats must be forceful in their opposition to eliminating the estate tax and making last year’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent. Such measures, if enacted, will do little to stimulate immediate investment in the economy and will further exacerbate the federal deficit.
Increased consumption and investments by business will result from restructured tax cuts for low- and moderate-income families, who will spend almost every dollar they receive. The responsible approach for Democrats, and the one that will distinguish them from Republicans, is to consider tax cuts for working families balanced against competing priorities, such as providing prescription-drug coverage, saving Social Security, improving education, and providing affordable health care and housing.
If the Democrats do not provide meaningful alternatives to the president and the Republicans in Congress on the tough decisions that must be made, we are not protecting the interests of the nation.
US Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island was just re-elected to serve a second term