The President-elect is reportedly positioning the economic recovery in opposition to the "entitlement" programs, Social Security and Medicare.
As Michael D. Shear reported in the January 16, 2009 Washington Post,
President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare "bargain" with the American people, saying that the nation's long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.What the President-elect means by getting control over these programs remains to be seen. However, just the fact that this discussion is being advanced must raise very serious concerns for anyone interested in the well being of our elderly, poor, and disabled family and friends in this country.
The article reported the President-elect as saying
"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further. We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."At the same time, the President-elect is signaling a move away from support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
The president-elect also gave his support for legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, but he said there may be other ways to achieve the same goal without angering businesses. And while many Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to see a quick vote on that bill, he indicated no desire to rush into the contentious issue.
"If we're losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize, so my focus first is on those key economic priority items I just mentioned," he said. "Let's see what the legislative docket looks like."The President-elect reportedly
framed the economic recovery efforts more broadly, saying it is impossible to separate the country's financial ills from the long-term need to rein in health-care costs, stabilize Social Security and prevent the Medicare program from bankrupting the government.The president-elect said
"Social Security, we can solve. The big problem is Medicare, which is unsustainable. . . . We can't solve Medicare in isolation from the broader problems of the health-care system."These statements raise more questions than they answer. It is too early to know what direction the President-elect intends to take these efforts to address fundamental problems in important programs that help everyone in the United States. The important thing for working families and our allies and organizations, and many are already doing this, is to continue to exert pressure to protect and expand these programs and to participate in providing counsel and support to the President-elect in any efforts he makes that move in that direction.
The President-elects outlook is
"The theory behind it is I set the tone," Obama said. "If the tone I set is that we bring as much intellectual firepower to a problem, that people act respectfully towards each other, that disagreements are fully aired, and that we make decisions based on facts and evidence as opposed to ideology, that people will adapt to that culture and we'll be able to move together effectively as a team."This non-partisan, anti-ideological, managerial approach implies that one can in fact come to an understanding of data without applying an interpretive structure. Ideology or philosophy define the priorities and the goals of a decision making process. It causes concern to some that the President-elect sees himself in this anti-ideological context because to address the issues of the day demands a clear set of goals and a clearly defined context in which to make the decisions required to achieve those goals. Many of these questions create situations where win-win doesn't work because of the contradictions in the social structure. Where will the money for Medicare come from if it to be protected and expanded? From the beleagured backs of working families or from the overflowing coffers of the rich. If neither is an option, do we jettison the program? Does it get morphed into something very different? Just as with President Clinton's "welfare reform" initiative, can Social Security and Medicare be protected and expanded or will they be gutted or transmogrified in the name of fiscal responsibility?
There are fundamentally opposing interests at play in our society and our economy. These large questions about the "entitlement" programs and unionization could be viewed more fundamentally as discussions about the priorities for this nation. Do we want to continue the increasing accumulation of wealth in the hands of 1% of the nation's people while the other 99% see a continuing real loss in spending power? Do we see providing health care to the people of the nation as enough of a priority to challenge the insurance companies which, like vampires, feed off the financial blood of the healthy and leave the sick to rot untreated. Each solution to a problem involves winners and losers when an economy gets to the point we're in today, where there is little room left for padding.
The President-elect is a man of compassion and intelligence. In just a few days he will be the acting President of the United States. Let's look forward with positive anticipation to a humane and supportive administration crafting programs that benefit working families. We are all invited to participate through the Change.gov web site, participating in the policy discussion, and by participating in the Renew America Together days of service. However, keeping in mind the President-elect's background as a community organizer, we can also all participate by working in our neighborhoods and work places to build and expand a people's movement to help the new administration win the fights they must take on, and to provide pressure to ensure that working families needs are the priority for the next challenging period in our nation's history.