The middle class is once again the political pawn being positioned on the congressional chessboard, this time by the Change America Now (CAN) campaign. A national effort spearheaded by the groups Americans United, USAction and Campaign for America's Future, CAN is working with dozens of groups in 31 states to get Congress to pass legislation to benefit the middle class.
Participating in the effort are the AFL-CIO, Alliance for Retired Americans, Americans United, League of United Latin American Citizens, MoveOn.org, National Council of Churches, National Education Association, National Organization for Women, Sierra Club and United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Why?
"We repeat the past at our peril," says David Little, spokesman for CAN and Ohio United. "We are most certainly looking to the future. All boats should rise with the tide, not just the yachts. Under President Bush and conservative rule in Washington, a reverse Robin Hood effect has dramatically shifted the distribution of wealth and power in America from the poor and the middle class to the wealthiest of Americans and corporate America."
CAN's goal, billed as the "100 Hour Agenda," is to vote on legislation within the first 100 hours of the new Congress that would:
· increase the minimum wage,
· repeal tax breaks for Big Oil,
· invest in alternative energy,
· eliminate the prohibition on Medicare's negotiating with drug companies for lower prices and
· cut in half the interest rates on student loans.
'A great hope'
"It actually harkens back to Roosevelt," Little says. "I believe it was the 100-day agenda that helped bring America out of the Depression. Given that the Democrats control the House of Representatives by a rather sizable margin, we believe we can pass this legislation."
But CAN wants Republicans in Congress to cooperate.
"The goal of Change America Now is most certainly to bring forth this legislation in a bi-partisan manner, and that's why we are appealing to representatives from this region -- Chabot, Schmidt, Boehner, Davis. Solid, moderate, common-sense measures," Little says.
U.S. representatives Steve Chabot (R-Westwood), John Boehner (R-West Chester), Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Geoff David (R-Northern Kentucky) didn't return calls seeking comment on CAN's proposals.
"I think we're shifting from an administration carting to the very wealthy to an administration and leadership of taking as many people with us as we can take," says Bill Bridges, a local grassroots activist. "This is about parity and balance, that's all it is. All this legislation has been on the floor for a long time."
Far from being too ambitious, Bridges says the 100 Hours Agenda is just the first step that needs to happen as soon as possible.
"Like the civil right movement, we take one step at a time," he says.
Some of those steps include some important initiatives that could dramatically affect the future of this country, according to Little.
"I would venture to say that whoever controls the next post-fossil fuel energy system is going to be in a dominant economic position," he says. "The United States, with our technology, should be the leader in looking for new, clean, environmental friendly solutions as opposed to continuing to prop up a fossil fuel industry that is not only detrimental to human health and existence, but the environment, too. Most scientists would say it's a finite resource and we need to find replacements, and they should be clean replacements."
CAN wants to repeal tax credits to oil companies so the money can be used for developing energy alternatives.
"There is a great hope that within this country that we will be able to see some of this reinvestment in new technologies and alternative fuels systems that could create real jobs that actually make something and return that kind of manufacturing to the state of Ohio," Little says.
The meaning of the majority
Keeping the focus close to concrete, daily issues, Little focuses on the pain of rising bills individuals pay: high gas prices, high heating costs and Medicaid prescriptions.
"We simply think that policies such as an actual prohibition that keeps Medicaid from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices for Americans is absolutely wrong-headed," he says. "Everyone believes that when you're able to unite your resources and your buying power you can get a better price. There's no reason that Americans shouldn't be able to get a better price for their drugs, particularly for senior citizens and retirees, than we've been getting under a very pharmaceutical friendly-administration and, frankly, a pharmaceutical-friendly Congress.
"Go back and look. It is the pharmaceutical industry that designed the new Medicaid Part D program. As a result, hundreds of thousands of seniors have been left wanting and paying increased prices and can't even ask their government to compete, as the Veteran's Department does."
Little moves on to environmental law.
"Environmental laws, whether it's mine safety or product safety or food inspection, the current administration has given corporate interests a free ride," he says. "As a result, we have seen mass outbreaks of contamination in our food products, we've seen increased deaths in the work place, all because inspectors at all levels have been hired either from industry or are simply cut back and giving a wink and a nod. We would suggest with the new Congress, those winks and nods are over.
"We believe that businesses do need to be held accountable. They need to be held accountable to their employees, to their investors and most certainly in their care of the environment."
The CAN Web site (www.cancampaign.org) contains more detailed information about each issue. The next step in the campaign is to lobby "at least" 90 representatives to garner support for this body of legislation, according to Little.
"This is an effort to show that progressive thought, progressive political leadership -- to show the nation and to show every congressional district exactly what the new Democratic majority could mean to their lives," he says. ©