Make no mistake about it, this election was won on bread and butter economic issues. While John McCain and Sarah Palin focused on the rhetoric of patriotism, “trickle-down” economics, “staying the course” on Bush’s tax cuts and family values; they also embraced the very economic policies that both undermine the middle class and subvert the security of American family life.
American families voted with their feet and pocket books. They wanted less pious rhetoric, and more policies geared toward a healthy economy, secure jobs, decent health care, affordable housing, quality public education, renewable energy and a sustainable environment. Barack Obama understood that.
What the election results told us is we need a president who understands and believes in coherent, comprehensive and equitable policies that promote sustainable and healthy economic growth. What we need is a leader who in his First Hundred Days in office will deal effectively with the housing crisis and demand legislative oversight and accountability of those financial, insurance and other corporations that have been, or will be, bailed out.
The first thing that President-elect Obama should do is to begin to restore the confidence of the American people by demonstrating that he is willing to provide leadership; that he is willing to take immediate and bold policy initiatives to put the economy back on the right track. Toward this end he should call a meeting as soon as possible with Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House. At this meeting he should propose that they call Congress back into a special session to consider emergency legislation: the National Economic Recovery Act of 2008.
The legislation would include:
• Investment in alternative energy development and new green-collar jobs.
• An extension of unemployment benefits.
• Expansion of the Food Stamp program.
• Re-negotiation of mortgage terms for those about to lose their homes.
• An increase in the Community Economic Development discretionary budget to $250 million a year so that community economic development corporations (CDCs) can create more business and employment opportunities in economically distressed neighborhoods and communities that have been hit hardest by the sub-prime loan crisis.
And most important:
• A major economic stimulus package that would provide $250 billion in direct assistance to states and local governments for infrastructure development. This kind of direct federal spending for community and economic development would be far more productive than rebate checks. It will create jobs and crucial investments where it counts and is needed.
It is the smartest investment we can make as a nation. Just think about some recent events: a bridge in Minneapolis collapsing; the electric grids failing last summer; Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans; commuter traffic logjams; and a sewage system breaking down in Honolulu are but a few examples of our outdated and crumbling infrastructure. In communities across our nation, our schools, mass transit systems, water and sewer plants, hospitals, bridges, levees, railway beds, ports and subways are in disrepair. If we are to participate in an increasingly competitive international economy we must rehabilitate our infrastructure.
It is entirely possible that the Democratic congressional leadership is convinced that it would take more time to put together a coherent and comprehensive package—or that the lame-duck Bush administration would block it. If that is the case President-elect Obama should tell the American people that this legislation would be his first order of business immediately following the inauguration in January. That is the kind of leadership we need.The tasks before us will not be easy but the sooner we begin, the better.
Professor Arthur Blaustein was chairman of the President’s National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity during the Carter administration and was appointed to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities by Bill Clinton. He teaches urban studies, politics and community economic development at the University of California, and his most recent books are Make a Difference: America’s Guide to Volunteering and Community Service and The American Promise. This article was origionally posted on BeyondChron.org.