Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Steamboat Springs On this first anniversary of the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, let's take a look at the past 10 months. Although there are those who say the administration isn't moving fast enough, I submit that there is real progress on many fronts.
First, I'd like to quickly mention several important initiatives that have been overlooked:
- Health care for children: In January, broad bipartisan support helped pass the reauthorization of SCHIP to provide health care for 11 million American children.
- Fair pay for women: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed, guaranteeing American women equal pay for equal work.
- Stem cell research: The lift of the ban on stem cell research restores science to its rightful place and gives hope for treatment of Parkinson's disease, spinal injuries and many other serious medical conditions.
- Vehicle standards: In May, Obama announced new standards that will require all automakers, including foreign competitors, to increase fuel efficiency by 5 percent per year starting in 2012, reaching an average mileage standard of 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks by 2016.
- Expansion of hate crimes law: 10 years after the death of Mathew Shepard, this law finally includes attacks based on sexual orientation.
Now, two topics that still are works-in-progress:
- The economy: Last week brought several encouraging third quarter reports. The Associated Press reported that the economy grew by 3.5 percent, the strongest uptick in two years. Ford Motor Company announced a net income of $873 million (Congratulations, Ford!). Finally, Reuters reported that U.S. manufacturing increased more than any time since April 2006. We have a long way to go, especially in job creation, but these are good steps. Employment can't grow until the GDP increases enough to encourage employers to hire. Once Americans are working again, we'll tackle that deficit.
- Health care reform: We are all frustrated with the "sausage-making mess" but if you look at every plan under consideration, they all include four critical reforms: 1) no more refusals due to pre-existing conditions; 2) no more cancellation of policies due to serious diagnosis; 3) no more caps on coverage and 4) portability of policies. These four on their own will help millions of Americans. Now, if we can just add a public option to bring down premiums, we'll have a good first step in health care reform.
One effort that I applauded last spring now needs some help:
- Credit card accountability: In May, Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act to protect consumers from predatory rate hikes on existing balances. In order to allow credit card companies to reprogram their systems, this act was not scheduled to take effect until February. However, the companies have used this time to increase rates before that deadline. Our own Sen. Mark Udall has introduced a bill to require this act to take effect Dec. 1. This must pass.
Finally, the changes that excite me most are:
- Education: In July, Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the "Race to the Top," providing $4.35 billion for states that dramatically improve schools. Many states already have jumped on board. The four broad criteria are: 1) reverse the current dumbing-down of academic standards; participating states must focus on adopting internationally accepted K-12 standards; 2) improve data-tracking to help identify teachers who inspire students to excel and teachers who need help; 3) boost the quality of teachers and administrators in poverty-stricken schools and 4) institute far-reaching reforms in the lowest-performing schools, including replacing teachers and administrators and changing school culture. Even conservative columnist David Brooks applauds this effort and quotes praise from Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeb Bush. Brooks says, "They are all impressed by how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform."
- Global participation: I am impressed most of all with the change in tone of international conversation this year. Finally, we are working with other nations on climate change, nuclear disarmament and peace. We are collaborating to find solutions to the very difficult and challenging animosities of the world. I know the pundits had fun with Obama's selection for the Nobel Peace Prize (and nobody was more surprised than he), but I think, in the long run, this change of tone may do far more to bring peace than anything we've done in the past.
So I am encouraged as I look back on this first year. Great challenges still lie ahead, but I am hopeful that we can all - including Congress - work together to see genuine and lasting improvement in our economy, health care, corporate responsibility, education and global leadership.
Lynn Abbott is a member of the Routt County Democrats.