Empowering Families for a New Era
By James F. Henry
Bull Moose Magazine Publisher
Welcome to a series of hubs designed to educate voters on the true positions of the Democratic Party in general, and Sen. Barack Obama in particular. In this series, we will be focusing on 10 issues or themes that were contained in the Democratic Party Platform, approved during the party's recent convention in Denver. As the title of this hub suggests, the issue we will be examining in this hub involves Empowering Familes for a New Era. Under that heading, the party includes several other important categories, including:
Affordable, Quality Health Care Coverage for All Americans
Retirement and Social Security
Good Jobs with Good Pay
Work and Family
Opportunity for Women
As you scroll down this page, you will find descriptions of the party's positions on these subcategories of the overall issue. At the end, you are invited to post your thoughts about these issues, and in particular we would like to know what you feel is the most important issue facing us today, as Americans.
Affordable, Quality Health Care Coverage for All Americans
One of the chief falacies of the Republican rhetoric, when they try to frame Democrats' plans for health care is that our party is seeking to socialize medicine in the United States. One of the key components of the Democratic plan, however, stands in stark contrast to that description.
"Covering All Americans and Providing Real Choices of Affordable Health Insurance Options. Families and individuals should have the option of keeping the coverage they have or choosing from a wide array of health insurance plans, including many private health insurance options and a public plan. Coverage should be made affordable for all Americans with subsidies provided through tax credits and other means," the platform states.
The platform continues in a similar thread, reading:
"Shared Responsibility. Health care should be a shared responsibility between employers, workers, insurers, providers and government. All Americans should have coverage they can afford; employers should have incentives to provide coverage to their workers; insurers and providers should ensure high quality affordable care; and the government should ensure that health insurance is affordable and provides meaningful coverage. As affordable coverage is made available, individuals should purchase health insurance and take steps to lead healthy lives."
Republicans often attempt to characterize Democrats and liberals in general of trying to avoid responsibility. This statement clearly envisions a partnership, whereby all interested parties share responsibility, but all interested parties potentially reap the benefits of the reformed system. Healthy workers are more productive workers, and they also pay taxes into the system when they are able to work.
One of the criticisms premium-payers make about the managed care industry is that insurance companies want to avoid paying claims for pre-existing conditions. As a person who has suffered from a chronic ear condition since childhood, I have often faced this issue head-on. Insurance companies generate profits when they collect premiums that exceed claims paid. Trust me when I say that the insurance companies will still make a profit even if they are expected to cover pre-existing conditions. The Democratic platform position follows:
"An End to Insurance Discrimination. Health insurance plans should accept all applicants and be prohibited from charging different prices based on pre-existing conditions. They should compete on the cost of providing health care and the quality of that care, not on their ability to avoid or over-charge people who are or may get sick. Premiums collected by insurers should be primarily dedicated to care, not profits."
The platform also takes a position on the issue of portability of insurance. Very often, under the current system, people stay in a position solely because they need the health insurance benefits. Conversely, many people may choose not to accept a position because that position doesn't have as good a benefits package as their current job.
"Portable Insurance. No one should have to worry about losing health coverage if they change or lose their job."
When it comes to public health, public servants in Congress and the U.S. Senate should not have superior health insurance to the people for whom they work. Toward that end, the Democrat position makes the following observation:
"Meaningful Benefits. Families should have health insurance coverage similar to what Members of Congress enjoy. They should not be forced to bear the burden of skyrocketing premiums, unaffordable deductibles or benefit limits that leave them at financial risk when they become sick. We will finally achieve long-overdue mental health and addiction treatment parity."
Other facets of the Democratic Plan include the following topics:
An Emphasis on Prevention and Wellness.
A Modernized System That Lowers Cost and Improves the Quality of Care.
A Strong Health Care Workforce.
Commitment to the Elimination of Disparities in Health Care.
Public Health and Research.
A Strong Partnership with States, Local Governments, Tribes, and Territories.
A Strong Safety-Net.
Empowerment and Support of Older Americans and People with Disabilities.
Reproductive Health Care.
I could write hubs upon hubs on the many aspects of health insurance in America. Indeed, the Democratic Platform dedicated 1,669 words to this over-reaching issue, magnifying the scope of the problem and the scope of the party's commitment to solving the problem.
Retirement and Social Security
As Baby Boomers move inexorably toward retirement, the pressures placed upon Social Security grow ever greater. During the Clinton Administration, steps were taken to ensure the long-term stability of the system, to ensure that all Americans who pay into the system have the opportunity to benefit from it. Toward that end, the Democratic Platform makes the following observations:
We will make it a priority to secure for hardworking families the part of the American Dream that includes a secure and healthy retirement. Individuals, employers, and government must all play a role. We will adopt measures to preserve and protect existing public and private pension plans. In the 21st Century, Americans also need better ways to save for retirement. We will automatically enroll every worker in a workplace pension plan that can be carried from job to job and we will match savings for working families who need the help. We will make sure that CEOs can't dump workers' pensions with one hand while they line their own pockets with the other. At platform hearings, Americans made it clear they feel that's an outrage, and it's time we had leaders who treat it as an outrage. We will ensure all employees who have company pensions receive annual disclosures about their pension fund's investments, including full details about which projects have been invested in, the performance of those investments and appropriate details about probable future investments strategies. We also will reform corporate bankruptcy laws so that workers' retirements are a priority for funding and workers are not left with worthless IOU's after years of service. Finally, we will eliminate all federal income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 per year. Lower- and middle-income seniors already have to worry about high health care and energy costs; they should not have to worry about tax burdens as well. We reject the notion of the presumptive Republican nominee that Social Security is a disgrace; we believe that it is indispensable. We will fulfill our obligation to strengthen Social Security and to make sure that it provides guaranteed benefits Americans can count on, now and in future generations. We will not privatize it.
Good Jobs with Good Pay
I have never been a member of a union, and while I recognize that unions are not beyond reproach, I shudder at the thought of what would happen to average working Americans if there were not labor unions to represent their interests. The Democratic Party, as a champion for common men and women, has a long history of support in the organized labor movement. It should not be a surprise, therefore, that organized labor would factor into the party's position on Good Jobs with Good Pay.
"In the platform hearings, Americans expressed dismay that people who are willing to study and work cannot get a job that pays enough to live on in the current economy. Democrats are committed to an economic policy that produces good jobs with good pay and benefits. That is why we support the right to organize. We know that when unions are allowed to do their job of making sure that workers get their fair share, they pull people out of poverty and create a stronger middle class. We will strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions and fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. We will restore pro-worker voices to the National Labor Relations Board and the National Mediation Board and we support overturning the NLRB's and NMB's many harmful decisions that undermine the collective bargaining rights of millions of workers. We will ensure that federal employees, including public safety officers who put their lives on the line every day, have the right to bargain collectively, and we will fix the broken bargaining process at the Federal Aviation Administration. We will fight to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so that workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods. We will continue to vigorously oppose "Right-to-Work" Laws and "paycheck protection" efforts whenever they are proposed. Suspending labor protections during national emergencies compounds the devastation from the emergency. We opposed suspension of Davis-Bacon following Hurricane Katrina, and we support broad application of Davis-Bacon worker protections to all federal projects. We will stop the abuse of privatization of government jobs. We will end the exploitative practice of employers wrongly misclassifying workers as independent contractors. The Bush Administration Department of Labor has failed in its obligation to stand up and protect American workers. Our Department of Labor will restore and expand overtime rights for millions of Americans, and will actively enforce wage and hour laws. The Bush Administration is the only administration that has never voluntarily issued a significant final standard for workplace safety. Our Occupational Safety and Health Administration will adopt and enforce comprehensive safety standards. Right now, far too many workers - especially those in the construction and mining industries-risk their lives every day just by going to work. In America, if someone is willing to work, he or she should be able to make ends meet and have the opportunity to prosper. To that end, we will raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation, and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit so that workers can support themselves and their families. We will modernize the unemployment insurance program to close gaps and extend benefits to the workers who now fall outside it."
Work and Family
In today's society, most families require both parents to work and bring in income. The days of stay-at-home parents are rapidly becoming the exception rather than the norm. Some are fortunate to be able to telecommute, but many parents are forced to place their job on a higher plateau than their family.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, which was enacted in the early days of the Clinton Administration (when he had a Democratic Congress with which to work), was a good first step. The Democratic Platform envisions more measures to allow working families to remain working, supporting their families.
"Over the last few decades, fundamental changes in the way we work and live have trapped too many American families between an economy that's gone global and a government that's gone AWOL. It's time we stop just talking about family values, and start pursuing policies that truly value families. We will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to reach millions more workers than are currently covered, and we will enable workers to take leave to care for an elderly parent, address domestic violence and sexual assault, or attend a parent-teacher conference. Today 78 percent of the workers who are eligible for leave cannot take it because it's unpaid, so we will work with states and make leave paid. We will also ensure that every American worker is able earn up to seven paid sick days to care for themselves or an ill family member. And we will encourage employers to provide flexible work arrangements—with the federal government leading by example. We will expand the childcare tax credit, provide every child access to quality, affordable early childhood education, and double funding for after-school and summer learning opportunities for children. We will provide assistance to those who need long-term care and to the working men and women of this country who do the heroic job of providing care for their aging relatives. All Americans who are working hard and taking responsibility deserve the chance to do right by their loved ones. That's the America we believe in."
Poverty is an issue that has been with us from the beginning of time, and will always be there to some degree or the other. The question that must be asked, though, is what can we do, as the wealthiest nation on Earth, to help those who are unable to support themselves? Not everyone who is on some form of public assistance is there by choice. This is a sticking point for conservatives from Ebenezer Scrooge to the present day. The Democratic position on this controversial subject follows:
"When Bobby Kennedy saw the shacks and poverty along the Mississippi Delta, he asked, "How can a country like this allow it?" Forty years later, we're still asking that question. The most American answer we can give is: "We won't allow it." One in eight Americans lives in poverty today all across our country, in our cities, in our suburbs, and in our rural communities. Most of these people work but still can't pay the bills. Nearly thirteen million of the poor are children. We can't allow this kind of suffering and hopelessness to exist in our country. It's not who we are. Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college. We will develop innovative transitional job programs that place unemployed people into temporary jobs and train them for permanent ones. To help workers share in our country's productivity, we'll expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. The majority of adults in poverty are women, and to combat poverty we must work for fair pay, support for mothers, and policies that promote responsible fatherhood. We'll start letting our unions do what they do best again-organize and lift up our workers. We'll make sure that every American has affordable health care that stays with them no matter what happens. We will assist American Indian communities, since 10 of the 20 poorest counties in the United States are on Indian lands. We'll bring businesses back to our inner-cities, increase the supply of affordable housing, and establish "promise neighborhoods" that provide comprehensive services in areas of concentrated poverty. These will be based on proven models, such as the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, which seeks to engage all residents with tangible goals such as attendance at parenting schools, retention of meaningful employment, college for every participating student, and strong physical and mental health outcomes for children. The Democratic Party believes that the fight against poverty must be national priority. Eradicating poverty will require the sustained commitment of the President of the United States, and we believe that the White House must offer leadership and resources to advance this agenda."
Opportunity for Women
The party would have been remiss had it not taken a strong position for the rights of women. Although we have made great strides in leveling the playing field, as Sen. Hillary Clinton attested, there is still a glass ceiling that must be shattered so we may live in a nation where all men - and women - are created equal. The following is the party's position regarding the myriad issues affecting women in the workforce.
We, the Democratic Party, are the party that has produced more women Governors, Senators, and Members of Congress than any other. We have produced the first woman Secretary of State, the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, and, in 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman in American history to win presidential primaries in our nation. We believe that our daughters should have the same opportunities as our sons; our party is proud that we have put eighteen million cracks in the highest glass ceiling. We know that when America extends its promise to women, the result is increased opportunity for families, communities, and aspiring people everywhere. When women still earn 76 cents for every dollar that a man earns, it doesn't just hurt women; it hurts families and children. We will pass the "Lilly Ledbetter" Act, which will make it easier to combat pay discrimination; we will pass the Fair Pay Act; and we will modernize the Equal Pay Act. We will invest in women-owned small businesses and remove the capital gains tax on startup small businesses. We will support women in math and science, increasing American competitiveness by retaining the best workers in these fields, regardless of gender. We recognize that women still carry the majority of childrearing responsibilities, so we have created a comprehensive work and family agenda. We recognize that women are the majority of adults who make the minimum wage, and are particularly hard-hit by recession and poverty; we will protect Social Security, increase the minimum wage, and expand programs to combat poverty and improve education so that parents and children can lift themselves out of poverty. We will work to combat violence against women. We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters, and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.
This concludes this first in the series of articles I have planned to educate voters on the priorities of the Democratic Party in the 2008 Presidential Election. The second installment in this series will concern Economic Stewardship.
I invite all to comment on what you have just read. All opinions are welcome, unless they are deemed libelous or if they defame a person's character.
I reiterate my request at the top of this article, and ask you to share with us your perspective on the following question:
What is the most important issue facing the United States of America today?