The next few months will be a pivotal period in the history of the United States and for much of the world. The Bush administration, perhaps the most reactionary and incompetent that our country has ever seen, is leaving office after eight disastrous years. President Barack Obama and an increased Democratic majority take power amidst the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The decisions that are made early on will send an important signal as to whether Obama's campaign of "hope" and "change" will be seriously pursued and realized, or whether the power of the Big Money interests will persist - regardless of which president is in office or which party has the majority. Will a new president and a new and more Democratic Congress finally respond to the needs of the middle class and working families of our country, or will Wall Street, insurance and drug companies, the military-industrial-complex, the oil and coal companies, big media and the other powerful special interests continue to hold sway?
Here are just a few of the issues that President Obama, the Congress and all Americans must confront:
The middle class is continuing its steep decline with unemployment soaring, and millions of people in danger of losing their homes, savings and health insurance. The dream of a college education is fading away for many working families as college costs go up while incomes go down. This year, as a result of the economic downturn, the bailout of Wall Street, ongoing tax breaks for the very rich and the war in Iraq, our nation will have a record-breaking deficit and a huge $10.4 trillion dollar national debt. The United States continues to have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country, and the most unequal distribution of wealth and income.
As a result of Wall Street greed, recklessness and dishonesty, our entire financial system is in danger of collapsing. The taxpayers of this country have seen trillions of their dollars placed at risk in the largest bailout in world history.
Our incredibly inefficient health care system is disintegrating. Despite spending far more per capita than any other country, 47 million Americans have no health insurance. Even more are underinsured. And we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
We are currently involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which cost us not only the lives and well-being of our soldiers, but over $10 billion a month. These wars are also stretching the Army and our National Guard to the breaking point. Meanwhile, spending for defense has skyrocketed and we now spend $540 billion a year for the Pentagon above and beyond the two wars we're fighting.
Despite the incredible dangers inherent in global warming we have not yet broken our dependency on fossil fuel and foreign oil, and have made only slight advances in moving toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
Those are just some of our problems. There are solutions. Where do we go from here? How do we finally ensure the American government begins representing the needs of ordinary Americans, and not just the greedy, the wealthy and the powerful?
As Vermont's senator, here are some of the initiatives that I will be fighting for as soon as the new Congress reconvenes in January:
• A major economic recovery program which invests at least $400 billion in each of the next two years to create millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our infrastructure and moving us toward energy independence, sustainable energy and energy efficiency. In Vermont and throughout the country our roads and bridges are crumbling, our water systems and wastewater plants need major repair and older schools need to be modernized. Millions of homes and buildings are wasting huge amounts of energy and need to be properly weatherized, and we must be aggressive in improving and expanding public transportation. Throughout America, there are thousands of communities which still lack cell phone service and adequate broadband services necessary for 21st century business and education.
• An investigation as to how the greed and recklessness of Wall Street financiers caused the greatest financial collapse since the 1920's. Those who are responsible for this debacle must be held accountable, and not be allowed to walk away with huge fortunes while the middle class bails them out. Most importantly, we must build a new financial system which discourages short-term and reckless profiteering and reestablishes proper governmental safeguards and regulations.
• Legislation to provide health care to every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship. In addition, we need to greatly expand our primary health care capabilities by educating and sending more doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals into rural areas, inner cities and other medically underserved parts of our country.
• An orderly process to bring our troops home from Iraq as soon as possible. We also need a national conversation about the best way to proceed in Afghanistan.
Campaign finance reform legislation which will finally end the power of Big Money over the political process.
Vermonters often ask me whether I am pessimistic about the future of our country. My honest answer is that I am not. Difficult times often bring out the best in people. Now, in this moment of great national crisis, a new president is assuming office who is not only extremely intelligent but has, I believe, a deep historical understanding which will help him see where we need to go in the future. I am confident that with new national leadership and renewed grass-roots activism we can effectively change the direction of our country and create the kind of nation that all of us know America can be.