America’s most critical priorities – emergency preparedness, economic security, access to affordable health care, quality education, and energy independence – have become an afterthought in the wake of recent years of Republican culture and domestic as well as foreign politics.
Let’s take a 360-degree look at it in two parts (part one tackling economic issues, health care and education while part two will cover civil rights, homeland security and environmental policies of Republicans).
- Budget Deficit: Republicans have run up historic budget deficits, minimum government, and low interest rates. The annual US budget deficit declined from $318 billion in 2005 to $162 billion in 2007, but increased to $455 billion in 2008;
- Overtime Pay: Bush administration changed the rules that decide who is eligible for overtime pay. The changes affected some eight million workers. Millions of working people now face unpredictable work schedules and reduced pay because their employers may not have to pay a premium for demanding that they work more than 40 hours a week. Wages have declined, even as the cost of health care, child care, and other essential expenses has continued to climb;
- Minimum Wage: For the eighth year in a row, Republicans have failed to raise the minimum wage. Minimum wage employees working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earn $10,700 a year, $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. It is practically impossible for minimum wage workers to afford adequate housing in any area of the country;
- Tax Credits For Employers of Reservists: Republican policies render employers reluctant to take military reservists (who can be called for 24 months at a time) on the payroll by having blocked attempts to introduce policies of rewarding businesses that continue to pay salaries to their employees serving oversees.
- Health Care: Health care costs have had unprecedented increases during recent years; premium and prescription drugs chief among those. Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose an average of 6.1% in 2007, less than the 7.7% increase reported last year but still higher than the increase in workers’ wages (3.7%) or the overall inflation rate (2.6%), according to the 2007 Employer Health Benefits Survey;
- Covering the Uninsured: The number of uninsured Americans dipped slightly last year – from 47 million to 45.7 million – but many experts say the number still signals a crisis in America;
- Stem Cell Research: Funding restrictions, imposed by President Bush (who used his veto), are impeding promising research by preventing the use of federal funds on the best available stem cell lines;
- Mental Health Parity: Republicans blocked yet another bill requiring health insurers to cover mental illnesses at the same level as physical ailments. This could have serious financial implications for nearly half of Americans suffer from a mental disorder at some point;
- Immigrant Children’s Health Care: Republicans have failed to enact the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), which would allow states to cover legal immigrant children and pregnant women under Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The current prohibition on covering these people unfairly singles them out for restricted access to public health coverage programs;
- No Child Left Behind Funding: Republicans failed to fund No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education reforms. Even though school districts are facing increasingly rigorous academic standards and new requirements for highly qualified teachers, Bush’s proposed funding for NCLB program in 2007 was $15.4 billion below the authorized level;
- Higher Education Act: Republicans partially reauthorized the Higher Education Act as part of budget reconciliation. While the bill included some additional financial aid for students eligible for Pell Grants, the new aid fails to prioritize the neediest students and imposes new hurdles. Republicans passed up on an enormous opportunity to make college more affordable, instead using saving from greater efficiency in the student loan program to partially offset the budget deficit and other expenses;
- Native American School Construction Funding: Republicans failed to address the $1.3 billion backlog in repairs for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The consequence of this is that native American Indian and Alaskan students continue to attend classes in dilapidated and unsafe schools;
- Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Dream Act: Republicans did not allow the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Dream (DREAM) Act to pass, which would allow states to offer in-state tuition to immigrant students and also allow long-time immigrants who grow up in the United States, graduate from high school, and demonstrate strong moral character, the opportunity to adjust their immigrant status. Although the DREAM Act enjoys broad bipartisan support, Republicans failed to bring the bill to the Senate floor.
To be continued…