Education not incarceration

Most of President Bush’s State of the Union address was devoted to declaring himself ruler of the entire world, without having won any election, but he did take some time out to talk about the economy. Bush’s speech contained themes that will continue as major issues in the coming months.

What Bush said: “American workers want more than unemployment checks – they want a steady paycheck ... My economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs.”

What he means: I’m going to use this “steady paycheck” slogan as an excuse to stiff the unemployed. My economic security plan can be summed up in one phrase: tax cuts for the rich and the corporations.

What Bush said: “Americans who have lost their jobs need our help and I support extending unemployment benefits.”

What he means: I’m willing to accept a short (13-week) extension that covers only some of the workers exhausting their benefits.

What’s left out: Coverage for the two-thirds of all unemployed who don’t qualify for benefits and increasing the pitifully inadequate compensation levels.

The alternative: The labor movement is supporting the Durbin amendment, which would grant additional weeks to those who have exhausted their benefits, make more workers eligible to receive benefits and increase benefit amounts. While the Republicans succeeded in blocking the amendment on Jan. 29, the fight is continuing.

What Bush said: He supports “direct assistance for health care coverage” for unemployed workers in the form of income tax credits to pay for private health insurance.

Who benefits: Corporate executives and some high-income workers.

Who’s left out: Most laid-off workers, who would have to come up with $600 a month in cash to maintain their coverage, and all those with no health coverage in the first place. Also, it will not help the states, faced with soaring Medicaid bills.

The alternative: The Daschle Bill now in the Senate calls for $5 billion in additional Medicaid spending for the states. The House Progressive Caucus called for $17.5 billion to cover health premiums and Medicaid for all laid-off workers. It’s time to revive the call for a single, national health care program for all.

What Bush said: “Good jobs depend on sound tax policy. Last year ... when the checks arrived in the mail, most Americans thought tax relief was just about right. For the sake of long-term growth and to help Americans plan for the future, let’s make these tax cuts permanent.”

What he meant: Some working people got a one-time check from last year’s tax package. I want to make sure my rich friends get a much bigger check every year from now on.

The alternative: Some Democrats want to freeze tax cuts for the rich until all the urgent needs of the people are met. Let’s start there – then roll back all the loopholes and tax breaks that millionaires have bought over the past 30 years.

What Bush said: “The way to create jobs is to grow the economy by encouraging investment in factories and equipment, and by speeding up tax relief so people have more money to spend. For the sake of American workers, let’s pass a stimulus package.”

What he meant: Despite all the loopholes, big corporations like Enron actually have to pay taxes sometimes. Let’s refund billions of dollars to the biggest corporations as reparations for the taxes we made them pay in the past and let’s open up new loopholes for the future.

The alternative: A real stimulus package would spend at least $200 to $300 billion for: 1) The immediate needs of low- and moderate-income families and unemployed. 2) Revenue sharing so states can expand, instead of cutting back, education, child care, housing, transportation and other programs. 3) Significant investment in infrastructure (and jobs) for transportation, environmental needs, housing, health care, etc. Such a program is in line with proposals of the AFL-CIO and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Corporate tax loopholes should be closed to help pay for this program.

What Bush said: “Good jobs begin with good schools.”

What he didn’t say: Even if the education reform bill provided adequate funds, and even if a good education guaranteed a good job, better education now would only affect the job picture five, 10 or 15 years down the road.

The alternative: Federal funding for jobs now, and emergency grants to the states to prevent education cutbacks. Good union jobs for parents form a vital part of improving education.