Lee calls for new national priorities

CHICAGO – Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the only representative to vote against Pres. Bush’s unlimited war authorization, spoke at the United Church of Hyde Park, June 23. Lee is the author of a bill that would rescind the legislation giving Pres. Bush unlimited powers of war.

Remarking on the need to strike down the USA Patriot Act and its sequel, The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, in order to defend our civil rights, she said “We can either defend our rights or succumb to the attack.” She declared that the movement to reshape America’s national priorities has only just begun.

According to Lee a change in national priorities is not only necessary domestically but “diplomacy must become a priority in our national foreign policy ... regime change will not generate security.” Lee connected the failed preemptive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the same Bush administration unilateralism that walked away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile and Kyoto treaties.

“It’s a matter of priorities,” she said, whether to fight for “social, political and economic justice. There is an urgent need to address issues like the tremendous public health crisis, affordable housing, and joblessness.” The 2004 elections represent not only an opportunity to regain the House, Senate, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, she said, but a chance to change the country’s direction.

Lee advocates a comprehensive universal health care system in the long run but has co-sponsored bills to legislate a single-payer system in the meantime. “Health care is not a business,” she said. Ultimately, insurance companies should have no place. Regarding Medicare reform, she favors expanding Medicare itself to include prescription drug coverage rather than the stopgap method of using insurance companies as middlemen.

Rep. Lee believes that the comprehensive assistance promised to Africa to deal with the health epidemics of AIDS and tuberculosis is being pigeonholed by the current administration, despite the highly touted State of the Union promise.

Lee’s harshest criticism of the Bush administration’s priorities centered on education. She said “the Leave No Child Behind [legislation] is a shame,” adding that, “they [the Republicans] are cutting funding to Headstart and diverting programmatic funding to give 4-year-olds literacy tests, cutting loans for college students, and trying to privatize public education.”

Lee, the daughter of a career military officer said, “The people of our country deserve a budget that reflects our real national priorities,” not just a $400 billion per year arsenal.

Responding to a question on why she was the only one to vote against an eternal state of war, she said: “How could I vote for a bill that in perpetuity would concede our right to declare war? There was no way I could have voted for that, I couldn’t have slept at night. I believe that we are elected not just to do the easy stuff, but to really deal with the issues.”

She emphasized that more and more legislators are voicing dissent.

The forum was sponsored by the Committee for New Priorities, Hyde Parkers Against the War on Iraq and Chicagoans against War and Injustice.

The author can be reached at bkishner@pww.org