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NETWORK's Response to President Obama's State of the Union Address

As we listened to President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 25, we were impressed by a real effort around the chamber to promote more civility throughout the evening. Even more important, of course, was the president’s overall message about vital challenges faced by our nation and how we can address them. This response pays particular attention to statements he made that are directly related to NETWORK’s 2011-2012 issue agenda. We were encouraged by much of what he had to say, but we also found some gaps.

ECONOMIC JUSTICE

We continue to believe that addressing the historic rise in poverty in the U.S. should be a government priority so we regret that the president did not directly address this crisis.

Improvement in the economy and employment are far too slow, and legislators, validly concerned about the deficit and growing national debt, are planning spending cuts and future caps. We take some solace from the fact that the president stated that these cuts should not happen “on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.” We will closely monitor the federal budget process and advocate for adequate support for programs that help lift people out of poverty and that help all people live lives of dignity.

We believe that continued spending on tax breaks for the richest Americans cannot be justified when so many are suffering, and we agree with the president’s statement that “if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.”

We support job-creation and training programs that meet the need for “green” development and that benefit not just the highly skilled, but all workers. President Obama’s emphasis on building a future that uses renewable, clean energy is exactly right.

And we also continue to advocate for fair trade. It was heartening that the president did not offer a specific timeline for advancing the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement. This is an example of the failed NAFTA/CAFTA model that undermines the livelihoods of impoverished people in our trading partner countries. We hope that he will recognize the serious flaws in this agreement and commit his administration to crafting a new model for trade that upholds human dignity and aids our development goals, rather than hinders them.

PEACEMAKING

We continue to believe that unnecessary and unwanted military programs should be cut, and were encouraged by the president’s reassurance that the “Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.” This is a good beginning.

The president reiterated his earlier commitment to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan this July. In recent months, however, U.S. leaders have given the impression that the initial withdrawal may be slight, and that American forces could remain in the country for several more years. We urge the president to follow through with an accelerated withdrawal of troops beginning in July of this year, accompanied by effective humanitarian and development aid for Afghanistan.

HEALTHCARE ACCESS            

We continue to strongly support last year’s healthcare reform vote and applauded the president when he said, “What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition.  I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business owner from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees.  As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their parents’ coverage. So instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.”

IMMIGRATION REFORM

We were heartened by the president’s early mention of immigration reform. While he did not use the term “DREAM Act,” he made it clear that he favored helping immigrant children become educated, productive citizens. NETWORK’s goals for comprehensive immigration reform are broader, but a congressional vote for DREAM would be a good first step.

It is also clear that continued rhetoric implying that border enforcement will solve our problems is misguided, at best. We believe that his statement that we need to take action to “address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows” is helpful and look forward to working with Congress and the administration to make that happen in a humane and just way.

ECOLOGICAL JUSTICE

We support environmentally-conscious transportation (shifting from oil-based to “green” alternatives), construction, and infrastructure development, and we were pleased by the president’s many references to those needs.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

President Obama used the phrase “Win the Future” to help define his agenda. Today’s children are our future, and we must continue to work for a nation in which all of them can not just survive, but thrive. Stronger social safety nets, employment programs, and tax policies that serve the common good are just a few ways that will help build a country in which they can grow up with the tools necessary to become productive adults who will only make our nation stronger.

NETWORK stands ready to work with Congress and the president for policies and laws rooted in the common good so all can thrive today and into the future. The time to begin is now.