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Strengthening economy tops polls

Strengthening the economy is still the most important priority Americans want to see addressed by Congress and the President, but urgency about our fiscal deficit has declined somewhat, according to the poll results on national priorities reported by the Pew Research Center.  Results on a wide range of polling questions related to the State of the Union speech by the President were recently summarized on their website at

People have a To Do list they want their public servants to work on. The six policy priorities were, in descending order, strengthening the economy, improving the job situation, defending the country from terrorism, improving the educational system, making the Social Security system sound, and reducing the budget deficit.

Results ranged from 80 percent for strengthening the economy to 63 percent for reducing the deficit, down from 72 percent for last year. 

Dealing with the economy isn’t a one-item task, as can be seen in the overlap of subjects people wanted President Obama to cover in the SOTU speech.  (Love that abbreviation.)   In descending order, these were the economy, health care reform, income inequality, minimum wage, energy, immigration, the deficit, climate change and guns.

My own list would include eliminating subsidies that have outgrown their usefulness.  For instance, an oil company can eliminate its tax burden completely, while making record profits, by using the oil depletion allowance.  Both President Reagan and President Obama called for its repeal, and the President touched on it briefly in his speech.  A Center for American Progress study estimates that repeal would save the government $11.2 billion over 10 years.

Extending unemployment compensation for a year for the long-term unemployed is supported by 63 percent of Americans.  Some in Congress insist the cost of extension must be offset by cuts in other benefit programs.  Shouldn’t all benefit programs be on the table?    Couldn’t corporations feel patriotic for doing their bit in hard times?   After all, they are people now.

It is always time for reasonable conversations searching for common ground and fruitful solutions on all levels of society and government.

It is expected that a country as large and diverse as the United States would have a wide variety of opinions about what to do about almost anything.  However, public support across the political span is 65 percent or more for raising the minimum wage to $10.10,  finding some form of legal status for illegal immigrants now in the country, and reducing poverty, which is linked with income inequality.  It seems reasonable to expect Congress to work on these.

As our economy and inequalities worsen, I see similarities with the last years of the 19th century, often called The Gilded Age.  As I have read The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, those similarities seem sharper.

The gap between the rich and the poor was acute.  Immigration was heavy.  The rich spent lavishly and indulgently with no awareness of the desperate situation of the poor, who lived six to a room in tenements a few blocks from their mansions.  Low paid employees feared asking for a raise.  Joining a union was a sure way to lose a job.  Legislators were owned by special interests.  The robber barons created their world of big business: big oil, big mining, big railroads, big banking.  A strange version of Darwin’s theory of evolution was applied to human society and called Social Darwinism.  Some businessmen proudly identified with it.  They had survived in business because they were the fittest.

Early legislative attempts to rein in excesses and to improve the plight of laborers were struck down in court as violations of the business owners’ property rights.

Too much of this echoes today.

Let’s hope Pete Seeger was right.   “The human race is going to realize it’s going to have to start treating each other decently.”

Nancy Minard - contributing editor

Copyright © February 2014 - The Fig Tree