Once upon a time, the world around us moved at a modest pace. There were no fancy smartphones, laptops, E-ZPass, car navigation systems or ATMs. People bought daily newspapers and magazines to keep up with the universe. But that was then, and this is now. The changes of the past 10 years will be nothing compared with the next 10.
Not only is our daily lifestyle changing; so too is our politics. We’ve lived with good government and bad, but most of us have been too busy to try to change it. We elect people and hope they’ll do the right thing. In some cases it works, and in other cases it’s a dismal failure. But now, like it or not, there are millions of people out there who have no desire to be spectators, and want their government to pay more attention to their needs.
One of our friends recently complained that America seemed to be turning to socialism. There’s no doubt that a few of the newly elected members of Congress lean heavily to the left, but the vast majority of them got elected last fall on a platform of making government work. The voting public is tired of empty promises, and is demanding that politicians start delivering on their pledges.
Let’s start with health care. The dream of every American is to have access to a high-quality, affordable health system. For six years, the national Republican Party used every trick in the book to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. They came dangerously close to making that vendetta a reality, but thanks to the late Sen. John McCain, they failed. The Republicans promised to protect pre-existing conditions, but they failed to pass one bill that would have given Americans the assurance of adequate coverage. It took a historic 2018 election to teach them that health care, like Social Security, is the third rail of American politics, and if you mess with it, you’ll soon be out of office.
The next new movement deals with our tax laws. The tax bill that President Trump signed into law in 2017 was promoted as a middle class tax cut, but that turned out to be a lie. There’s no doubt that the mega-donors to the Republican Party have benefited greatly from the changes, but the average citizen is stuck with the bill. The elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes is hurting millions of New Yorkers, and many other taxpayers around the country are paying more taxes instead of getting refunds.
Sometime in the next few months, legislation will be introduced in the House of Representatives to deal with these injustices, but there is no assurance that the Republican-controlled Senate will address them. As the old expression goes, “You can run but you can’t hide,” and the few members of Congress who are left who voted for the tax law will feel the sting of disapproval. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fails to pass some form of middle income tax reform, his members will hear about it in 2020.
The newly aroused voters are also eager for Congress to provide relief from high drug prices. Last June, the president held a major news conference at which he pledged serious cuts in consumer costs. That pledge was empty, and drug prices continue to skyrocket. The new crop of congressional representatives should be pushing for deep discounts in Medicare prescriptions and give our senior citizens a break.
Finally, there’s no question that a newly energized public wants global warming to be front and center in Washington. The Green New Deal resolution isn’t a proposed law. It’s a policy statement. If it passed both houses of Congress tomorrow, it would just be a feel-good moment. The country needs stricter controls over air and water pollution and punishment for the polluters, and not a bunch of regulators who are former industry lobbyists.
Is there any danger that America will become a socialist country? No, not at all. But there is a growing progressive movement across the nation that wants results, and any elected officials who ignore this new wave do so at their peril.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.