Yesterday, 100 of my fellow Wisconsin First Congressional District constituents in Janesville shared their questions and concerns on the direction of our country, our state and Paul Ryan’s policies. On February 26, over 400 constituents attended the Open Chair Town Hall in Kenosha and shared similar thoughts. Listening to each of these stories it is very clear that the people of Southeastern Wisconsin want change and their government to refocus its attention. With eloquence, one after another, each speaker provided insight into their lives, their fears, their hopes, their dreams and their desire to have a government that had their best interests in mind with everything it did.
At the core of these stories, we’re Americans simply wanting opportunity and the desire to carve out a life of our own making. We want the freedom to make our own choices without intrusion from others. America has inspired millions and millions of people to think differently, achieve new heights and dare to dream. Even when times are tough — Americans continue to be inspired to work hard, weather the storm and come together for the greater good. We have a fundamental belief that all people should be able to participate in the American dream. A dream inspired by our founders, our constitution, our values and the hard work and sacrifice of Americans across generations.
To that end…after listening to my fellow constituents it became clear to me that we share in our beliefs of the role of government, our elected officials and the direction we advocate for a better America. We want an America that makes us proud and delivers on the vision and promise of our nation’s founders. Here’s the America that I believe we need for a better today and a prosperous future:
Taxes and Government Spending
As Ben Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Running a country and a government costs money, so taxes are a must. All Americans would prefer to pay lower taxes, but many understand that we all need to pitch in our fair share. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask those Americans who benefit the most from our country — its resources, infrastructure and people — to pay a little more than everyone else, so those Americans that need help are never without. We do not live just in a competitive America, but also in a compassionate America. Our strength is demonstrated in our ability to give and help those in need when they need it most. Wealthiest Americans already have historically low tax rates (top tax rate was 91% in 1950’s and 1960’s, today it’s 39.6%), so the additional tax cuts Paul Ryan is promising to deliver goes against this fundamental belief and requires those who have less to carry a heavier burden than those who have the most.
Our government must be focused on providing a solid return on investment for our tax dollars and provide benefits needed by all people regardless of their means. In doing so, spending without restraint, without thoughtfulness and without integrity are equally destructive. Government needs to work towards optimizing programs, so they’re able to provide for all Americans in need and ensure that they can be sustained with taxes at reasonable levels. Cutting or raising taxes without strategic intent to help or support the majority of Americans is irresponsible and destructive. The issue isn’t big or small government, but the ability to deliver innovative policies that serve the most people. This is what determines government’s effectiveness and efficiency — not its size.
Jobs and Wages
People want to be able to find a good paying job or start a business, work hard and build a better life for themselves and their family. They want opportunity for advancement and the ability to climb the economic ladder. Americans aren’t scared of hard work, but they want their hard work to be rewarded based on what they do and not on who they are — so equal pay for equal hard work. They want their government to maintain a level playing field, so they remain competitive — either as workers, business owners or both — in the marketplace and have a chance at achieving success.
Wage growth has been relatively flat since the 1980’s with the exception of the very top wage earners. Our economy has dramatically changed from manufacturing to service — leaving much of our population struggling to find a fit for their skills and opportunity to increase their wages. Instead of focusing on how we can leverage this underutilized work force to drive economic growth, Paul Ryan has focused on policies designed to continue to benefit the very top wage earners and wealthiest Americans. In 2015, the average CEO pay was reported to be 204 times more than the average worker and overall rural employment remains lower than prior to the Great Recession. Our government needs to help us solve the problem of job erosion within certain populations and parts of our country, and help provide a path to wage growth for all Americans. Access to good paying jobs with opportunity for advancement is critical for all of us to contribute, inspire and achieve the American dream.
Instead of building border walls, our government should be focused on enhancing our infrastructure to allow all Americans a path to opportunity and prosperity. We live in a connected world, so delivering broadband internet service to all areas — rural and urban — should be a high priority to allow everyone the ability to participate in our new economy. In the information economy, anyone can provide value from anywhere, so we need our government encouraging innovative work arrangements that allow businesses to tap into underutilized workers across our nation to build and develop new and old industries. It’s time to support American workers and drive policies that help all Americans grow their wages.
Health Care and Health Insurance
Good health is a fundamental requirement for all of us to be able to enjoy our rights and freedoms as Americans. Protecting our health is vital to ensuring our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Paul Ryan’s recently announced American Health Care Act is focused on lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates will cause 14 million Americans to lose health insurance in 2018 and 24 million fewer Americans with health insurance over the next decade. I believe that all Americans share a belief that our lives are sacred and providing quality and life-saving healthcare should be available and affordable for all of us. Our goal should be to find a path for everyone to have affordable health insurance. Not having all Americans covered with high-quality and affordable health insurance and access to high-quality health care is unacceptable.
Government policies that put profits over people is in conflict with our shared beliefs. Asking people to shop for health care services when they or their loved ones need care is irresponsible and inefficient. Instead, we need to put people first and provide a means for all Americans to get the health care, prescription drugs and health insurance they need to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Americans today feel they will be penalized for using health care and oftentimes do not seek or get the health care they need, which leads to worse outcomes and higher costs. Simplifying how health care is delivered is the only way towards improving the financial model. A single-payer system gets us moving in the right direction for how we deliver health care to all Americans and puts us on the path towards a healthier America.
Americans firmly believe that after years of hard work and sacrifice — we should be able to live out our golden years with dignity and some level of financial security. The social security system is one of the greatest achievements in our nation’s history and has provided millions of Americans with the ability to retire in older age. That system has now come under attack by Paul Ryan and his desire to lower taxes and subsequent social security benefits. With flat wage growth and the Great Recession, many Americans do not have the extra income required to save properly for retirement. In addition, Paul Ryan has backed policies that have eroded and eliminated worker pensions leaving many Americans without the financial resources to be able to retire. Americans need social security more than ever and instead of strengthening the program — Paul Ryan wants to weaken it.
There’s no denying that the system will be stressed as the large Baby Boomer generation is retiring, but that doesn’t mean the entire system needs to be scrapped. Instead, we need to make a simple change to strengthen the program and allow it to provide for many generations in the future. The wage base limit should be removed and allow for social security taxes on all income, but wages over the current limit would be taxed at a much lower tax rate. This would raise revenues and strengthen the program, but not shift all the burden to middle class families. As today, the tax rate and wage amounts would be adjusted based on current economic conditions and program needs, but social security would continue to be a fundamental program that all Americans can count on in retirement.
Americans believe that a quality education serves to unlock unlimited ability. Our public education system is a fundamental part of providing all Americans with opportunity for a better future. We need to strengthen our public education system across our nation, so more Americans get started younger and learn the necessary building blocks for successful life-long learning. Also our young adults can no longer leave college with life altering debt and then be expected to learn new skills to remain competitive in a fast-changing economy before they’re able to pay off their initial education. We also can’t expect older working Americans to have to fund a high-priced education to get a new good-paying job when their current one is being outsourced to automation.
Education will continue to be fundamental to growing our economy and improving our quality of life, but the faster change occurs — we will need to be more innovative and open to delivering education through new models. We need to look past our existing educational system and experiment. Our existing network of publicly-funded schools, community colleges, state colleges and universities has the right ingredients to design and build a quality and affordable educational system of the future. The key will be to support this change and provide educators the resources to redesign and re-imagine education — all while keeping it public and available to all Americans.
Regulations are necessary when businesses and people do not act in good faith for each other, the public good and those they serve. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need regulations, but unfortunately history has shown that when industries were deregulated and regulations were taken off the books — the market was unable to regulate itself. The government then needed to enact new regulations to protect the people.
Paul Ryan has already begun to remove regulations and supports eliminating many more. These regulations serve to protect us and were enacted due to a need — not to regulate for the sake of regulation. I believe we need to make sure regulations are implemented to protect us. Environmental regulations serve to protect and preserve our environment for future generations, combat climate change and ensure that all Americans have access to clean drinking water and healthy food. Financial regulations serve to protect Americans from harmful Wall St. practices and the types of conduct that led to the Great Recession. We do need to do our best to ensure that any regulation implemented does not create an undue burden and cause inefficiency and waste, but simply removing regulations at the request of special interests is irresponsible and not good for America.
Americans desire our communities to be strong and supportive. We believe that no one should ever feel their country has turned its back on them. Our government and its institutions serve all of us — not just some of us. Diversity is a gift and should be welcomed. All people should be celebrated and have opportunity to fulfill on America’s promise regardless of race, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, culture, national origin and ancestry. Our differences present a tremendous opportunity to enrich each other’s lives. As a nation, we need to strive to make all of us to feel included and no one should be denied the opportunity to reach their potential.
America isn’t without its challenges and its path hasn’t always been fair, righteous and free of wrong-doing, but we need to continue to strive to build a better America and one that is free of hate, fear and discrimination. Our government and our elected officials should be leaders in championing a diverse America instead of fanning the flames of hate. We need to be more empathetic with each other and work with our institutions to respect and serve all Americans honoring their commitment to protect and preserve our rights under the Constitution.
We need to support loving families of all types, backgrounds and beliefs and praise these families — not penalize them. Any couple, in love, should be encouraged to pursue marriage, have or adopt children, and be able to participate in the American dream together. Our world is constantly evolving and our policies need to evolve as well.
We’re a nation of second chances and forgiveness. We need to hold people accountable for their actions, but also provide help and a path for wrong-doers to get back on the right track. Justice is supposed to be blind, so we need to ensure our justice system lives into that principle and doesn’t unfairly target any group of people. Crowded jails isn’t a sign of success, but a failure of our system to target the root cause and provide the help that people need.
Our nation is a nation of immigrants. Since the first European settlers graced America’s shores, immigrants have come to America in search of a better life. That tradition lives on and many Americans still include their ancestors’ nationalities as part of their personal identity. We need to continue to honor that tradition and cherish people coming to America from all over the globe in search of a better life. As George Washington once said, “America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges.” We are very proud that our country has provided generation after generation the means to work hard and improve their standing in the world.
Our immigration policy needs to reflect our history and values of being the new world of opportunity. We should open our doors to hard-working people from around the world and provide them a path to legally enter and join the fabric of our nation. We should use the same measuring stick for immigrants that we use for ourselves and we should never deny someone entry to our country due to race, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, culture, national origin and ancestry. The Trump administration travel ban and proposed border wall serve no purpose other than to fuel fear and hate. These policies need to be immediately withdrawn and eliminated — not supported as Paul Ryan has done.
For immigrants who have traveled to and live in America undocumented, we need to provide them a path to legal status — especially if they have children who are American citizens. Our government should not be in the business of splitting up families, but instead providing a means for people to contribute and build a better life. Many undocumented immigrants are productive members of our society, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to provide them a path to becoming documented and if they desire, citizenship.
National security and safety for all Americans is very important and every one of us should feel safe within our country. Building walls and enacting travel bans does not serve to provide Americans with any additional protection. They instead serve as smokescreens that afford a false sense of security. Our government needs to go beyond isolation and work with our allies to build a superior defense to keep global terrorism away from our shores. Helping refugees, who are trying to escape some of the world’s most horrific conditions, isn’t just the right thing to do, but also at the core of who we are as a nation. We should welcome and furnish help to those in need and protect them, from the same evils, we’ve committed to protecting Americans from around the globe.
Written By: Charlie Breit (Twitter: @charlie_breit)