Investing in our middle class families

The middle class is the engine of our economy, the very heart of our country. When working families are held back, all of us are held back. When working families prosper, all of us prosper. In recent decades, the link between productivity and wage growth has been torn asunder, with the average CEO now making 300 times more than the average worker. This cavernous income inequality is damaging to all Americans, all of whom witness and ultimately pay for the severe social and economic consequences of underemployment and unemployment — we are one nation, and united we fall and united we rise. Thus, when workers have more money and small businesses flourish, everyone wins. The American promise rings true only if there is equality of opportunity and if everyone has a fair shot. Fully revitalizing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure will create by some measures as many as 13 million well-paying jobs, while also addressing an urgent need.

Education & college affordability

We are saddled with $1.2 trillion of student loan debt. The government should not be making money off of students seeking the education and skills needed to get ahead in an increasingly globalized and competitive world. Reducing Pell grants harms our children, who already suffer from the highest childhood poverty rate of any major country and who consistently score lower than their international counterparts on math and reading skills. No one should go bankrupt going to college. According to the Institute of Medicine, unnecessary tests and procedures constitute 30% or $750 billion of our healthcare spending, which is more than our nation’s entire budget for K-12 education. If we can pour billions of dollars into rescuing Wall Street banks, then surely we can at least lower the interest rates that some of our most vulnerable pay to invest in their own future and thus in ours. A traditional four-year college degree may not be for everyone, and that’s fine. To keep tuition from skyrocketing further, our education model needs a fundamental rethinking that promotes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), while incorporating the best of the digital age, such as massive open online courses.

Women’s rights and opportunity

Pennsylvania’s all-male, 20-member Congressional delegation and the male-majority Congress should not govern women’s bodies. We need to point out the hypocrisy of politicians who are for small government only when it suits their purposes — when they advocate against financial regulation and environmental protection, for instance — and who are then staunch advocates for big government when it doesn’t — when they advocate against a woman’s freedom to make their own healthcare decisions. 90% of Americans agree that women should have equal pay, not the existing 78 cents on the dollar. Let’s harness this bipartisan push for pay equity and insist on equal pay for equal work. Just as being pregnant is not a disability, so womanhood is not a preexisting condition.

Campaign finance reform

Although each citizen should have an equal right to participate in our political process, the status quo makes a mockery out of American democracy. We need to take our government back by removing unaccountable and secret money from the system. A constitutional amendment to undo the damage wrought by the Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, is one measure we can adopt to rescue our democracy. Right now political hopefuls parade before the Koch brothers and their billionaire friends, who then catapult the highest bidder to victory in a plutocrat primary. That is not who we are. Ability, intelligence, compassion, and integrity should determine the outcome of elections, not fundraising prowess. Drawing our Congressional district in an egregiously gerrymandered fashion, for the express purpose of rendering it more easily winnable by the sitting Congressman, is especially sad. Power should emanate from the people of Berks, Chester, Lebanon, and Montgomery Counties and not from the partisan and cynical maneuverings of lawmakers.

Climate change

You can’t fight something if you don’t have the courage to admit that it exists. Too many politicians today deny that anthropogenic climate change is happening, despite the ever-mounting scientific evidence and consensus. Their prancing around reality is made easier by the fact that revolution and rapid change grip our attentions much more easily than evolution and intermittent events do. Hiding behind the cowardly refrain, “I am not a scientist,” these politicians dodge the truth, lest they alienate the special interests that bankroll their campaigns. My great fear is that we will grow numb to the heartbreaking and ever more frequent scenes from disasters like the 2010 BP oil rig explosion or the more recent Santa Barbara oil spill, incidents that have marred our once thriving and beautiful American shores. I am not afraid of voicing the truths that selfishness silences in our elected officials. We need to incentivize the development of renewable energy and protect our children and families from pollution, in addition to adapting to the ecological consequences — such as severe droughts and superstorms — that are already wreaking havoc today. Germany managed to convert 30% of its electric grid to renewable energy in just 15 years. Fellow Americans, I know we can do the same or even better.