GPS special 'Memo to the President' will be repeated this Saturday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET/PT
By Jason Miks
Next week sees the inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term as U.S. president, making him only the third Democrat in the past 75 years to be returned for a second term in office. But what issues should he be focusing on?
In GPS special “Memo to the President,” which aired last night, Fareed Zakaria argued that fixing the still weak economy is the most urgent crisis facing the United States. But what do you think? We asked viewers and visitors to the show site for their take on what President Obama needs to do in the next four years, and most cited domestic issues, including the economy, as the key considerations.
“Daryl White” argues that the first thing the administration should do is invest more in “the physical infrastructure of the U.S. – highways, communications, bridges, railroads, etc – making them faster, stronger, better.”
This view chimes with a column by Fareed last November in which he noted that the U.S. has been falling behind on this measure. “Only a decade ago we were ranked fifth in overall infrastructure by the World Economic Forum; today we have dropped to 25th. The American Society of Civil Engineers calculates that we have a $2 trillion backlog of repairs that must be done over the next five years to stay competitive.”
“David Evan Karasek” agrees.
“We can’t hope to compete if we spend all of our time getting to and from work, and paying the taxes, tolls and fees related to the deferred maintenance of a dysfunctional infrastructure,” Karasek writes.
Another reader, “Leftcoastrocky,” concurred. “Our infrastructure has been neglected for a full generation and is making our economy less efficient and more expensive. Rendell’s plan deserves a serious look,” Leftcoastrocky wrote in reference to former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who appeared on Memo to the President.
What does the Rendell “plan” entail? According to the former governor: “There was in [the] stimulus something called ‘Build America Bonds.’ The federal government said to the states, if you want to do major development and major construction projects, we will help you defray 35 percent of the interest payments.”
“But it ran out when stimulus ran out and an effort to reauthorize that as a separate program was turned down. Now the beauty of it was very little impact on the federal treasury and an incredible impact on the number of projects we could get going. This isn’t rocket science, it’s not like finding…the cure for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or cancer, we know what the answers are, we know what cure to the problem is, and all it takes is political courage.”
Cures for serious illness aside, many readers argue that America’s health care system needs urgent fixing – but there was disagreement over whether this should mean pushing “Obamacare” further or dropping it altogether.
“He should come up with an actual health care reform plan in his second term....not insurance reform, which is what Obamacare actually is,” one reader complained.
But “AnnieL” believes the administration is on the right track. “He needs to have weekly meetings with the department heads in charge of this and call them daily to crack the whip. If this monumental and heroic effort at universal coverage turns into a bureaucratic nightmare that produces little or no improvement, it will poison the well for years to come.”
“The key will be the exchanges and the affordability of coverage available,” she adds. “The other key will be educating the public and small businesses about the exchanges and the benefits of the standardized plans. So far the administration has failed at public education and let the subversives rule the public perception.”
“Evskie” agrees that affordability is a crucial issue. “To reform healthcare requires accepting that for profit healthcare can never work. Greed has priced healthcare out of reach of the poor and most of the middle class.”
But while many concurred with the show that boosting the economy is essential, some questioned why environmental issues – especially climate change – didn’t feature as a pressing task.
“Interesting – no mention of the environment,” wrote “Dawn Lowe.” “Over the next 30 to 100 years, the effects of global climate change will be devastating. This HAS to be a priority, right up there with the economy and national security. Continuing to ignore the problems facing us will have dire consequences.”
This view was echoed by “lolchoff,” who argued that “global climate change is not only our country's greatest issue, it is the greatest issue humanity faces today.”
“We are on a trajectory such that this planet will not support human life. We must change everything about our lifestyles that involves the direct or indirect consumption of fossil fuels. And, we must make these changes now.”
But lolchoff doesn’t believe that focuses on the environment and job growth need be mutually exclusive.
“Addressing this issue will take ALL of us working together. And, yes, it will drive a ton of jobs. We need to rebuild every home, recreate cities such that we all live near our workplaces, create local food, water, and energy security. All these changes will drive the creation of jobs, lots of them.”
But making progress on any of these issues will require careful navigation of the currently stormy waters of Washington politics. With another clash looming between the administration and House Republicans over the debt ceiling, will Obama be able to make real progress on any of these issues?
“J. von Hettlingen” argues that the president will have no choice but to try to work with his opponents.
“Obama’s priority is to mend ties with the Congress, without ceding his power. It’s most important to have a functioning relationship with the legislature, if a president wants to have things done.”
As J. von Hettlingen also noted, though, this is much easier said than done.