“Washington has taken its eye off the ball…”

Speaking at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, President Obama delivered a speech yesterday on the state of the US economy. Providing context he discussed how far the nation has come, fiscally speaking, since the beginning of his first term. For those short on memory, lest we forget, the nation has fought its way back from a financial meltdown and a housing bubble; Wall Street had run amok, the financial services sector was in danger, homeowners saw their housing values decline and, with it, the net worth of many Americans experienced a sharp devaluation. Simultaneously, much of the nation’s spending on two wars wasn’t even ‘on the books’. The country’s bills came due; we had a price to pay while fixing things on the crumbling homefront. ”The bubble had burst by the time I took office,” but, “We saved the auto industry,” and instituted rules to protect consumers,” Mr. Obama noted.

Keep an eye on things...In addressing his audience he stated that Washington has “taken its eye off the ball” and he renewed the call he made during his last State of the Union speech; he pledged a strong commitment to direct energies toward the economic woes that continue to plague the middle class who are living with the lingering effects of the economic downturn. In observing that even before the economy took a deep dive into a recession, it used to be that as companies grew and profits increased the middle class would benefit he indicated that things have changed. Income of the top 1% nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007 but the typical family’s income has barely budged. He said, that reversing the trend of income inequality “has to be Washington’s highest priority… it’s certainly my highest priority.”

Many of us agree with the president’s statements that “The stakes for our middle class could not be higher,” and that Republicans in Congress are needed to set aside short-term politics to find common ground. Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration said,

“Today, President Obama said that reversing a growing inequality between haves and have-nots will be his top priority from now on. ”This growing inequality isn’t just morally wrong; it’s bad economics,” Obama said. He’s right. As I’ve been saying for a long time, when all the gains go to the top, the vast middle class (and those aspiring to join it) don’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going. Which is why this “recovery” has been so anemic. The President gets it. But is it too late?”

That’s the big question; is it just too late to hope for moving forward in a cohesive manner?  The POTUS blasted time-wasting, obstructionist Republicans when he said, in discussing Obamacare, “Stop taking meaningless repeal votes and share your ideas with the country.”  He noted that, “Repealing Obamacare is not an economic plan.” That’s just it. They have no plan, and they know they have no plan which could even remotely be considered a viable alternative or complement to Obamacare — nor have they shown any interest in job creation despite having run on that platform during the last midterm elections.

Many of us hope that it is not too late and that President Obama will use every weapon in his arsenal to not only fight back against repeated obstruction but also leverage his executive powers where necessary. Though the POTUS talked about working with lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle and, in cases where persistent obstruction prevails, he will use the powers at his immediate disposal to make necessary changes — by enlisting the assistance of college presidents, labor, CEOs, big and small businesses and whoever else wants to get on board to move the economy forward and pave the way for middle-class growth in the future — the fact remains that Washington has taken its eye off the ball. By focusing on efforts to strip women of healthcare options, disenfranchise voters and protect the strong arm of the National Rifle Association, there has been no real attention from congress directed towards economic development and job creation — contrary to the platform the Tea Party Republicans ran on in order to capture the House of Representatives during the last midterm election.

The POTUS said, “We’ll need Republicans in congress to set aside short-term politics and work with me to find common ground,” but that hasn’t been the case over the past five years. And, to anyone paying attention, it doesn’t seem likely that those who are thinking of their political careers more than the good of the country will reverse course now. ”I believe there are members of both parties who understand what’s at stake,” Obama said. “But I will not allow gridlock, inaction or willful indifference to get in our way.”

Glad to hear it — and good luck with that, Mr. President. For the sake of all of us.

Here’s the entire “Obama’s Better Bargain For The Middle Class” speech:

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