From the debate today about the debt ceiling and deficits, you wouldn't know that the United States has, for the last two generations, led globally in modernizing medicine, developing the Internet and providing top-notch higher education. We have long had the strongest economy, the biggest middle class and broadly shared prosperity. We've been on top.
But now we're slipping, and the people of Kentucky are struggling to get by. And what's mind-boggling is that many of our elected leaders seem almost happy to declare that our country is broke and only a few can enjoy life's bounty. Instead of imagining a future for our children to thrive in, they're saying it's time to pull back.
So let's be clear: The policies proposed by politicians contradict our defining American belief that our ambition is to create a future that is better for our children than it is for us — and not just our children, but for all children.
Why isn't the greatest problem-solving nation solving problems? What will be the big achievements of the 21st century? Finding cures for cancer and HIV/AIDS? Designing high-speed rail and highways that transform transportation and energy consumption? Rebuilding our middle class and the ladder of economic opportunity?
How can we accomplish any of those ambitions if we don't invest in the education of our children? State legislators passed a budget that calls for $47.4 million in cuts for K-12 education and $28 million in higher education, including $4.3 million in student financial aid.
The budget also calls for $19 million in cuts to non-Medicaid health and family services. Meanwhile, Kentucky's June unemployment rate of 9.6 percent remains one of the country's highest.
Elected leaders across the country are calling for the defunding of foreclosure counseling services and food aid for the poor and blocking job training and transportation infrastructure, all while upholding massive tax breaks for the wealthy and subsidies and loopholes for huge corporations that pay little or no taxes. Meanwhile, the voices of working Americans, the elderly, disabled, women, veterans and children are ignored, and the right to collectively bargain for a better life is denied.
These are political choices, not economic ones, and they are intended to undermine the power of working people. The people of Kentucky deserve better. The people of America deserve better.
It's time to recognize that the deficit our country faces is a moral deficit. We must begin where the American people want our future to be. That means returning balance to our economy. It means restoring progressive taxation.
The wealthy and corporations must begin to pay their fair share. After all, the bulk of our federal deficit is a result of the tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy. These tax benefits should be repealed, and tax breaks and subsidies for large multinational corporations must end as well.
The priorities of our nation must be readjusted from those benefiting the wealthy few and their corporate assets over our middle-class majority toward those that preserve economic security for working Americans. This shift happens through strengthening, not cutting, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
We must invest in America, now and for the future. We need to spend $2.2 trillion just to shore up our existing national infrastructure. But to be able to compete with China, Germany and others, we need to invest another $2 trillion in the technologies of the 21st century — in high-speed rail, clean-energy buildings, the smart grid and universal broadband.
For the working people of Kentucky and across the country, the American dream is rooted in the belief that everyone can be a full participant in national life. In our dream, we the people make the rules so that hard work is rewarded with economic security and a future of greatness.
Every person must ensure that our elected leaders understand the difference. That's the direction we must go, and the journey must begin now.