Is the passage of health care reform a foregone conclusion? At this writing, Democrats lack enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass even a watered-down version of the initial legislation because, on the left, there is opposition to the absence of a public option and because, on the right, there are objections to market manipulations. Still, between Speaker Nancy Pelosi's commitment and President Obama's high-risk brinksmanship on this issue, it is likely that some form of health care reform will be voted in before the end of this month. It won't be enough to satisfy some, and too much for the taste of others, and yet it will be a step forward in the quest to make health care a right, not a privilege, something that progressives have been advocating for decades.
Once this legislation is negotiated, what's next? There is a national clamoring for legislation that will address the employment situation, and president Obama has indicated his willingness to look at jobs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's proposed legislation that offers a scant $15 billion in tax breaks for business is not exactly job creation legislation. What really needs to happen is that, failing other options, our nation needs to look at federally generated or provided jobs, with administration coming from cities, not from the states. Channeling funds to cities allows the federal government to indirectly target the high unemployment people of color who have shouldered much of this national unemployment burden. The 9.7 percent unemployment rate is an understated fiction. The "real" unemployment rate, which includes discouraged workers and those who work part time instead of full time, is closer to 16.5 percent. The African American unemployment rate, reported at 16.7 percent, is closer to 29 percent when discouraged workers and others are included. Last month, the black male unemployment rate rose, while the white male rate dropped. If we are all in the same boat of this national unemployment crisis, some folks are riding and others are rowing. African American men might be hanging on the oars, struggling.
After jobs legislation is managed, it also makes sense for this administration to look at the consumer protection agency it has proposed. Some would like to see this agency located inside the Federal Reserve, but that makes no sense. That is much like asking Al Capone to guard Fort Knox. Instead, a freestanding agency will allow those who protect consumers much-needed independence. Unfortunately, some of the members of Congress who agree that consumer protection is necessary have been persuaded that a good location for the agency might be the Federal Reserve.
The environment and global warming issues must be addressed by this administration. Months after the UN Copenhagen meetings on global warming, other concerns have rendered the Obama Administration virtually mute on climate matters. With Earth Day coming up on April 22, it would be great if the administration could step up to promises it made in Copenhagen and commit to reducing our nation's carbon footprint.
International concerns are as important as the domestic concerns of health, jobs, consumer protection and the environment. We are in two wars, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Thousands of American lives have been lost thanks to the pointless aggressive policies of the Bush Administration. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers are at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our policies toward these countries, despite pronouncements, seem little changed from our policies in the Bush years. If you walk down Pennsylvania past the White House, there is a tall, grey-bearded man with a pink sign singing and humming us out of Iraq. He is almost a fixture - he (or someone who looks very much like him) has been standing in that same spot for more than a year.
The Obama Administration cannot exhale when health care reform legislation passes. Indeed, the time and effort put into health care have resulted in a backlog of issues that must be addressed. With a forecast that unemployment rates will not drop to 6 percent before 2015, the focus for the spring must be jobs, jobs, jobs.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.