The powers of Presidents are often over-exaggerated. They are not, as many people seem to believe, king of the country. Our 3 branch separation of powers places firm limits on what the President can unilaterally do or change. This means that even if a President wants to change something, he may not have the “political capital” – that is, the support of those in Congress – to get it done alone. Still, we rightly look to the President as the most powerful person on Earth and at least hope he will try to change things for the better. In that vein, here are 25 things that President-elect Barack Obama should at least try to change.
1. Get us out of Iraq
Though many Democrats have overstated the necessesity to end the Iraq war, it does need to end. What began as a noble quest to depose a terrible and potentially dangerous dictator has metastasized into an open-ended sinkhole of American lives, time, and money. Unlike past legitimate wars like World Wars 1 & 2 (or even Desert Storm) there appears to be no clear goal or end-game in Iraq. No one knows what we are waiting for to declare victory or defeat. President Obama should either define such a goal and promptly meet it, or begin withdrawing our troops. If Republican pundits want to call that “cutting and running”, so be it. As John T. Reed writes, “adults do not make life-and-death policy based on whether “one of the other kids” will call them chicken.
2. Jump start the economy following the financial meltdown
Obama spent the latter part of his campaign stating that the current 2008 financial meltdown is the worst economic problem since the Great Depression. Maybe. Regardless, the onus is clearly on President-elect Obama to help jump start the economy and rebuild consumer confidence. One of his plans for doing this is offering tax cuts for “working families”, which Obama defines as the 95% of Americans earning under $250,000 per year. His “Making Work Pay” tax credit would give $500 in tax relief to singles or $1,000 to married couples filing jointly. Most economists agree that tax cuts do indeed boost economic activity, so hopefully, these will become law.
3. Eliminate capital gains taxes (at least for small businesses)
Another specific proposal for jump starting the economy is eliminating capital gains taxes, which are levied on investment income. While Obama dislikes rich people and big businesses (and so will most likely not eliminate capital gains taxes for them), he has promised to eliminate capital gains taxes for “startup and small businesses to encourage innovation and job creation.” Singling out one economic class for a significant tax cut while still subjecting another class to it is seemingly a class warfare tactic to curry favor with voters, but any elimination of capital gains tax will do the economy good. Hopefully this will get done!
4. Ease the burden on low-income seniors
The last thing low-income seniors need in a time of economic turmoil is a crushing tax burden. Accordingly, Obama has pledged to eliminate all income taxation of seniors who earn less than $50,000 per year. According to his campaign website, this would end income tax for some 7 million senior citizens, good for an average savings of $1,400 per year, per senior. In all, the website claims, 27 million American seniors would not even need to file an income tax return.
5. Simplify the tax code for all Americans
Another major headache we all face is complying with the maddeningly complex tax code every April. With the government’s never-ending maze of tax credits, incentives, loopholes, deductions and exemptions, it’s almost impossible to do your taxes without specialized software or professional help. Obama, according to his campaign website, will end this difficulty by “ensuring that the IRS uses the information it already gets from banks and employers to give taxpayers the option of pre-filled tax forms to verify, sign and return.” Experts believe that this would save Americans some 200 million hours of tax preparation work and as much as $2 billion in fees each year.
6. Ease the transition of dislocated manufacturing and service workers
Globalization is an inescapable reality in twenty-first century America, and it’s not going away anytime soon. That said, the government arguably has a responsibility to assist workers in industries that are being outsourced. President-elect Obama has promised to help displaced workers adapt by creating “flexible education accounts” and offering retraining assistance. This would help the displaced workers develop new skills that will allow them to find new, similarly-compensated jobs and ease the turmoil from losing their prior job.
7. Incentivize companies to create American jobs
While outsourcing is not the paragon of evil, capitalist greed that leftists claim, it still doesn’t hurt to encourage companies to create more US jobs. One of Obama’s plans (which he already introduced legislation for as a Senator) is to offer tax credits to companies hat maintain or increase the number of full-time workers in America relative to those overseas, keep their corporate headquarters here, provide health insurance, help workers prepare for retirement, and otherwise support their American employees.
8. Encourage continued research, development, and innovation
The above mentioned challenges of globalization (as well as the energy crisis) demand that we continue innovating. In recognition of this, Obama has promised to make the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent. This will send a clear message to startups and existing businesses that the tax credit is there, can be depended on, and will not be phased out before they launch their next blockbuster product. Such strategies are exactly what are needed to encourage innovation, and this should, hopefully, pass through Congress with ease.
9. Invest in clean cars
One of Obama’s more ambitious promises was to put a million plug-in Hybrid cars (which can get up to 150MPG) on America’s roads by the year 2015. Additionally, Obama has pledged that these million cars will be produced here in America, which appears to be part of his campaign promise to create 5 million “green jobs” in the quest to lighten our load on the environment. By this point, few sane people doubt the importance of switching to more eco-friendly vehicles. This simply must get done.
10. Increase the percentage of renewable, domestically-generated energy
Sadly, we are still relying overwhelmingly on oil for our electric and heating needs. President-elect Obama plans on changing that, promising that 10 percent of our overall electricity comes from renewable sources by the year 2012, and upping that percentage to 25 by 2025. It is commonly though that wind and solar will accomplish this, but these are actually not as cost-effective yet as many people think. An excellent interim solution would be to use nuclear power, which France is happily and cheaply using to power their entire country.
11. Restore America’s tarnished reputation in the eyes of the world
No matter how you feel about the current President and his administration, it’s tough to deny that America has taken a beating in the public eye. Much of that can be blamed on the blunder of the Iraq war and how it was carried out, but that is over and done with. What President Obama must now do (and says he will do) is engage in diplomacy with world leaders about terrorist threats and other issues. We must re-establish the habit of talking before fighting.
12. Ensure that Iran does not develop or use a nuclear weapon
One of the major, specific goals of engaging in diplomacy must be ensuring that Iran does not become a threat to us. Whether Obama opts to use direct talks, multi-party talks, sanctions, or a combination of the above, the goal of pacifying Iran is an absolute must. Despite the public’s lack of support for President Bush or the Iraq war, Obama has an unquestionable mandate from the American people to ensure our safety in the face of that dangerous regime.
13. Offer aid and support to Africa
Recent years have shifted our attention to the suffering and atrocities taking place in Africa, from the genocides in Darfur to the widespread disease and poverty that characterizes the continent in general. Obama can and must make this a priority. Fortunately, he has pledged to double our annual investment in foreign aid from $25 billion to $50 billion by the end of his first time. He also wants to make the Millenium Development Goals (cutting extreme poverty in half by the year 2015) into American goals. Many Americans support this type of aid.
14. Promote free trade throughout the world
Economists rarely agree on anything, but virtually all of them agree that we are better off with 100% free trade with all the world’s nations. Buy whatever you want from whomever you want, in any country. Obama has made some promises toward achieving this vision, preferring to support “fair trade” of excluding countries who tarrif our goods and such. He should abandon fair trade and support completely free trade instead. This alone will do more to ease the financial burden on Americans than 100 government giveaway programs and tax credits combined. Let supply and demand function!
15. Help ensure that all Americans have health insurance
An overwhelming number of people in America support a universal healthcare system. While this is questionable from an economic standpoint, the government can certainly make it easier and cheaper to purchase health insurance. One way of doing that is offering a tax credit that lets Americans write off health expenses like doctor visits and prescription drugs. Obama has also proposed creating a second tier of the healthcare system that lets people stay in private healthcare plans or, optionally, purchase it at a lower subsidised cost via the government. Some combination of these plans will no doubt make health care more affordable.
16. Allow us to import safe generic drugs from other nations
It is currently quite difficult to import safe, generic drugs from developed nations like Canada. President-elect Obama has correctly pointed out that this is an outrage, something being done to protect American drug companies from foreign competition. Obama has sworn to make it easier for us to import generics from other nations, thereby lowering the prices we all pay for prescription drugs and lightening the healthcare burden ever more.
17. Improve the appalling state of healthcare our veterans receive
Most of us are, by now, familiar with the Walter Reed scandal of atrocious healthcare that our veterans were recieving at that facility. As Obama has noted, this is an outrage and a monstrous injustice to the brave men and women who have devoted their lives to the cause of American freedom. To fix the situation, Obama has committed to strengthening VA care and upping federal funding for the treatment and comfort of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. All but the most heartless would agree that this is urgently necessary.
18. Clean up the culture of corruption in Washington
A comical e-mail has made the rounds in recent years asking something along the lines of “there are 200+ men, many of whom are convicted felons, drug abusers, wife beaters, child porn addicts, and repeat criminals. Are we talking about a pro football team? No – we are talking about the US Congress!” While the e-mail was intended as as joke, it is anything but funny. Since Obama ran on a campaign of change and a pledge to clean up the culture of corruption in Washington, he must do just that. One excellent proposal of his is creating an Internet database of lobbyist reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings allowing us to keep tabs on our leaders.
19. End excessive corporate welfare
In light of the recent financial bailout, everyday Americans are up in arms about “corporate welfare”, the practice of giving huge, immensely profitable corporations tax breaks, interest-free loans, and outright cash gifts for nothing but their own private gain. Obama has stated that he will end or reduce this practice by exposing special tax breaks to greater scrutiny, questioning the value of putting taxpayer dollars to work for private gain and ensuring the government gets what it pays for from its “investments.”
20. Prevent the Constitution from being amended to ban gay marriage
The far right has long been itching to impose moral code into the Constitution. This is not the purpose of the Constitution and would distort its purpose in a fundamental way. Additionally, this would be an unconstitutional outrage if it came to pass. It would arguably violate the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause, not to mention the ever-important separation of Church and State. Ultimately, under our form of government, this is an issue that should be decided at the state level.
21. Invest In A New, Redundant and Robust Flex-Grid
One of the biggest issues with alternative energy is transmission. Getting energy to the places that need it most. It turns out that the best sources of alternative energy tend to be in places with lower population, not in high-population centers where the energy is needed most. It is time for a fundamental restructuring of our country’s energy grid to improve long-distance transmission and also enable a sophisticated, redundant and robust network of energy users and providers, similar in structure to today’s Internet. There is no reason that our regional energy grid’s should be so vulnerable. It is a national security issue.
22. Allow the free, uninterrupted progress of science and stem cell research
Another religious crusade that conservatives refuse to give up is trying to get stem cell research banned. While many simply oppose federal funding of stem cell, others oppose it alltogether and wish to ban the practice of it. Clearly this is unjust, and to his credit, Barack Obama realizes it. His plan supports not only allowing stem cell research to develop at a scientific (as opposed to a political) pace, but calls for increasing its funding. Since we are discussing technology with the potential to cure vast suffering, this is most admirable.
23. Restore the ideal of “government by the people, of the people, and for the people”
As a charismatic populist, Obama should encourage the return of the “government by the people, of the people, and for the people” ideal. One way he has suggested doing this is to hold “21st Century Fireside Chats” in which he and his cabinet will hold periodic, nationally-broadcasted town hall meetings to discuss issues, plans, and approaches to the challenges we all face. The chats would be broadcast both over television and high-speed broadband connections via the Web.
24. Allow citizens to hold government spending accountable
In 2008, there is no excuse for us not to be able to track government the way we track news, sports, and finance. To bring government into the twenty-first century, Obama should (and has promised to) create a “Google-like search engine to allow regular people to approximately track federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and loans online.” This comes at a perfect time, coming off an election where 90% of the public participated and interest in government seems to be enjoying a resurgence.
25. Strengthen the education system
Last but not least, Obama should focus on cleaning up the disastrous after-effects of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The education system is in shambles, which cannot continue if America hopes to stay competitive in the global economy. Luckily, Obama has said that he will fix the school system, hire better teachers, pay them more money, and make it easier for students of all income levels to attend college if they want to.