Officials Forum: Do the Right Thing

Written by

U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel
U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel The Honorable Charles B. Rangel is serving his 22nd term as the Representative from the 13th Congressional District, which stretches from upper Manhattan to northwest Bronx. A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, he made history as the first African American member of Congress to lead the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He is a member of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

2011 has been a year of harsh economic instability and political turmoil around the world. It is no wonder TIME Magazine has selected “The Protester” as its Person of the Year – people are jobless, helpless, frustrated and just mad as hell.

Even in America, the Occupy Wall Street movement spread like wildfire as angry protesters nationwide took to the streets calling for economic justice and political leadership that will restore their hope for financial stability and a prosperous future. In the New Year, I hope my Colleagues in Congress will work together to get our country back on track instead of continuing to engage in political theatrics that is not only fiscally irresponsible but also morally wrong.

It makes no sense that in the United States today, merely the top 1% controls 42% of our nation’s wealth, while the 99% of Americans who play by the rules and pay their fair share are barely making ends meet. As the income disparity widens, the rich are getting richer, yet one in every five children is now born into poverty. Students can’t pay their tuition. Nearly 14 million people remain unemployed. People are losing faith in the American Dream.

What has become of America? Income inequality in our country has diminished the most important principles of the American Dream like quality education, affordable healthcare and a stable roof over our heads. 72% of the top 1% have a college degree, while only 31% of the 99% have one; almost 50 million Americans are still uninsured as major medical costs remain one of the leading causes of bankruptcy for middle-class Americans; one in four Americans are at risk of losing their homes, unable to make their mortgage payments, and millions more are struggling to make rent.

Yet instead of lessening the burden on the 99% of American people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck and are more likely to go through periods without a job, have medical crises or endure an economic strain that threatens their livelihood, the Republican leadership in Congress have been reserved for the million people who make up the top 1% and earn an average of over $1.5 million a year.

This is not about class-warfare. Fighting for income equality is not an attack on wealth or the 1% – it is standing up to reform a system that is no longer either fiscally or morally sound, and has failed the majority of Americans. Our priority in Congress must be to uphold our constitutional duty to “promote the general Welfare” of the American people and our moral obligation as a society to aide the “lesser among us”.

At this critical juncture in history, when countries like China are outbuilding our own Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s biggest supercomputer and threatening America’s global presence as a superpower, we can no longer afford to play any more political games as we did in 2011. Last year’s legislative impasse over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit ultimately led to the embarrassing downgrade of our sterling triple-A credit rating by Standard & Poor’s, in addition to a credit downgrade threat by Moody’s and Fitch. Not to mention that the farcical budget showdowns in April and December rattled the stock market and caused great upheavals, in addition to risking $800 million in losses and shutdown of essential government services relied by millions of people.

We cannot allow our own citizens to lose faith in their own country, their political leaders and the American Dream. In order to build a better America in 2012 we must find compromise within our government not as ideological politicians, but as united Americans doing what we were elected to do and to do what is in the best interest of our people and our country. This starts by passing a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut and working towards a permanent solution to our nation’s debt crisis when Congress is back in session. We can bridge the economic gap in our country. We can restore hope for a happier New Year and a successful future.

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