Why I’m voting for Obama

Thursday, October 25, 2012


For The Cabinet

Barack Obama appears to have over 50 percent of the votes from women, minorities and young people. It is with the “white males over 40” that his challenger is more popular. Being a member of this group, I would like to tell you why I am voting for Obama. I want to convince you that Obama is a pragmatic centrist who has acted decisively to move the country forward, despite great challenges, economic and political.

Economy and jobs

As difficult as things are, it is important to note where we have been and see how we have progressed. No one knew how deep a hole the financial meltdown of 2008 put us in. Its impact was unprecedented. The stock market lost half its value. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month when Obama took office. He acted quickly. His $840 billion American Recovery Act (the “stimulus”), passed in early 2009, fundamentally turned the economy around. It provided tax incentives for businesses and consumers, and paid for infrastructure projects in almost every state, creating or saving 2.5 million jobs. Without the stimulus, plus the successful $85 billion “auto bailout,” we would have had unemployment over 15 percent and a classic depression. Instead, GDP began growing again in 2010, and we have had private sector job growth for the past 30 months, with unemployment now dipping below 8 percent.

But growth has been feeble. To address this, Obama presented his $447 billion “Jobs Act” to Congress in September of 2011. It provides funds for hiring laid-off public service employees, hiring veterans, grants to the states to rebuild schools, and cuts payroll taxes for 160 million middle-class Americans. Moody’s Analytics estimates the Jobs Act would create 1.9 million jobs and boost GDP by 2 percent. The program would be fully paid for by increased business tax revenues combined with spending cuts. It is still to be taken up by Congress, which has voted to table or filibuster virtually every proposal by Democrats since mid 2009.

Clearly, we are on the right track. Passing the Jobs Act, which I hope will happen soon, will put more people to work and increase consumer demand. We know this works. Putting more money in the hands of investors does not create jobs. Demand creates jobs.

Health care

Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”) is a giant step toward assuring health care for all Americans. Far from being “government-run health care,” it retains our present system of independent health insurance companies as the gate-keepers of health care; with Medicare for seniors, and Medicaid for the poor and disabled. Hardly revolutionary.

The Act does put constraints on the insurance industry: prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, removing lifetime caps on benefits, and limiting administrative costs. The Act mandates that those without group coverage would obtain it through competitive insurance exchanges. The exchanges will offer a standardized set of benefits, including free preventive care. The standardization makes comparison shopping easier.

This market-driven approach has historically been advocated by Republicans. Liberals wanted a single-payer system (“Medicare for all”). Everyone needs health care. The only source for the poor without insurance is hospital emergency rooms, which do not keep people healthy and are enormously expensive to run. The free care they are obligated to provide the uninsured drives up costs for the rest of us. If everyone has health insurance, people stay healthier, risk is shared and health care costs go down.

This idea of universal coverage was championed by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. It makes sense. Why, in 2010, Republicans turned against what is essentially a darling of their own creation, and then campaigned for its repeal, is a mystery. Most of their objections – for example, that it involved “death panels,” or “inserted government between patient and doctor” – turned out to be groundless. Providing health care for all, and controlling its cost, are vitally important issues, economically and socially. It will take time to work out all the wrinkles, and there may be changes. But it was “the right thing to do.” I credit Obama for fighting for it and getting it enacted.

Energy, environment

The Obama administration has seen the importance of expanding clean energy sources and reducing energy consumption to combat global climate change. One part of this effort is the dramatically increased fuel efficiency standards recently negotiated with auto manufacturers. Another part is the $90 billion in the 2009 stimulus targeted to the energy sector, including “smart grid” technology, electric vehicle technology, rail transit projects, weatherization, etc.

About $20 billion of the total was for guaranteed Department of Energy (DOE) loans to support projects for clean energy, largely solar and wind. Not all of these loans have paid off. Of the 26 companies receiving loan guarantees, three have gone into bankruptcy, including Solyndra, Abound Solar, and Beacon Power. They represent a potential loss of about $650 million, less than 4 percent of the funding at risk.

Many of these projects have been very successful. Electric power generation from non-hydro clean energy sources has doubled since the end of 2008. While Obama has also fostered increased conventional domestic oil production, the idea that we should focus on reducing imports of “foreign oil” is something of a red herring. It doesn’t make much difference where oil comes from. Its price is set on the world market. We pay the same for a barrel whether it comes from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf of Mexico.

If we produce more than we need, it helps our exports. But the important thing is to reduce our use of fossil fuels over-all. Obama’s approach is to develop energy sources which do not release greenhouse gasses. We subsidize the petroleum industry. We should subsidize clean energy. It must increasingly be a part of our future, and soon. Climate change is already here, and we are moving too slowly. The “climate deniers” have their motives, but they are not on the side of a livable planet.

John David is a resident of Amherst.

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