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“Martian Economics” and American Working Families
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“Martian Economics” and American Working Families

Last month, President Bush announced elaborate plans to set a new course for America’s space program, with the eventual goal of “human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.” The exact price tag for such an endeavor has not been established, but a similar plan, proposed by the president’s father, was abandoned because the cost was prohibitive — hundreds of billions of dollars.

Space exploration is an inspiring endeavor, but for the president to be talking about putting humans on Mars when many Americans right here on Earth are struggling just to put food on the table is yet another sign that this administration is woefully out of touch with the plight of working families in America. “Martian Economics” will not help these families.

This administration’s economic policies are just as disconnected from the realities of American working families as its exotic space program proposals. President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans have sent job loss totals into orbit—to the tune of nearly 3 million private sector jobs lost since he took office. Like one of his predecessors in the Oval Office, Herbert Hoover, the current occupant insists that these “trickle down” methods will eventually work, and that better days are just around the corner.

But this is the longest and most severe job loss recovery on the national level since World War II. The jobs promised by the administration have not materialized. Meanwhile, the national deficit freefall is projected to reach a record-breaking half-trillion dollars this year. Digging this and future generations of Americans deeper into debt as jobs disappear will not help America’s working families either.

Tax relief for the wealthy has meant tougher times for the rest of us. As governors, my colleagues and I are on the frontlines of government in this country. Our jobs bring us into direct contact with the people of our states every day. We are well-acquainted with their problems, concerns, and priorities.

We know first-hand that for too many Americans, times continue to be tough. Our economy is still limping along, and recovery has been elusive for many in our cities and rural communities. It’s time for our national leaders to turn their attention to serving all 290 million Americans, not just the wealthy few. We need federal participation to help restart our rural and urban economies, and to devise effective national strategic plans for job creation and long-term recovery.

State governments continue to struggle with record deficits. This administration’s policies have reduced state revenues and imposed new costs on state and local governments estimated at nearly $185 billion over the last three years.

Unfunded federal mandates for the president’s homeland security and education plans place additional burdens on state budgets. We’re told that no child should be left behind in education. States have been directed to achieve new and demanding federal academic performance standards. Yet this mandate has not been properly and adequately funded. Without funding, every child is left behind.

Every American deserves affordable, accessible health care. All agree that we need a national solution to this national problem. But on the health care issue, too, this administration has called in sick and failed to report to work. The proposed Prescription Drug Plan has left many seniors worse off than before. In my own state of Washington, 92,000 seniors will pay more for the prescription drugs they need under this plan.

The proposed 2005 federal budget dishes up more of the same. It fails to recognize or address the continuing fiscal difficulties faced by states, leaving state governments to fend for themselves. Once again, the federal government is handing-off federal responsibilities to the states.

Inevitably, working families will pay the highest price for these flawed policies—in higher state and local taxes or fewer public services—or both. The most vulnerable members of our society bear the burden, while the most affluent continue to enjoy disproportionately favorable tax cuts.

Current economic policies are not working. We’ve lost too many jobs, our national deficit is out of control, and working families continue to struggle as programs and services are reduced. It’s time to abandon “Martian Economics,” and bring our national economic policy back down to earth.

Gary Locke is the governor of the state of Washington.

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