Given my strong union background, I avidly supported the reelection of President Obama. I truly believe that his steadfast leadership over the past four years guided the country through a near-catastrophic economic collapse and put us on a path for shared prosperity.
So, I worked with the AFL-CIO to carry out a massive voter registration and voter protection program. I pounded the pavement, knocked on doors, made phone calls, and sent e-mails to urge my fellow citizens to get out and vote. On election night I was proud not only because the Obama-Biden ticket won but also because across the nation there is a renewed sense of faith in the direction of our country.
But with this renewed faith comes great responsibility. Now that the election is almost a month behind us, it is time for congressional members--Republicans and Democrats--to roll up their sleeves and join collective forces with the president to improve the state of the country for working families.
Over the past four years, fighting and political obstructionism has railroaded great legislative efforts and sound solutions to failed policies. And now we're facing the "fiscal cliff"-- tax increases and spending cuts occurring automatically in January unless lawmakers strike a deal to avert them.
But, Republican leaders are against the president's proposal to boost taxes on the richest 2 percent of Americans even though the tax cuts of the Bush era failed to create jobs and wasted money. Instead, they want to extend the tax cuts, which expire on Dec. 31, and make deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If the tax cuts end, $823 billion in additional revenue from the top 2 percent would be pumped back into the economy, which could be used to create jobs for working families.
Under Obama's leadership, the nation has thrived despite the economic downturn. In recent months, we have seen a slow but steady decline in the unemployment rate. And in September, it dipped below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years.
As a measure to accelerate job growth, Congress must pass the president's proposed American Jobs Act. The act would cut payroll taxes for the first $5 million in payroll for businesses around the country. Small businesses and their employees would especially benefit from this plan.
The act would also invest $50 billion in infrastructure improvements, which would create thousands of jobs.
Some of the hardest-working people in our country are young Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latinos who are living in the shadows and could not participate in the electoral process because of our antiquated immigration laws. Establishing new immigration policies must be a top priority for Congress to ensure that a fair and efficient immigration process is implemented.
As a union leader, I strongly believe in a comprehensive immigration reform package that protects workers. It should also reunite families and provide individuals with a pathway to citizenship. If there's a clear, simple path to citizenship, ideally undocumented immigration would decrease and the incentive for individuals and families to migrate with proper documentation would be stronger.
Election polls show that voters overwhelmingly support the DREAM Act to provide undocumented young people a path to citizenship as long as they have graduated high school and spent two years in college or the military. Passing the DREAM Act--legislation long supported by the president--is a great start to restructuring our immigration laws, and I urge Congress to implement it in the first 100 days of the new administration.
With passage of the DREAM Act, undocumented students would also have greater access to higher education. Obama has shown an unwavering commitment to making higher education more accessible to working families. During his first four years in office, he increased education tax credits, expanded the federal investment in Pell Grants, and helped achieve a low interest rate on Stafford loans. Congress must continue the president's work of increased investments in student aid and put an end to state cuts on fees in higher education.
While campaigning for reelection, Obama promised to work with Congress to expand the affordability and accountability of community college education systems across the nation. If this promise comes to fruition, it will significantly increase the number of children who are able to attend college and expand our skilled work force--making our nation much stronger.
Looking forward to the next four years, it's important for Congress to commit to overcoming legislative hurdles to work together for a better America. What I expect from the next four years is not only continued progress but also real solutions for all working families.
Johanna Puno Hester is president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the nation’s first and only national organization of Asian Pacific American union members to advance worker, immigrant, and civil rights. She is a strong labor activist and also serves as director of Organizing and Field Services of UDW, the Homecare Providers Union of AFSCME Local 3930, based in San Diego.