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Statement of Anna Burger on the President's State of the Union Speech

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

February 1, 2006

The President's speech last night was billed as providing solutions to the pressing problems facing millions of working Americans in the areas of health care, retirement security and immigration reform. Unfortunately, his proposals fall far short and, in some cases, go in the wrong direction.

On health care, the President said America needs affordable health care if it is to remain competitive. Unfortunately, his proposals for health savings accounts and making use of electronic records will not solve the problem of escalating costs, declining coverage and the hemorrhaging of good jobs. Most of the 46 million Americans without health care coverage are having difficulty meeting life's most basic necessities. Saving for health care, while a nice idea, is not a solution for them. And while making use of electronic records will certainly be a part of any solution to our nation's health care problems, it is not a solution to the larger problem.

The tens of thousands of manufacturing workers who have lost good jobs in recent months know that these proposals do not cut it. The millions of Americans without health insurance, and the millions more with inadequate insurance, know that the President's proposals will not make them secure. And it's not just working Americans, insecure in the face of a broken system, who know the President's proposals will not solve the problem. Although they remain silent, the CEO's of our nation's largest companies know the President's proposals are not solutions. They know that the only way to keep American industry competitive and keep good paying jobs in our country is to end the employer-based health care system as we know it and create a system that guarantees insurance coverage and health care security for every American, regardless of employer.

The President talked about Social Security and the pressure of "baby boomers" entering their retirement years. But he did not mention that the majority of Americans have no pension or meaningful savings to fall back on. He did not mention that those that do have pensions could lose them as dozens of large and profitable companies end their pension plans.

Any semblance of retirement security is slipping away for millions of American workers.

The bottom line is that millions of Americans working today will retire in poverty - if they are able to retire at all. The American people were looking for solutions to this problem in the President's speech. They were not looking for another Social Security "commission" that would come up with new ideas on how to reduce people's Social Security checks if they are ever able to retire.

The President also addressed the issue of immigration reform. And we welcome an approach that combines border security with a respect for immigrant workers. But his proposals said nothing about the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country who work hard, play by the rules and contribute to our communities and our economy. Our nation needs to tackle this issue head on, not turn a blind eye. The immigration system is broken. Workers are forced to work for substandard pay and in hazardous conditions that undermine standards for all workers and breed division in our communities. America needs comprehensive immigration reform that creates order, takes control of our borders, sets out a path to legalizations and citizenship and raises standards for all workers.

America's greatness was that everyone who "worked hard and played by the rules," had a chance to own a home, raise a family, send their kid to college and retire with dignity.

But the rules today are stacked against American workers.

The truth is Americans do work hard and do play by the rules. But the rules no longer work. Wages are down, and work hours are up. The gap between the rich and rest of America - is staggering and growing. Health care costs are exploding. Pensions are being wiped out. Job security is a thing of the past. Part-time employment is on the rise. Giant corporations who salute no flag but their own corporate logo and worship no god but the almighty dollar roam the globe in search of the lowest wages.

The result is that families now face the impossible challenge of getting their children to school in between their two or three jobs. Choosing between bus fare and breakfast, health care and housing, between taking care of their mother or their father and their children.

Working Americans were hoping the President would tackle these issues head on last night. Unfortunately, he did not.

American workers are counting on the President and Congress to work together in a bipartisan fashion to get the job done. That means providing real health care, retirement, and immigration reform solutions.

Our nation is at a crossroads. As the President said, we have some very important choices to make that will decide the very fabric of our nation. We need to put our country back in the right direction and make the American Dream once again accessible to all Americans.

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