President Obama struck a blow for lower- and middle-income Americans on Tuesday, rebuking Republican lawmakers for helping the rich get richer while everyone else struggles to stay afloat. African-Americans in particular have seen their unemployment rate skyrocket and their earnings plummet. In the speech, Obama centered on economic fairness, may have been a hint of what’s to come during Obama’s bid for re-election and squarely positioned him as a warrior for the middle class and anyone who hopes to join the middle class.
“This isn’t just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and all of those who are fighting to get into the middle class,” he said. “At stake is whether this will be a country where people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement.”
Obama delivered his remarks at a time when Washington lawmakers are debating how to pay for a payroll tax cut and an unemployment insurance extension, both of which are set to expire at year’s end. Democrats are proposing that they be paid for with a surtax on people whose incomes exceed $1 million, which Republicans have blocked.
Describing the lack of shared sacrifice by the wealthy during trying times as “breathtaking greed,” Obama accused Republicans of being more concerned with safeguarding their interests over those who are truly struggling since the recession took hold of the economy three year ago.
“Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of the economy actually benefited from that success,” he said. “Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before. But everyone else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t — and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.”
White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told BET.com that Obama sought to send the message to Americans that he is fighting for them and believes in a country that is fair, where if you work hard, roll up your sleeves and you’re willing to make a little sacrifice that you’re going to be able to pursue the American Dream.
“For a long time now, so many Americans, and certainly many in the African-American community, have found that dream to be out of reach,” she said.
Jarrett also pointed to the president’s frustration over Republican efforts to block his nominees to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill to protect consumers from being taken advantage of. African-Americans and other minorities and low-income people have been disproportionately impacted by the unscrupulous practices of mortgage and payday lenders that have left them deeper in debt.
“Not only do we need a director to lead that very important bureau, but until we have a director, many of the agency’s powers don’t kick in,” Jarrett said, such as regulating payday lenders, debt collectors and certain mortgage brokers. “We need those protections in place in order to make sure that the people are being treated fairly.”
Jarrett added that lobbyists and other special interest groups have sought to roll back the protections in the Wall Street reform bill and said that it is critical that there are checks and balances in place to protect the innocent people who have been sorely impacted by the lack of regulation that led to the nation’s financial meltdown.
“It’s all about fairness and the American Dream being available to everybody, not just a select few,” she said.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)