Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Grappling with health care and unemployment: ‘We can achieve against the greatest odds,’ Fattah says

Eight term congressman addresses audience at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, PA (February 22, 2010) U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA2) told a Northwest Philadelphia audience today he believes a comprehensive health care initiative will come to a final vote in the U.S. Congress within six weeks and said that tens of thousands of faith-based leaders have been expressing concern about enacting a health plan that includes all Americans.

The eight-term congressman addressed a large audience of students, faculty and staff members, and community residents and organization leaders in Benbow Hall at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Fattah said the failure to enact a comprehensive plan is a drag on the economy and connected to the nations overall economic challenges because industries like automobile manufacturers need to continue to provide health care benefits, while their competitors in other nations like Japan do not have this financial burden. Other nations have been able to work out a solution, Fattah said, while seven of our presidents have not been successful. He suggested that the lack of success leaves the impression that either we do not have the brains to get it done, or we dont have the political will. He said that as I speak the latest version of a proposed comprehensive health plan was being unveiled on the White House Web site prior to a bipartisan conversation on the plan set for Thursday, Feb. 25. (at right: Congressman Fattah with (from left) LTSP Professors Richard Stewart and Wil Gafney, and LTSP President Philip Krey)

Fattah said there has been a 12 point positive swing in the nations Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since U.S. President Barack Obama took office a year Regional home sales and purchase orders are up, he said. But he added that even though earnings reports are improved, business activity has been increasing and consumer spending is stronger, economic growth is not the same as full employment, and we have been experiencing a massive hemorrhaging of jobs. It will take a significant effort to have job growth. He noted that life is getting better for many of Philadelphias 1,300 manufacturing businesses, but that the jobs market is always lagging at the rear end of the recovery train. He praised the current administrations Stimulus Recovery initiative and said that no economist will say that a recovery is possible without one. Meanwhile, he said, $18 billion in recovery money has been committed to the people of Pennsylvania, one-half of the federal dollars going directly to industry and a significant amount going toward food assistance that now one in four American families use. Significant funds have also helped people pay for health benefits lost due to unemployment.

He said President Obama has been committed to a strategy to spend money to assure that Americans can do work that needs to be done in the nation. Among examples he gave were investments of $320 million for the Philadelphia School District and $190 million to support the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to rebuild its infrastructure via 33 projects. Funds have also been made available through the stimulus package to retrofit public buildings to cut energy costs and to train individuals to know how to weatherize such buildings. There are tens of thousands of projects like this across the country, Fattah said. He said such endeavors are examples of a different level of thinking to solve our problems than what has been used before. And he predicted that looking back on this time in U.S. history will indicate that such intervention was wise. Still, he said, unemployment is at 9.7 percent. Male workers and the construction trades have been the hardest hit in the nation, but we are on a more positive pathway than a year ago.

Speaking to an audience largely consisting of theological students, Fattah said the current administration is trying to strengthen the countrys moral compass so central to every faith in the way we conduct our public affairs. We have a responsibility to be our brothers keeper and not just curse the darkness but to light a candle. He added that during times of adversity each person has the opportunity to be introduced anew to his or her self and by doing so achieve against the greatest odds. We cant assume greatness or a high standard of living. We have to redouble our efforts. He tied future productivity to the nations efforts to successfully educate our youngest citizens. We must produce the engineers to assure that we can get products to the marketplace 30 or 40 years from now. He said the poverty challenging the nations cities is directly tied to the lack of education among some city populations. He appealed to the audience to avoid the passivity so evident among much of the nations electorate and challenged his listeners to be more involved in the political debate surrounding issues like health care.

In response to several questions, Fattah called the decision to intervene in Iraq the worst decision possible and said it had drained the nation of resources that might have been used elsewhere. He praised the plan to have time limits on involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and added that there is no military solution possible in the Middle East. It is a matter of deciding when to get parties to the negotiating table and who those parties will be.

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