New York, NY -- In his State of the Union last night, President Obama hit on four key issues where Demos is engaged and where progress is long overdue: voting reform, the minimum wage, universal pre-K, and higher education.
On the bipartisan voting commission, Brenda Wright, Vice President of Legal Strategies:
“The President was right to highlight the importance of the right to vote and the urgent need for reform of our election system in the wake of last fall’s election. His announcement of a new bipartisan commission has the potential to produce needed reforms, but only if we hold this commission accountable and insist that it rise above short-term partisan politics and be bold in its recommendations.
“Well-run elections are vital to the health of our democracy, and protecting the freedom of all eligible voters to register and vote in our democracy is essential to ensuring all Americans get an equal chance in our economy. Common-sense steps to modernize our voter registration system, including online registration, making registration portable and permanent, and same-day registration, should be urgent priorities for the new commission, in addition to reducing long lines that prevent eligible people from voting.
“The American people deserve an election system fit for the 21st century.This commission can do a great service if it rises to that challenge and focuses on ensuring that our elections are free, fair and accessible.”
On the middle class, the minimum wage, and universal Pre-K, Miles Rapoport, President:
“The President opened his address last night with a strong endorsement of the idea that the middle class is the greatest economic engine this country has ever produced, and it’s in need of re-ignition.
“His plan for bringing manufacturing back to the states and continued investment in the renewable forms of energy are steps in the right direction, as is his call for a “fix-it-first” approach to our nation’s infrastructure. Investment in our infrastructure not only produces public goods on which the private market relies, it would put a significant number of Americans back to work during the longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression.
“Further, the President is to be commended for calling out the deficit hawks, making the case that their project, recovery through cuts alone, is not only unfit for our current moment, it’s not an economic plan at all.
"The President deserves special recognition for calling for an increase in the minimum wage and the establishment of universal Pre-K. The current minimum wage, virtually unchanged in purchasing power since 1968, not only leaves millions of hard-working Americans unable to pay for necessities like medical care and rent, it prevents their ability to save for the investments that make it possible to enter the middle class.
“Investing in universal Pre-K meets a national need by ensuring that children can develop their full potential to become critical thinkers and engaged citizens. It is also integral to economic growth. To meet basic needs, working families deserve access to affordable early childhood care and education.
“In all, the President reconfirmed his promise made only a month ago during the inaugural, that his second term policy priorities should aim at a rising, diverse, open future middle-class."
On higher education and student debt, Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy and Research:
“The weakest part of the president’s State of the Union last night was around higher education. While he rightly called on universities to be more accountable for rising costs, he failed to acknowledge the biggest driver behind skyrocketing tuition and college debt: a steady and swift decline in state funding for public colleges and universities.
“The president said that higher education isn’t a luxury, but an economic imperative. Supporting community colleges, keeping student loan interest rates low, and increasing the number of work study jobs is an important start. To realize his bigger aspirations, the president should commit to ending the era of the debt-for-diploma system in the United States by working aggressively with the states to re-invest in higher education."