Income inequality is the name of the political game in 2014.
Democrats and Republicans alike have taken on the challenge of addressing America’s rampant, deep-seated inequality as the cornerstone of their platform for the upcoming midterm elections.
President Obama made it clear in his 2013 State of the Union address that the growing income gap in America is the greatest challenge of our time. And just this week, Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Paul Ryan – both potential White House hopefuls – have made the issue their own, with Rubio proposing his own changes to anti-poverty programs and Ryan discussing it with NBC’s Brian Williams.
To be sure, this has traditionally been a Democrat issue and we have recently seen the Democrats push to increase the federal minimum wage and extend unemployment benefits.
But it is now clearly the issue both parties will wage their 2014 war upon. And economic mobility is a crucial aspect for both sides.
To this end, President Obama unveiled his first five “promise zones” this afternoon in a White House press conference. These zones are pockets of the country that will receive comprehensive federal assistance after being especially hard hit by the recession. There will ultimately be 20 zones across the country.
The “promise zone” plan – zones are located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeaster Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma – aims to cut red tape and streamline federal funding from government agencies. In this way, specific zones can benefit from strategic, targeted government funding in the areas it needs it most.
The program also includes credits for hiring workers and tax write-offs for capital investment within the zones. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times that the President’s plan is “our best shot” at improving a region in his city. “For decades, we’ve put programs in silos, which might move the dial a little bit here on education, a little bit here on healthcare, but never all together,” Garcetti said.
Across the aisle, Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill to Congress to create “Economic Freedom Zones” that would reduce taxes and ease government regulation in distressed areas.
Speaking in Detroit last month, Paul argued that the measure would “leave over $1.3 billion in Detroit” over 10 years by slashing personal and business income tax to 5 percent, eliminating capital gains taxes and offering other incentives for people and businesses to move to designated zones in economic distress.
Paul was invited to the President’s announcement this afternoon and was expected to join Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at a private meeting with the President to discuss the initiative.
“They say the sincerest form of flatter is in imitation,” Paul told Fox News.
And although President Obama didn’t include Detroit as Paul did, there is surely some commonality in their proposals, at least in the overarching goals, even though the means by which they arrive at engendering economic mobility are fundamentally different.
That said, barring the fact that this may just be another Obama “charm offensive” geared towards a successful 2014 showing for Democrats, there is, once again, ample opportunity for bipartisanship amongst Democrats and Republicans.
It is crucial that the two sides achieve consensus on points of agreement and when these points cannot be easily found – as will no doubt be the case – that each is willing to compromise for the sake of the American people.
For instance, there should be room for Democrats and Republicans to work together on the balance between federal and local level government assistance in these plans. And the two sides may be able to meet on tax rates for businesses in these areas.