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Politics May Change - But the Issues Are the Same

February 10, 2009

As Congress and President Barrack Obama hash out the details of the of 2009 economic stimulus plan, it’s worth taking a look back to assess the positions of past leaders and political parties and provide a perspective on how the major issues have evolved.

Health care has been a political issue since 1971 when Senator Ted Kennedy first advocated national health insurance for all Americans. He proposed a federal system that would ensure full coverage for all U.S. residents - except for nursing care, adult dental, and psychiatric care.

His plan had government paying doctors and hospitals directly financed through general tax revenues and a new 4.5 percent payroll tax, of which employees would pay 1 percent and employers 3.5 percent.

Yet today we still live under President Nixon’s original health care insurance proposal - one where the employer and employee share the basic costs of health insurance through a payroll deduction system

The environment also became a major issue in the 1960's - but it was President Nixon who warned against "ecological perfection at the cost of bankrupting the very taxing enterprises which pay for the social advance the nation seeks." He added, "How clean is clean enough can only be answered in terms of how much we are willing to pay and how soon we seek success."

Yet it was President Nixon who established the independent Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The economy has always been a primary issue with voters. In January of 1971 unemployment stood at 4.9 percent - too high President Nixon thought - so he sent Congress what he called a "full-employment, expansionary budget", saying, "by spending as if we are at full employment - we’ll help to bring about full employment." 

Unfortunately, the Nixon plan did not work and unemployment continued rising and stood at 6.1 percent in August of that year. It became a central campaign issue in the 1972 presidential election.

Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson - a Democrat from the state of Washington - and presidential candidate in 1972 and 1976 - advocated an across-the-board reduction in personal income tax rates to stimulate consumer spending - which he said would create 300,000 new jobs.

As a presidential candidate in 1980 Senator Kennedy advocated freezing consumer prices as a remedy to control runaway inflation during the Carter years in the White House. He called for mandatory controls on prices, profits, dividends, wages, interest rates, and rents.

The Kennedy proposal may not be as unorthodox as it seems - as President Richard Nixon actually ordered a 90-day freeze on wages, prices, and rents in August of 1971 to gain control of spiraling inflation.

In 1980, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan believed in cutting personal income taxes and getting government out of the way of people and business to create more jobs - and he advocated a policy of "peace through strength" believing it was important to build up our national defenses - not tear them down.

Four years later Walter Mondale campaigned on raising taxes and cutting the defense budget. He proposed eliminating the MX missile, B-1 Bomber and Star Wars technoloy - all weapons systems that have played a major role in our national defense over the past 25 years.

Mondale also said he would eliminate tax indexing (which adjusts tax brackets so tax payments don’t go up if higher income simply keeps up with inflation).

President Reagan said "let’s stay the course" and the voters seemed to agree and gave Reagan a landslide re-election victory over Mondale - with Reagan winning 49 of 50 states.

Political positions have evolved - yet many of the issues - unemployment, health care, environment, taxes, inflation and defense policy - continue to be fiercely debated in 2009.

Let’s hope that these issues will be resolved sometime within the next 30 years.