Mr. Smith Returns to Washington

February 2nd, 2009

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Originally posted on CNN.com

If you’re a respiratory therapist, a recreational bicyclist, a victim of Lyme disease, or concerned about animal cruelty or Third World farming practices, Washington has a champion for you. On Capitol Hill, lobbyists for business, trade associations and interest groups outnumber members of Congress by a ratio of 64 to 1.

But if you’re someone with kids earning $70,000 a year, someone’s who’s saving for college, saving for retirement and hoping your parents stay well—if you’re living the life of a typical middle-class American family—well, the last eight years in Washington have been a black hole for the middle class.

Middle-class Americans–people earning between $40,000 to $100,000–are too “rich” for most current government programs like college Pell grants, Medicaid, or the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers. And they don’t benefit from increases in the minimum wage—as popular as that policy is. On the other hand, they’re not rich enough to benefit from the conservative trickle-down policies of the Bush years, such as cuts to the capital gains tax. Instead, they’ve simply been forgotten.

Today, the middle class finally got a voice when President Obama and Vice President Biden announced the launch of a new task force on the middle class. Its goal is to pull the middle class out of the financial hole they’ve fallen into over the last eight years. We did a report that shows that since 2000, the typical middle-class family lost out on a total of more than $90,000 in wealth when home values, 401(k)s and salaries are taken into account.

But more than just getting the middle class back on its feet, this taskforce is also focused on helping middle-class people get ahead—helping families send their kids to college, save for a comfortable retirement, balance work and family, start a business or care for aging parents. This is the kind of change we believe in because no government effort has ever tackled these priorities in a concerted way.

We should never turn our back on the plight of those who are struggling to enter the middle class or whose grip on the middle class is tenuous—and Vice President Biden made that clear in his remarks at the launch of this task force. But it’s time for Washington to pay more attention to a forgotten group that works hard, pays taxes and feels it’s on its own—and that’s the American middle class. Bravo.