Northeastern News - Editorial
Issue: 6/9/04

Column: Bush needs to make changes before free trade

By James Turner, senior political science major

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has emerged as a major factor in the Bush administration's foreign trade policy. But now is not the time for this type of agreement to be established. It will hurt American workers, increase the American trade deficit, and undermine the economy. Americans should be guaranteed quality education and healthcare before more jobs are shipped out.

Free trade itself is not a bad thing. Opening trade barriers is a very important step in building and stabilizing the economies of developing nations. Free trade creates jobs, gives poor citizens access to new technology and gives corporations access to a massive number of laborers - something the United States lacks. Free trade opens the doors to global cooperation and improves relationships within the international community.

With that said, CAFTA should not be implemented now. The agreement will only hasten the outsourcing of jobs from the U.S., and there are some things that need to be fixed in this country before that can happen. The U.S. needs to raise the bar on what it promises to its citizens. Likewise, taxpayers should expect more from their government. The U.S. is the richest country in the world; it should not have a second-rate social safety net.

The first and arguably most pressing priority is the repair and expansion of the public education system in the U.S., which is in shambles, especially in the inner city and rural communities. Public education is financed through property taxes; so expensive homes yield higher quality education. Public education is also seen as a state issue, not a national issue. That should change; the federal government should ensure quality education nationwide.

To do this, the federal government should pay a per-student rate, and states should be required to match that money. If taxpayers in a certain state wish to strive for an even higher level of education, they can pay more money into the state's side of the equation. No state should ever be allowed to contribute less than the federal government's portion. This will keep the control of the public schools in the jurisdiction of the states.

Guaranteeing a quality grade school education is not enough, however; jobs that only require a high school diploma are shrinking. The above approach should be combined with the full funding of public colleges and universities. State colleges should no longer be a discounted way to attend college; instead they should be free for state residents. This will not degrade the nation's colleges and universities, because private universities will not be discounted in any way. The wealthy will still be able to send their kids to private academies and universities; but with this, the working middle class will finally be able to confidently and comfortably send their kids to college.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the problem of poor healthcare coverage nationwide. In the richest country in the world, over 43 million people live without health insurance; tens of millions more go on with inadequate coverage. It is an obvious myth that it is only the poor who are uninsured; just a quarter of the uninsured live in poverty. The number of uninsured Americans is only rising and it is a disgrace that the government has allowed the number to increase at all.

The easiest way to remedy this problem is to require all employers to provide healthcare coverage to all employees who are not dependents. Republicans argue that this would cripple small businesses because medical costs are too high. This is a valid point, but not one that eliminates the possibility of universal health insurance. There are many ways to drive the costs of healthcare down without sacrificing the quality of care or the scope of coverage. Sen. John Kerry's employment-based healthcare plan will cover about 95 percent of all Americans as well as drive down costs to businesses. Yes, government costs will increase and so will taxes; but it is worth it for some 40 million Americans to gain coverage.

These changes would not cause the U.S. to spiral into Socialism or Communism; there are still ample opportunities for the rich to be rewarded with superior education and healthcare. However, a quality education and access to basic healthcare should be a right to all citizens. Before this administration takes another step towards outsourcing American jobs by joining CAFTA, it needs to fix its problems at home.

President George W. Bush has been sidestepping the domestic problems facing the U.S. for his entire term. Joining CAFTA would be just another example of Bush catering to his big business friends while ignoring the middle class at home. Many of the people most affected by the problems in education and healthcare live in the heartland of America, the red states that got Bush "elected" in 2000. What kind of president takes such a key constituency for granted? The answer to that is easy: a one-term president.

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Updated 04/24/05