What Minorities Really Want, by John Meredith

Like many Americans, I’ve heard the pundits prognosticate over what the new leadership in Congress will do. How will they change things, will they succeed, and will they keep their majority beyond 2008? Some of these predictions specifically have addressed issues and policies that target the country’s burgeoning minority population.

For example, the Washington Times quoted an anonymous senior Democratic congressional aide who said that new congressional leaders believe the key to maintaining their majority status means keeping minorities happy. The aide said: “The question people – African-Americas, Latinos, Asians – will be asking after two years will be what difference has been made by having [Nancy] Pelosi as the Speaker and [Harry] Reid as majority leader for minorities?”

According to the NAACP, the difference starts with passing legislation increasing AIDS funding and raising the minimum wage. Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), a Congressional Black Caucus member, adds, “The unforgivable reality is that more Americans than ever find themselves in need of food, shelter, clothing and health care.”

As part of that minority population – and as a black American whose family has been integral to the civil rights movement over the last 40 years – let me share with you my thoughts of what real, working-class folks need Congress to resolve over the next two years.

As a conservative, I may ruffle some of my friends’ feathers by saying that minorities want a fair wage for an honest day’s work. If we are to live up to our boast of being a rich and powerful nation, we need to pay wages that help people live above poverty level.

Social Security must be made transferable. We must acknowledge the system is insolvent and won’t be there for younger Americans of all races. Statistically, black men don’t live long enough to collect the benefits promised when taxes are withdrawn from their paychecks. If someone works hard for 40 years, pays taxes and dies at the age of 58, the family left behind – not the government – should be entitled to the money their husbands and fathers were forced to pay into the system.

Working-class Americans similarly need serious, honest health insurance reform. We need reasonable coverage for a reasonable price. But thanks to government mismanagement at all levels, the cost of health insurance is increasingly unaffordable. While it’s fashionable to blame insurance companies, they exist in markets where government has limited competition. For example, the federal tax exemption for purchasing health insurance goes to employers, not employees; thus, insurance companies compete for the business of employers instead of individuals. State laws both prohibit individuals from purchasing health insurance out of state and make health insurance more expensive by imposing costly coverage mandates. Serious health care reform means both changing the tax code so that it favors individuals and deregulating health insurance markets.

The Bush Administration’s tax cuts also need to be made permanent. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), the incoming chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, laughs off concerns about the tax cuts’ 2010 expiration as still far off. While I greatly respect him, many minority families have lost all they’ve worked for over the years in order to pay death taxes. These taxes have been the leading cause of failed small and family-owned businesses – the main, if not sole, type of business serving minority communities all across America. Despite the fact most Americans think tax breaks on stock dividends benefit only non-minority investors, the truth is that the ability of minorities to accumulate wealth is directly impacted by those breaks, not to mention increased child tax credits and individual rate reductions that will automatically rise at the end of the decade.

Finally, minorities want uniform rules. We want to be free to peacefully pray at an airport and not be detained as terrorists. We desire future elections to be free of intimidation and verifiable through a paper trail. We want the police to be accountable to the communities they serve – if they shoot an unarmed person they go to jail, no exceptions.

Minorities love America as much as any other portion of the citizenry. What we need from the new leaders of Congress is simple and fundamental to the founding of this country and what should be afforded to all Americans: To be treated as full, first-class citizens.

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John Meredith, CAE, is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. His father, James Meredith, was the historic first black student to be enrolled at Ole Miss. John is the founder and president of the Meredith Advocacy Group, a lobbying and grassroots firm located in Washington, DC. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.