'Democratic Party must demonstrate it has the ability to govern'
WASHINGTON -- Deeply disillusioned last week by his party's insufficient response to the recession, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said Thursday he views President Obama's State of the Union as a step in the right direction but urged him to "be much bolder."
"It would be helpful if he could take a page from Franklin Roosevelt," Kucinich told Raw Story in an exclusive interview. "FDR saw the need for broad structural changes in the economy and also the need for government to invest and put America back to work."
"If we can't fix our economic injustices and improve the standard of living for regular people, we could lose our country."
While Obama explicitly called for a new "jobs bill" in the speech, he didn't put forth many details. What kinds of reforms would Kucinich like to see?
"We need investments on a massive scale -- in the areas of job creation, health care, education, housing. That could change everything."
"Is there still time? Yes," he added. "But we lost a year. And now we need the president to truly rally the nation in a ringing, clarion call for economic reform. The Democratic Party must demonstrate to the people that it has the ability to govern."
"Wall Street cannot be left to its own designs," he added. "We allowed that and the economy collapsed, in an orgy of deregulation and exotic financial instruments."
The congressman's support for financial regulatory reform has been echoed by many Democrats and met with skepticism from Republicans, who warn over-regulating will stifle innovation.
Kucinich, a widely respected progressive champion, said Obama "underestimates his own ability to lift up the nation, and that's why I would advise him to look to do great things. If he calls upon the nation to take bold measures, I think the nation would respond."
"He could still be the transformational leader that so many have seen him to be," he said.
The congressman from Ohio slammed Obama's economic team for having "yet to demonstrate that they can help America regain economic momentum for Main Street" and alleged many of their suggested policies "run contrary the president's instincts."
While he didn't call for them to resign, he strongly hinted it should happen. "If they refuse to change direction and can't see any other way out, then the president's going to have to consider making some changes."
Following recent revelations of secret deals with AIG, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has faced heavy criticism from Republicans and Democrats.
Proposes 1m new jobs bill, hits spending freeze as 'drag on recovery'
As Raw Story reported Tuesday, Kucinich will soon introduce a program that he estimates will create one million jobs, and said he hopes it will be included in the president's bill. It reduces the age at which retirees can receive Social Security benefits to 60 instead of 65, which he alleges will create many more openings for younger and unemployed individuals.
Kucinich said Obama's focus must be on improving conditions for the working poor and middle class.
"A rising tide lifts all boats," he said, "and unfortunately at this point the rising tide of unemployment is swamping a lot of boats, and so we need to give the people some hope that they can stay afloat economically."
"The president really does have an ability to bring people together," he said. "Whether or not those people are in the House of Senate is another matter, but the president's programs need to be much bolder."
Reflecting the concerns of many progressives, Kucinich ripped Obama's proposed spending freeze that begins next year, alleging "it'll have a minimal impact on the deficit but could be a drag on recovery."
"If we want to lift up the economy, social spending is the way to do it," he said. "Discretionary spending is being frozen for programs like the NIH, education, infrastructure building programs -- that's where we can get a return on investment."
Numerous conservatives responded to the idea by claiming Obama made a huge concession to their ideology. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) mocked it as "going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest," Politico reported.
Still opposes health care bill 'injustices'
Injecting renewed optimism on the health care front, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) affirmed today the House will work out a compromise to pass an amended Senate bill, which can then be signed into law by the president.
Kucinich said he's unlikely to vote for it even with the proposed changes, such as eliminating the excise tax on health benefits, which was one major concern of House progressives.
He called individual mandate to purchase insurance a "fundamental flaw" with the legislation as it "leaves the insurance companies in charge." He said party leaders "need to go back to the drawing board."
Progressive economists and health policy experts such as Paul Krugman and Jonathan Cohn have argued the mandate is necessary to prevent a "death spiral" of rising costs, as it would bring young and healthy people into the system.
"It furthers the injustices of the system by redistributing the wealth of the nation to the top -- in this case to private insurance companies." Kucinich responded.