Honest leadership and open gov't

South Carolina, the state I proudly represent, has a motto: “Dum spiro spero” — “While I breathe, I hope.” Today we are a hopeful nation, and as Democrats we are a hopeful party.

We welcome the olive branch extended by the president in his State of the Union address to work together to find common ground on issues facing our nation. This is a departure from the president’s earlier approaches that have yielded unproductive energy proposals, a flawed prescription-drug plan and failed Social Security reforms, all of which were hatched with industry officials secretly secluded behind closed doors.

These methods were designed to benefit only those seated at the table, leaving the American people without a voice in shaping the current state of our union. As a result, 2 out of 3 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

It is clear that where you stand in our nation depends upon where you sit. To be sure, some Americans are doing well. The wealthiest 1 percent’s already vast wealth has increased exponentially under the Bush administration. But for many hardworking Americans, the state of the union is far bleaker.

Oil companies are making record-breaking profits, yet tens of thousands of automobile workers are about to receive pink slips. Pharmaceutical companies are enjoying unprecedented profits and access with this administration, yet the Republicans’ prescription-drug plan for seniors has been a colossal failure and more than 43 million Americans wake up every morning without health insurance.

NATIONAL SECURITY

President Bush’s assessment on the war against terrorism is out of sync with reality. Two new reports indicate that, under Bush, the Army is overstretched and under enormous strain. The National Guard and Reserves have been weakened, and we are experiencing numerous recruiting problems.

Democrats have offered plans to increase the end-strength of the Army, revitalize our overstretched military and provide our brave men and women the body armor and critical equipment they need.
 
ENERGY INDEPENDENCE

Democrats welcome the president’s call for energy independence in 19 years, but that call rings hollow when his policies are yielding unprecedented and obscene profits for oil companies while Americans are paying through the nose trying to heat their homes and fuel their vehicles.

Democrats have laid out a program that, if adopted, would make us independent of Middle Eastern oil in 10 years and create a new economy especially for those in rural America. Our program invests in clean energy alternatives and provides energy assistance for those in need.
 
HEALTHCARE AND PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

Health savings accounts, as proposed by the president, will create a cash cow for Wall Street investors and do nothing to increase access to healthcare or slow the growth of healthcare costs. We should immediately revisit the prescription-drug plan that has proved to be confusing and unworkable.

Democrats believe we must have comprehensive healthcare reform that includes giving the federal government authority to negotiate lower prices with drug companies.
 
CULTURE OF CORRUPTION

Democrats applaud the president’s call for “elected officials to uphold the public trust” and “strengthen the ethical standards in Washington.” Make no mistake, all of us have sinned and fallen short, but when our sins and shortcomings become part of our regular order we create a culture of corruption for which the American people pay a tremendous cost and that sullies the integrity of our beloved institution.

The president and his staff should make their contacts with Jack Abramoff public, and Republicans in the Congress should scrap their K Street Project that has put our government up for sale. Democrats have offered a “Declaration for Honest Leadership and Open Government” to restore trust and increase transparency and accountability in government.
 
JOB CREATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Democrats have unveiled an innovation agenda that maintains America’s economic and technological leadership with pay-as-you-go financing. The president’s call for more math and science students is not being heeded by his party’s leaders in Congress. They are cutting over $10 billion from student aide while refusing to fund fully No Child Left Behind. Something doesn’t add up.

Finally, it was great to hear the president join our yearlong call for a bipartisan commission to study the future of Social Security and Medicare because Democrats believe that, working together, America can do better.

We are hopeful about the opportunities ahead and stand ready to join this president in an open and honest dialogue about improving the state of our union for all Americans, not the select few.

Clyburn is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

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