"You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together."
- President Barack Obama
You might expect that one of the longest and most intense presidential campaigns in American history should be followed by a period of rest and celebration. We cannot afford that luxury at this time. While we congratulate President Obama and Vice President Biden on their decisive victory last week, we believe that urgent issues like the approaching fiscal cliff, the education of our children, continuing high unemployment and a still sluggish economic recovery require immediate action.
The American people not only voted to make President Obama a two-term president, they voted for the end of partisan gridlock in Washington and a government that gets things done. That is why on the day after the election I sent a letter addressed to President Obama, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner, urging them to immediately get to work on four critical priorities for the next four years:
• A comprehensive jobs program executed through a partnership among government, the private sector and the non-profit community.
• An intense focus on children and the youth of America, with a national policy to move the nation toward universal early childhood education, an expansion of the effort to make post-secondary education more affordable, and an emphasis on job training and skills retraining for those who were not able to finish high school on time.
• A comprehensive new approach to community safety and crime reduction, with a stronger enforcement of existing gun laws, re-enactment of the assault weapons ban and a thoughtful examination of the disparities in the criminal justice system.
• A fair and sensible deficit reduction plan that includes one dollar in revenue enhancements for every dollar in cuts.
In my letter addressed to President Obama, Representative Pelosi and Speaker Boehner, I emphasized that the devastation of Superstorm Sandy exposed the desperately slim margin to which our most vulnerable citizens cling. Even before the storm hit, African American and Latino unemployment had been over 10 percent for the past four years. It currently registers at 13.8 percent and 9.7 percent respectively.
In addition, if Congress and the President fail to reach an agreement by New Year’s Day, $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board cuts will be made to domestic and defense programs, including draconian cuts to education, nutrition programs for women, infants and children and low-income heating assistance.
Avoiding the so-called "fiscal cliff" of sequestration and reducing the deficit in a fair way must be the first order of business when the House returns this week.
My letter to the President and Congressional leaders concludes: "While there are many issues that you must confront, we believe those outlined above are the most important facing the nation and urge that they form the centerpiece of your second term domestic agenda."
The National Urban League will soon convene an Urban Ideas Forum with policy and program experts, private sector executives and analysts to elevate the discussion of income inequality, disparities in education and workforce investment.
Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.