First on agenda in January: Restore role of citizens in government

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Flickr photo / Kris Kros

When he takes office, President-elect Obama will face a mountain of challenges – more than any incoming president in recent history: the global financial crisis, the Iraq War, the federal deficit, the energy crisis and more. The most critical thing this new president can do, though – which must be done to make any policy solution a success – is restore the citizen’s seat at the government’s table. One of the worst outcomes of the past eight years has been the erosion of democracy and the phasing out of the people’s voice in the government. It is imperative that this be reversed.

For nearly eight years, virtually the only voices that the Bush administration listened to were those of big business and corporate donors. We paid a hefty price: We saw an emergency management agency that couldn’t provide needed aid after a devastating hurricane, a mine safety agency that coddled mining companies at the expense of worker safety, the dominance of politics over science at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an energy policy written by and for the fossil fuel industry, and an economic meltdown after the deregulation of the financial services industry.

Citizens raised their voices loud and clear on Tuesday, casting a vote for significant and enduring change. But that must only be a beginning. President-elect Obama will send key signals about his administration in the type of inauguration he organizes (whether it features fur and limousines or is a people’s party), his new appointees and his first budget. He needs to walk the walk for all those voters who are counting on his leadership. Public Citizen calls on the Obama administration and the new Congress to work together to:

• Govern the financial bailout to ensure that homeowners receive some benefits, that financial companies don’t take advantage of the taxpayers’ largesse and that the financial markets are re-regulated;

• Ensure that the regulatory agencies make health, safety and the environment the No. 1 priority, instead of corporate profits;

• Repeal the subsidies that Congress lavished on the fossil fuel and nuclear industries and instead invest in alternative and renewable energy and mass transit;

• Ensure that the next elections for president and Congress will be publicly financed, so we can rid the government of the corrupting influence of money;

• Reverse the dangerous trend to curbing citizen access to the courts through pre-emption and mandatory arbitration clauses;

• Repeal the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), wherin drug companies pay more than $500 million directly to the FDA to fund drug review and other programs related to prescription drugs, creating a direct conflict;

• Change the status-quo model of globalization and the “trade” agreements now implementing it; ensure that the Colombia, Korea and Panama agreements are not implemented and that future agreements meet basic criteria designed to promote the public interest.

This is a new day in America. The eyes of the world are watching to see if President-elect Obama can pull his team together and live up to the promises he raised for this great democracy.