By Senator Tom Harkin

On Labor Day, as we honor the contributions that generations of workers have made to the strength and prosperity of our great country, I am reminded of the struggles facing families in Iowa and around the country. America's middle class is the backbone of our economy, and yet, these families have not shared in the prosperity of the last thirty years. Today, they are not feeling the effects of the economic recovery that is in full swing on Wall Street. I have always believed that to grow our economy, we must strengthen the middle class by promoting the creation of good jobs, helping workers save for a secure retirement, making college affordable, and doing what we can to help families balance their budgets.

For these reasons, I introduced the Rebuild America Act earlier this year. This sweeping piece of legislation lays out what I believe our priorities must be in order to grow our economy and help more families achieve the American Dream. These proposals are not radical or revolutionary - they are the bold, forward-thinking policies of the mid-20th century, when America experienced an unprecedented expansion of the middle class. In fact, some of the investments made during that time were so forward-thinking that we still rely on their results today: the interstate highway system, Social Security, and federal student aid for higher education are some examples of investments that are critical to our lives today.

With this history in mind, I included many provisions in the Rebuild America Act that will return these priorities to the forefront. Firstly, we must invest in America to create good jobs and lasting growth. Targeted investments to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and outdated schools; investments in teaching, manufacturing, and job training; improved trade policies; and funds for local governments to hire critical personnel like teachers, police, and firefighters will provide near-term stability and growth in our economy, and pay lasting dividends for future generations.

While economic recovery will undoubtedly help families' budgets, my plan also calls for new policies that will help families achieve financial stability. It would make child care more affordable, protect overtime pay, give workers the chance to earn paid sick days, update the minimum wage, and increase job opportunities for Americans with disabilities.  It would also protect the right to form and join a union - historically one of the most important paths for working Americans to join the middle class.  Additionally, the Rebuild America Act strengthens Social Security and the private pension system, to help workers save enough to enjoy their Golden Years in retirement.

All of these changes are important, but until we restore some fundamental fairness to our tax code, middle class families will continue to lose out. The Rebuild America Act would institute a rule to ensure that the very wealthiest Americans pay at least as much in taxes as middle class families.  It would also impose a transaction tax on Wall Street speculators and end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, among other things.  Combined, these measures would fully fund all of the other policies included in the Rebuild America Act, making it deficit-neutral.

I know that this plan sounds ambitious. But Americans have never been content to sit idly by.  Throughout our history, we have risen to every challenge that our great nation has faced. Our current challenges may be a little harder to define, but Iowa families feel them every day. This Labor Day, it is time to prioritize the middle class. It is time to put workers and their families first. It is time to Rebuild America.

A PDF version of the column is available by clicking here

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