I’m Michael Hackmer, Chairman of the Reform Party of Virginia.
In this space, I will deliver a Reform Party of Virginia response to the President’s State of the Union.
Before I do, I want to take a moment to speak about the violent war Russia has unleashed in Europe against Ukraine, and the courageous Ukrainians who are, at this very moment, risking their lives to defend their nation, and their right to determine their own destiny.
Earlier today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the European Parliament. His words about freedom and strength, and Ukraine’s equality amongst the nations of Europe, were powerful and moving. They reverberate through every human being who believes in the essential need for freedom and self-determination.
The war raging in Ukraine is a battle for life over death; for light over darkness; for the undeniable right of the many to live free from the tyranny of the few, or the one. Ukraine has proven it is a strong nation. It is up to all of us, European, American, and Russian to show our strength; to show we are as committed to the cause of freedom and peace as the people of Ukraine.
Make no mistake… This is not a war being waged by the Russian people. The Russian people, indeed, many thousands of Russian soldiers in Ukraine now, do not want a war with anyone, least of all Ukraine. The Russian people want to wake up to a new day filled with opportunities and hope; to seek a better world for their children and the generations to come.
Unfortunately, we all are locked in a violent struggle, and we are all fighting the same evil: Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s relentless commitment to restoring a Russian empire is not for the good of the people of Russia, but driven by a maniacal fanaticism to etch his name into the history books of great Russian leaders and conquerors. His delusion has become a global nightmare.
I know with certainty that when the war is over and his reign has ended, Putin will only be remembered for his oppression of the Russian people and others, for his corruption, and for the murder and destruction he has unleashed across the world. All of this rests at his feet, because this is how the story ends for all tyrants.
To the people of Russia, Putin has now alienated your great nation from the world. Unless he is stopped, there will be a red stain of shame on all Russians who stood by and watched. Do not leave your fate to a villain of humanity. Instead, look to the proud history of Russia for inspiration – as you are a nation that fights the greatest of evil and triumphs, no matter the odds.
To the nations of the world, especially those in Europe, and to the President of the United States, now is not the time to fear higher energy costs or ripples across our collective economies. The people of Ukraine are risking far more than that. Now is the time to continue to band together – to use every method possible to help put an end to the madness and death before us.
Though I am of a different Party than the President, I am not a different American. We are one people, one nation. I say to President Biden in these difficult days, “Be courageous and hold the line against Putin. Show him and the world that the United States does not cower in the face of evil, we meet it head on – stare into its eyes – and do what we must to ensure that freedom’s bright light shines across all the Earth.”
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In speaking about the State of the Union, it is important for us to look at where we have been as well as where we are going.
30 years ago, a businessman from Texas named H. Ross Perot set out to run as an independent for President. A true American entrepreneur and patriot, who once organized his own team of military veterans to infiltrate Iran to free people who worked for his company that were being held hostage, Perot was unlike the establishment politicians of the day. He was concerned about the divisiveness in our politics, the rising national debt, and departure from a government that served the people to one that served the special interests.
Perot finished the 1992 election with 19% of the popular vote. But people forget that prior to suspending his campaign in the summer of that year, Perot was leading both Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George Bush in June. An Independent proved to the elites that the people had enough and wanted to be heard.
In the years that followed the 1992 Presidential election, Perot and the newly founded Reform Party, which counted as members large numbers of Independents, and dissatisfied Democrats and Republicans, were putting pressure on the Democratic and Republican parties to balance the budget, pass common sense legislation through a spirit of compromise, and focus on better service to the American people. The two parties, faced with the first legitimate competitive threat to their power in the modern political era, changed course.
It may startle younger generations to know, but through the late 1990s, the economy grew at some of the highest sustained rates in modern times, inflation dropped, crime was dramatically reduced, new technologies were developed at a rapid pace, politicians met with their constituents in open Town Halls to receive ideas, and the U.S. Federal budget was not just balanced… but generated surpluses every year.
In the last twenty-two years, the Democrats and Republicans have changed course.
The two parties stopped listening to the people, and no longer worked to pass simple, effective laws designed to benefit the country.
Laws to make it more difficult for outsiders to compete in elections were passed.
Political rhetoric became more coarse and alienating. And soon, the candidates became more and more extreme.
And over time, Democrats and Republicans pushed anger and fear to their voter base – raised millions of dollars for themselves in the process – and left a majority of the country to feel hopeless – forced to decide between the lesser of two evils, instead of choosing between the best America has to offer.
To make matters worse, together, the Democratic and Republican parties authorized Federal government spending of over $80 trillion dollars. This is $80 trillion BEFORE the pandemic forced trillions in deficit spending.
To put this number in perspective, it is enough to run every national government, for every nation on Earth, for about 3 years. That’s right! Your tax dollars over a 20-year period, could have run the countries of China, Germany, France, Russia, Brazil… and every other country on Earth for about 3 years. That’s how much money our government has spent in the years before the pandemic.
This money came from taxes that most of us paid through hard work.
And from loans that we will need to pay back.
We now have over $30 trillion in debt to be precise – with trillions in more debt soon to come to pay for trillions in unfunded liabilities and expenses.
Despite $80 trillion in spending, our education system has not improved, healthcare costs continue to rise beyond people’s ability to pay, and lower and middle income American wealth has declined.
The pandemic showed that most of our government institutions were unable to meet the basic needs of their citizens.
And now we are supposed to believe that an infrastructure crisis requiring $1.2 trillion in funding materialized out of thin air?
What have our politicians been doing? What exactly did $80 trillion buy us?
We know that it helped the wealthiest Americans become wealthier.
Our politicians got wealthier too.
You and me? We got stuck with the bill.
Suffice to say, the Democrats and Republicans have lost their way.
Think about this… Despite almost yearly records in revenue over the last few years, driven mostly by personal income taxes from hardworking people, the Biden administration wants to step up IRS enforcement. They want to collect more outstanding debts – to squeeze billions more here and there. Meanwhile, the IRS has a backlog of 24 million returns. And many other unemployment systems and other services that broke down during the pandemic still need to be modernized.
The priorities of our politicians are broken. And it is easy to see why. The Democrats and Republicans do not serve us.
Democrats and Republicans have created a tax system that helps large corporations stay in business, providing huge incentives, but actually makes it harder for new businesses to survive.
In his State of the Union, President Biden said that Intel, one of the largest and wealthiest companies in the world, is ready to increase their investment in building US manufacturing plants from $20 billion to $100 billion. They are just waiting, he said. Waiting for what? Well, they are waiting for a bill to be passed in Congress.
Why does Intel need help from the American taxpayer?
Meanwhile, small businesses are finding the cost to start and exist is going up. Due to poor policies and planning before, during and after the pandemic, inflation is up and our supply chain is crunched. The technology, materials and resources small businesses and entrepreneurs need to compete is more expensive. Their ability to recruit and hire new employees is harder than ever before.
Is it any surprise that the sustainability of small and mid-sized business in the US has been in decline over the last few decades?
Unfortunately, it has only gotten worse.
Our politicians prioritize the big corporations and the wealthiest, and leave hard working Americans struggling to succeed. They want to make the big splash – with big dollar signs. We need leadership in Washington, DC and elsewhere with heart for the people, not the heart of a cash register.
Just think… As we emerge from the global pandemic, and President Biden touts a robust economy and high growth, polls show that approximately 7 in 10 Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. We are all working harder and longer just to get by. That is not progress. We are a recession away from tens of millions of Americans, with limited to no savings, from losing everything. That is a distinct possibility since we know interest rates soon will rise, and the economy may slow.
Yes, President Biden is right that wages are rising. But they are not rising fast enough to keep up with the rate of inflation.
Americans, burnt out and looking for new opportunities, are quitting their jobs in record numbers.
How can we help?
Here is a solution neither the Democrats nor the Republicans offer: Instead of providing billions in taxpayer incentives and tax breaks to big corporations, why not eliminate ALL Corporate and Individual Income tax for new businesses with 15 or fewer employees for the next three years?
And while we are at it – let’s eliminate the income tax those employees would pay – so long as they remain employed by a new small business – for the next three years?
This is not a tax break for the wealthy. This is a tax break for the success engine of America: we, the people! It will give all the millions of people who want to start new businesses and want to work for new businesses the economic freedom to pursue their dreams.
What else can we do?
Let’s turn healthcare into a wealth engine for lower and middle income Americans by creating a mix of public, private, community and individual tax-free contributions into modernized Health Savings Accounts that have a percentage aligned to grow from an investment portfolio.
For the bottom 50% of Americans who are losing wealth, one of the biggest reasons is a lack of wealth generating income – such as from the stock market.
A program like this could allow businesses, communities, and people to invest in the health and welfare of lower and middle income Americans, providing millions with better access to healthcare, wellness programs to reduce long-term healthcare costs, better food and a higher quality of life.
This modernized HSA can grow in value with a mix of investment mechanisms, providing people with healthcare wealth that can be used to improve their lives.
This would help millions of Americans, including people of color and Black Americans, who are disproportionately impacted by a lack of access to healthcare, wellness programs and better food.
How else can we make healthcare better? And even improve the Healthcare Exchanges that are struggling?
Provide a $100,000 investment package for new healthcare businesses that are created in 2022 and 2023. This includes concierge healthcare providers and urgent care providers that decide to expand operations and offer supplemental insurance coverage with hospital and laboratory partners.
We also can limit hospital negotiating rates with new healthcare providers, (any company formed within the last 3 years and over the next 2 years) or existing concierge healthcare providers or urgent care providers to keep reimbursement costs for services as no higher than 10% of the maximum allowed by Medicare for the same or equivalent service. Hospitals that are 7% or lower on costs, we will receive the difference between the number they achieve and the 10% maximum. We can require that this reimbursement be used equally between salaries for nurses and medical support staff and purchases of medical equipment – ensuring better service and higher quality care.
These two proposals will help grow smaller, more local healthcare facilities and providers. They can offer better care at more affordable prices to individuals and families. Even give businesses more options to provide insurance for their employees.
What else can we do?
We can restore faith in our government by banning anyone who has directly or indirectly consulted for a foreign government within the last 8 years from working in ANY capacity on a federal campaign or for federal office holders. Do you know what that means? If this law was on the books a few years ago, none of the central figures involved in the Russia Collusion Investigation would have been allowed to have the roles they had in either the Trump campaign or the Trump administration.
The Democrats are not proposing this. The Republicans are not proposing this. This is a Reform Party proposal that will keep foreign influences out of our government and policy-making.
What else can we do?
We can crowd-source ideas from the people instead of from lobbyists with the creation of a federal government website called “ReformMYGov.” Allow citizens the ability to create user accounts based on their voting districts, and share their ideas for solving local, state and national issues. We can then track how often their elected officials view the recommendations and create a scorecard for greater accountability.
We can restore faith in our elections by creating an environment for competition; competition of ideas brought forth by a wider array of candidates.
Instead of hijacking management of state and local elections and turning those powers to the federal government, we can simply mandate reductions in ballot access standards for small and emerging parties, as well as Independent candidates.
Competition is essential to ensure quality candidates, reduce the likelihood of voters forced to decide between extremists, and it is essential to ensure accountability of those we elect to office.
We have made it easier to vote. Certainly, we can make it easier to give the people more candidates worth voting for!
Let’s end the two party stranglehold on our democracy!
While we are at it, let’s also make Election Day a national holiday. We don’t need 500 or 1,000 pages of legislation to achieve this. We can do it in 3 pages. The result? More people will have the time and ability to get out and vote, and those who want to help candidates, help their communities, or help others get out and vote – will have the time to do it. This proposal is not a Democrat or Republican idea. It was part of Ross Perot’s campaign in 1992.
Now, we need to discuss education.
Our future depends on educating our children. And yet, when it came to education, President Biden only used the word “education” once in his entire State of the Union address. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds also used “education” only once.
Let’s be honest: Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans really seem to have a solution for what is wrong with the American education system today.
Millions of children have suffered learning loss as a result of the pandemic. Education performance was not doing well before the pandemic either. When some states were confronted with lower performance on learning standards, they just lowered the standards. How is THAT a recipe for success?
Today, thousands of teachers are burnt out and frustrated – leaving the profession.
Parents are angry.
School boards are detached from the priority of what knowledge students are gaining and focusing instead on behavior modification and psychological support.
The biggest solution offered thus far for education is from progressive politicians who want to alleviate $1.6 trillion in student debt. Eliminating student debt would be expensive, but we in the Reform Party recognize it would be helpful to millions of young borrowers. However, it also would only be addressing the problem from the end – not the beginning. It’s not a long-term solution. In fact, it will only take money away from addressing the real problems facing our education system.
What is the problem?
Well, our education system was designed over 100 years ago. It was designed based on the model of a mass production factory that produced standardized things, like cars. It worked in the 1920s and 1930s and for many decades.
But as time has gone on, in order to maintain a baseline standard of learning to try and achieve an equal outcome for all students, the system is forced to lower the standards.
What we are doing now is sending our children to higher education without the knowledge and skills they need. The end result is millions of young people have to borrow to pay tens of thousands in tuition for what is nothing more than continuation of high school. It is even worse for minority students, who often have to borrow more to enroll in remedial classes designed to make up for the poorly funded and ill-equipped schools they attended.
Too many politicians want to tinker and “reform” the system to get better results, but the reality is that no amount of reform will change the outcome. We have a public mass education system that is designed to standardize learning outcomes in an age of unlimited information, mobility, personalization, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. It doesn’t make sense.
If we want the future of our country to be a new golden age, we need to accept that the current system no longer works.
We then need an education revolution that emphasizes personalized learning, project-based assessment instead of standardized tests, and allows our children to explore the arts, music, engineering, the environment, history, technology and more.
We need to stop teaching to tests, stop alienating students based on the color of their skin, and stop treating children as if their learning and behavior can be standardized like features in an automobile on an assembly line.
The Democrats and Republicans will not lead on education, but the Reform Party knows that a brighter future for all Americans depends on us creating a new public education system to operate in parallel with the current one; a system that tears down boundaries based on wealth, race, gender and geography and allows the youth of today to become the dreamers, inventors and leaders of tomorrow. This is how we will change generations of poverty, and build skills for the economy of tomorrow.
No doubt, this is a lot of information.
And these are just some of the ideas members of the Reform Party have for improving our country.
In closing, I want you all to understand that the central theme of the Reform Party is honest leadership and real solutions.
We believe that those elected to positions in government are there to serve the people.
To truly fulfill the role of public service, one must look beyond one’s ideology for the best way forward, and to actively listen to all points of view.
This is not how our political system functions today, but the good news is that we can change it.
We can achieve great things and leave a better nation for our children than the one we inherited.
We are the owners of this country.
The responsibility for action is ours.
The opportunity for greatness is ours.
We only need to seize it.
Thank you for your time and attention. May God bless you all. And may God bless and protect these United States of America.