Coming back to Congress after a post-convention bump for President Barack Obama, Democrats must now ride the tide of public fervor in favor of policies that will benefit the most Americans, not the least. Asian-American and Pacific Islanders are at the fore of this fervor. They have a great stake in the policy frontiers on which Republicans in Congress remain recalcitrant.
As much as Republican obstructionists might prefer, we cannot wait until the next Congress to tackle the reforms necessary - on tax, financial, housing and immigration - to lift up the majority of America, which continues to struggle from the fallout effects of the financial and housing market crises.
On tax reform, fiscal cliff conversations about expiring President George W. Bush-era tax cuts must be coupled with capital gains and investment tax policy reform. Some of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts need to expire in order to ensure sustainable revenue, and a fairer tax policy must be negotiated.
This is especially important for the Asian-American and Pacific Islanders community. Contrary to the prevailing model minority myth that all AAPIs are well-to-do and well-educated, when broken down into ethnic subgroups, the per capita incomes of Americans of Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian and Bangladeshi descent fall below that of African-Americans, with more than one-quarter of Hmong-Americans living below the federal poverty line.
For too long, the super wealthy have benefited from lower taxes on certain income, the likes of which eludes the poorer majority of America. All types of income must be taxed the same, with no exceptions and no bias toward the highest earners' primary source of income: investment-related income.
On financial reform, we must strengthen, not weaken, Dodd-Frank regulations, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That JPMorgan Chase & Co. can lose almost $6 billion dollars' worth of American citizens' investments shows how desperately Dodd-Frank and Volcker Rule oversight is needed.
AAPI communities are acutely affected by consumer finance and fair-lending issues. With one-third of AAPIs being limited English proficient, the AAPI community is especially vulnerable to predatory and discriminatory lending practices. In losing our trust, the banks have indicated that they will stop at nothing in risking everything. We cannot let them loose to freely throw away America's middle-class investments yet again.
On housing reform, the 11 million Americans who remain underwater desperately need our help. For the AAPI community, 59 percent are homeowners, while 41 percent are renters. While AAPIs remain underrepresented in government-subsidized housing, with only 3 percent of AAPIs benefiting, nearly one-third Hmong- and one-quarter Bangladeshi-Americans continue to face the crushing reality of overcrowded housing conditions.
Mortgage refinancing and principle write-downs are possible and in our financial interest. The refusal of the head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to follow the White House's lead on this is inexcusable and a clear nod to corporate America, despite the fact that refinancing and write-downs are the smarter long-term fiscal decision as foreclosures leave the banks with higher costs and higher losses, not lower.
On immigration reform, Obama did the right thing on deferred action, leading to increased accountability and transparency. The right next step is for Congress to enact the DREAM Act. Bringing millions of workers into our legal system increases America's tax base, ensures greater transparency and accountability in America's immigration system and ensures a higher likelihood of profitable effect and improved economic productivity.
The data shows it. Providing a legal framework leads to a more likely pursuit of higher education and higher-paying jobs, all of which leads to more taxes being paid and lower usage of government services. If the DREAM act is passed, our economy is looking at about $4 trillion in increased economic productivity. This is a good trend and one that we should support.
The real question remains: Are Republicans willing to do what they were elected to do and legislate on behalf of the American majority constituency and not the minority elite? For too long, Republicans blocked legislation that looks out for the "least of these" while leveraging the "elite of these" with an explicit and notable defense of the financial industry.
For too long, Republicans left Americans without defense against these powerful industries. For too long, Republicans promoted an individualism that leaves every American to fight alone against big banks and a big industry that has every advantage, privilege and power in its pocket.
We cannot wait any longer. We must do what's best for the majority middle, not the minority elite. If Republicans are unwilling to join us in this effort, then they are unfit to govern and must be gone by November. There is no time for dillydallying. It is time to join the Democrats or get off the train.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is a member of the Appropriations and Budget committees.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.