Dear Mr. President : Do this first for consumers
NEW YORK (Reuters) - What's your priority for President Obama?
Here's a roundup of what key consumer experts want the president and the next Congress to tackle first.
John C. "Jack" Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group:
Deal as swiftly as possible with the fiscal cliff. The nation's credit is at stake. The idea of a "grand" deal is now a necessity. The Tea Party-types will have to go along with it.
Look for spending cuts, to be sure, but look for tax increases, too. You can help 80 percent - maybe 90 percent - of Americans by just giving a flat deduction for mortgage interest up to X, and for income and capital gains up to Y. There are ways to use graduated deductions to get the nation's richest to pay their share.
We are living in a different kind of America than we had in the past. I'm sure the founding fathers were pretty tough on each other, but they gave in for the greater good.
Charles Rotblut, vice president of the American Association of Individual Investors:
Finding a resolution to the fiscal issues needs to be the top priority. Providing certainty about 2013 taxes and some clarity about budget spending will have far-reaching benefits. But our members do want the White House and Congress to go a step further and create a long-term plan for accelerating the pace of economic growth and reducing the federal debt.
Bob Meighan, vice president of TurboTax, owned by Intuit, and a certified public accountant:
Please reach across the aisle, and all the aisles and to the (Internal Revenue Service) to help resolve uncertainties around tax legislation this year. Some 25 percent of all filers will have a delayed refund if decisions are not made quickly.
It's important because 40 percent of all taxpayers live paycheck to paycheck, and that tax refund is really needed to pay off holiday debt and meet other living expenses.
Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block Inc:
No. 1 is the alternative-minimum-tax patch (an income tax enacted to make sure the rich pay some minimum amount of tax, but increasingly hitting the middle class).
If this isn't addressed in the lame-duck session, it will affect 34 million taxpayers, who could end up having to pay $3,000 to $5,000 more in federal taxes this year.
We did a study and the average family, who would normally expect a refund of about $1,000, could end up owing about $1,400. To us, that is the most urgent thing that needs to be addressed.
Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group, costar of ABC's "Shark Tank" and real estate contributor to NBC's "Today" show:
For small business and real estate, both need the exact same thing - confidence and funding. Somebody has to force the banks to refinance the underwater mortgages. It freezes the market. People are locked into mortgages they can't afford and they can't get out of them.
There has to be a simple way to make the banks cooperate. That's what causes my heartache. It seems mean-spirited not to free up funds.
Lauren Saunders, managing attorney of the National Consumer Law Center:
The top of our agenda is still the foreclosure crisis. The mortgage industry is still a locomotive headed for foreclosures. They need more powerful incentives to work with people when it's possible. And they need to end the dual-track system - when the foreclosure goes full steam ahead at the same time as they are working on a modification. The foreclosure needs to halt.
Karen Davis, president of The Commonwealth Fund:
President Obama said he will move forward with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and that should be a top priority for state and federal policymakers.
With the major coverage provisions scheduled to take place in 2014 — including the opening of state exchanges for those without affordable employer coverage to purchase insurance, subsidies to make coverage affordable, and expansion of Medicaid for those with low incomes — Americans will begin to experience a reversal in the decades-long trends of rising numbers of uninsured and underinsured, relief from burdensome medical bills and medical debt, and the security of knowing that a job loss does not mean a loss of health insurance.
Steve Wojcik, vice president for public policy of The National Business Roundtable on Health:
As the Affordable Care Act is rolled out, we ask for flexibility in the regulations so that they don't harm the employer-based healthcare system that 160 million Americans rely on.
Jen Mishory, deputy director of Young Invincibles, an organization representing the interests of 18- to 34-year-olds:
With skyrocketing tuition and an average of over $26,000 in student debt for most gradates, higher education must be a priority in Washington.
We must reform the federal financial aid system to increase access to college for students, lower debt levels and hold everyone accountable to graduating students and getting them good jobs. Washington must come together behind other important improvements to higher education so that a college degree is once again an accessible ticket to the middle class.
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org:
The government needs to stop cutting support at the federal and state level and start increasing support. Not investing in education is extremely short-sighted for American students and the federal government's future tax revenue.
Progress will require cooperation. The Democrats in Congress could refuse to pass expansion of tax cuts unless Republicans cooperate. A $6 billion per year savings from cutting subsidized interest on Stafford loans could go to fill an $8 billion shortfall for Pell Grants, one of the most effective student aid programs we have.
Dallas Salisbury, president and CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute:
Social Security is the most essential retirement income program in the nation and must be secured so that policy makers will acknowledge and communicate that it can be relied upon and will be available in its current form: Every worker, surviving spouse, disabled individual and child who loses a working parent must be able to rely on at least one source of monthly income, even if they did not figure out for themselves that they had risks that required protection.
Debra Bailey Whitman, AARP's executive vice president of policy and international:
We need a broad conversation in Washington - in the context of the looming fiscal cliff debate - about challenges to retirement security. We can't look just at Medicare or Social Security (separately). We need to see how those programs work together with private retirement saving, to make sure current and future retirees can look ahead with hope.
If we can address the cost of healthcare, that's good not only for seniors but for the federal budget, employers and workers. We should look for ways to make the system more efficient and less wasteful.
Social Security was designed at a time when women didn't work, marriages lasted forever and people didn't live as long. Our population is changing, so we can't just look at this as just benefits and taxes and how to cut one side or the other.
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