The war in Iraq is casting its long shadow all the way to the mountain campaign for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. The cost is not only a human one, says Democratic hopeful and State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, but it’s chopping away at the very definition of government.
“Iraq — you cannot get away from a foreign policy that is draining us of our resources,” Fitz-Gerald says.
One example of how the war is costing programs at home can be seen in an issue like transportation.
“We sent a Republican and a Democrat to a White House conference, both on the transportation committee,” she says. “They both reported back to me that what they were told was that all of the federal dollars had dried up. There was a willingness on the part of the federal government to let us toll the federal highways.
“So, go retax people for what they’ve already paid for.”
“A lot of this can be looked at in this way: Where is the money going? It’s going to an effort in Iraq that the majority of the American people are dissatisfied with, a war that was entered into under false pretenses by the administration. People were not told the truth about what kind of danger Saddam Hussein presented.
“If we really were serious about al-Qaeda and the Taliban we should have finished the job in Afghanistan. No one can define what victory means in Iraq.”
Fitz-Gerald’s solution to the dilemma is not particularly innovative, however. She says that the Congress needs to exercise its power of the purse over the war, which it just recently declined to do. But she says that if benchmarks are not set and reached, no progress will be made.
In her opening speech to the Colorado Senate this year, Fitz-Gerald noted that the state had made progress in controlling health care costs. Asked if any of these lessons were transferable to the federal level, she says:
“I think the one thing we know is that the more uninsured you have the higher the premiums will be for everybody else. Starting with that premise, the ability to include more people in the system cuts down on emergency room usage.
“Trying to some transparency from insurers, so you know what your premium pays for and that there’s a cost justification for the price of the premium. Premiums go up 15 percent a year, salaries go up three to four percent a year. At some point we outpace the ability of people to pay their premium … People who have to buy their own health insurance have terrible problems.”
Fitz-Gerald says that state governments have been told to cap the number of children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program “That’s precisely the wrong direction,” Fitz-Gerald says.
On climate and energy, Fitz-Gerald says that the federal government has abdicated its leadership role to the states. “The federal government ought to playing a leadership role,” she says, “on renewables, CAFE standards and so on. It’s long overdue. But if the federal government isn’t going to lead, it should get out of the way.”
The states have been taking the lead on these issues, especially on carbon emissions and climate change.
The states have taken the initiative partly out of self-interest, she says. There are numerous new technologies to be developed. By applying incentives in their own regions, states hope to be in the forefront of these technologies and reap the economic benefits of new industries.
But there is also a moral imperative, Fitz-Gerald says:
“This goes back ot sort of the conversation we had during Ref C. What did we inherit? And what do we leave to the next generation? Is it going to be poorer, or is it going to be better?
“I was struck by this during the Ref C conversation. The generation that I inherited my opportunities from was that generation that suffered through the Depression, had to be fed to get rid of rickets to go into World War II. They came out of all that and instead of looking at my generation and saying, ‘We’ve suffered, you guys are on your own,’ they said, ‘You go fulfill your potential.’
“Without that kind of attitude from generation to generation, I don’t think we stay the kind of country we are.”
Fitz-Gerald says that under leadership the Democratic majority has changed the tenor of the debate in Colorado from one of knee-jerk hostility to government to a more open discussion of the government’s role in people’s lives.
“What we really did was change the dialogue in this state … to what is the role of government? What do we use? Why do we need it? Are we building a society together?
“Or have we forgotten that everything we inherited from those who came before us came at great sacrifice.”