By Tracy Lamm
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama told a packed house at Loren Walker Arena Sunday that the ability to fix a broken health care system, upgrade a century old education system and become an energy independent nation exists.
"But, we lack the political will and leadership to make these things happen," Obama said to the nearly 1,000 who showed up Sunday afternoon.
Obama was in West Burlington on a swing through eastern Iowa as he stumped this past weekend for the Democratic nomination for president.
Obama drew the loudest applause when he spoke of his opposition to the war in Iraq.
"We're in a war that never should have been authorized in the first place," Obama said.
He spoke of his pride in opposing the war from the beginning.
"We have spent a half-a trillion dollars so far and will spend a half a trillion more before it's done. We've lost almost 3,200 of our bravest, finest young men and women and for all that we find ourselves less safe," Obama said.
He spoke about the lack of adequate health care Iraq war veterans and veterans of all other conflicts have received. Obama said the U.S. government has underestimated the cost to fight the war in Iraq and that is part of why things have come up short on the home front for war veterans. He proposed cutting the bureaucratic red tape all veterans must endure in order to receive health care and benefits as a first step toward better treatment.
As a practical matter, Obama said veterans files should be transferred electronically from the Department of State upon honorable discharge to the Veterans Affairs administration. This filing sharing would make it easier for vets to apply for benefits and reduce the amount of paperwork error that exists now. He also suggested the same solution for health care to keep nurses out of office filing paperwork and at the bedside of patients.
Obama said he supports providing adequate health care insurance for all and putting more money into preventative programs. The Bush health care plan of the $5,000 medical spending savings accounts has pushed some employers into doing away with health insurance for employees according to Obama.
"If you think that the 46 million Americans without health insurance isn't a problem for you, you're wrong. The result of that are premiums that are on average $900 higher to pay for health care for the uninsured," Obama said.
More spending on early childhood education initiatives, an emphasis on math and science education, better teacher pay and more resources in the classroom also are measures Obama supports. He also suggested spending more to allow schools to adequately implement the measures in the No Child Left Behind Act.
"If we are going to hold them (teachers) to a higher standard, then we need to make sure they have the resources to back it," Obama said.
Obama urged the crowd to become involved in the political process.
"I've been in Washington long enough to know that Washington needs to change. And it can change. My main opponent in this race isn't other candidates - its cynicism. We have been fed a line for so long that our input doesn't matter. But, we know that every time there is change it doesn't come from the top. Change comes from the bottom," Obama said.
"Now, I know you have this tradition where you like to kick the tires and look under the hood. But, this is an election you can't afford to sit out. It isn't often that you get to put your shoulder to the wheel and move history along."