PITTSFIELD -- Gov. Deval Patrick believes the American dream is at stake during the state and national election campaigns.
In a wide-ranging discussion with Eagle staffers on Tuesday, the co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign (one of 30, he hastened to point out) declared: "In the minds and experience of a lot of Americans right now, the American dream is up for grabs ... the ability to imagine a different place and way for yourself and your family and then reach for it that’s so unique to this country."
"It’s always been true that government has played a role in helping people help themselves, to reach for that dream," he said, "and right now the tea party Republicans in Congress who have bullied everybody, including Republicans by the way, are putting a lot of that in jeopardy."
Patrick’s comments came as he elaborated on his support for U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat who is challenging Republican incumbent Scott Brown in what’s shaping up as a close race.
Although Patrick acknowledged Brown as "a nice-enough guy and a pretty good campaigner," he took the Republican to task for being "a very unreliable senator in terms of the interests of Massachusetts. Trying to get his help on student loans, on unemployment insurance benefits, on worker training and education funding -- it’s just unbelievably frustrating."
He credited the late Sen. Edward Kennedy as "all Massachusetts, all the time, very responsive to our needs here. He could be a fierce supporter on commercial issues of importance to Massachusetts employers ... but Brown has not been that kind of senator."
"We need somebody who’s thinking about Massachusetts and that’s not what we have," Patrick added.
He credited Warren with "understanding government’s role in helping people help themselves."
On other subjects, Patrick said he is still considering the $32.5 billion state budget approved by state lawmakers last Wednesday for the fiscal year that began on Sunday. Patrick has until this Sunday to act on the legislation.
He favors the funding approved for education and local aid -- "the best kind of long-term investment" -- as well as community college reform to "harness them as a training platform to meet the needs of local businesses."
"We have 15 different campuses, some of which are very connected to the communities in which they operate, some see themselves as two-year versions of four-year colleges, and some are hodgepodges of the two," he said. He favors seeing the community colleges function as a system aligned with the state’s economic-growth strategy.
But he questioned some of the language crafted by state lawmakers as they hastened to wrap up the budget, especially on tightened restrictions for Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards used by low-income individuals and families. Some of the reforms may be unenforceable because of the cards’ technology, Patrick contended.
"I don’t want to be in the position where I have signed something that we can’t actually deliver on and then be blasted for not having enforced the law," he said.
Patrick added that he was bothered by aspects of the EBT debate -- "the painting with such a broad brush, leaving the impression that everybody who’s poor is gaming the system and trying to get something they’re not entitled to."
On the national debate over the Supreme Court’s decision upholding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Patrick touted the popularity and broad coverage afforded by the landmark Massachusetts legislation signed by Gov. Mitt Romney in 2005, pointing out that the nearly universal access has only caused a 1 percent increase in state spending.
He attributed the national law’s continuing unpopularity, according to multiple national polls, to "lackluster marketing at the federal level from the administration onward, Demo crats being kind of squishy in talking about it ... and an affirmative disinformation campaign by the opponents. Democrats need to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe, and we actually believe that health is a public good and everybody ought to have access to adequate and affordable care, and I think that’s something we ought to be proud of."
"It’s disappointing that Gov. Romney wouldn’t wrap his arms around something that’s done this much good for so many people in Massachusetts," Patrick added, pointing out that the former governor had introduced the idea of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance.
Patrick suggested that the Repub lican presidential hopeful is "pandering" because of the public opposition depicted by the polls.
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