While the national economic indices are improving — unemployment numbers are moving down, job numbers in key segments are looking better, consumer confidence is up, the stock market has reached record highs and deficits have been decreasing — there is still work to do.
So as members of Congress gather in the nation’s capital, it is my hope that they do so with the desire to pursue a limited but aggressive agenda in 2014 to strengthen our economic conditions and help millions of people who are longing for the chance to live the American Dream.
The probability of Congress working across party lines toward the common goal of an improved economy is made less likely in a politically charged election year, when each party is trying to make gains in the chamber they don’t control. While part of the reason for gridlock is rooted in a true philosophical difference in how to achieve those goals, much of it is because of a lack of agreement on the goals themselves.
In a spirit of benevolent bipartisanship, I offer seven agenda items for Congress to consider. There is a real opportunity for some good old-fashioned political horse-trading.
Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State recently teamed up to deliver a negotiated agreement on the budget, or at least a portion of it. Their success could become contagious and spur other congressional pairings for policy negotiations.
• Debt reduction. For a traditional Republican issue that should spark excitement among fiscal conservatives, members should focus on a reasonable and workable debt reduction plan that encompasses a more serious approach than the sequestration. Recognizing that it was fashioned in a way that both sides would find objectionable, sequestration was intended to force negotiators to the table. Instead, it became a high-stakes game of chicken, with no winners.
• Tax reform. Those who take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously should jump at the chance to address tax reform. A simpler, fairer system that benefits average Americans and not special interests could be developed, discussed, debated and implemented. This could have the added benefit of reducing the need for government regulations and regulators.
• Overseas capital. Republicans should formulate a policy designed to bring capital back from overseas. Without making this an excuse to reward the bad, or at least greedy, behavior that contributed to our economic decline, incentives could be employed to return those dollars that were generated in the United States and put them to work here at home.
Democrats are already focused on three important issues: raising the minimum wage to a living wage, finishing the job on immigration reform and fixing and expanding the nation’s crumbling and outdated infrastructure. All three initiatives are overwhelmingly supported by the American people, according to poll after poll. As with every potential policy, the devil is in the details. There’s plenty of room for negotiation.
• Minimum wage. At $10 an hour for a 40-hour work week, an individual could earn $20,800 a year. At the current rate of $7.25 they might reach $15,080. To put that in perspective, the poverty level in the United States is currently set at $23,550 for a family of four. Those under the poverty level are eligible for government programs at a cost to taxpayers.
• Immigration. The U.S. Senate has already passed a bipartisan immigration bill; the House should take it up, amend it and go to conference to hammer out the differences. In other words, they should do their jobs.
• Infrastructure. There is no better way of creating jobs while improving our quality of life than investing in our infrastructure. Most of the jobs created are private-sector jobs, which can have a multiplying effect on other service-related jobs in a region.
• Healthcare. Wherever you fall on the scale from ardent supporter to single-mindedly-focused detractor, you must recognize the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. It has withstood legal challenges, obstructionist efforts, a botched rollout and incessant second-guessing by insurance companies, politicos and the news media.
Lost in all of this is the real need of people to have access to affordable health insurance. Everyone’s efforts should be focused on how to get all these folks covered. Republicans should cease the pie-in-the-sky plans to undo President Obama’s hard-fought policy initiative and offer to enter into good-faith negotiations to modify it. The president and congressional Democrats should welcome the opportunity to improve the law and its implementation. No one benefits by its failure.
Finally, implicit by its omission, Congress should stay away from divisive social issues and focus on jobs and the economy.