February 05, 2014

Let's Get Ambitious. But Let's Fix Our Finances First | Politico

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last week, spoke to the American people about ways he feels we can address income inequality and his plans to bypass Congress by issuing executive orders aimed at expanding opportunity. As a former governor, I understand his frustrations with Capitol Hill, which does not produce the best results for America. But as a senator, I am discouraged by the efforts President Obama has made to reach common-sense solutions where Democrats and Republicans can agree.

I grew up in Farmington, W.Va., where there was no such thing as economic inequality. We were all blessed. Everyone earned a similar salary, lived in the same-size houses and attended the same schools. Through my eyes, we were all pretty much equal.

My outlook changed the day in 1960 that my mom called me up from our garage, where I was working on my go-cart. My hands were dirty and greasy, but Mom insisted. As I washed my hands and climbed the steps, I remember hearing an Irish accent foreign to my small town. That was the day I shook hands with Ted Kennedy and the campaign staff of his brother, John F. Kennedy, as they sat at my parents’ kitchen table eating spaghetti and discussing ways that we could lift all Americans out of poverty and improve the quality of life in our country. JFK called his agenda the New Frontier, “the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats” — and it inspired me to serve.

Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, went on to address income inequality and poverty in the United States by creating a social safety net, a poverty floor that no American should fall beneath. Those were noble goals then and now, but if we truly want to help lift Americans out of poverty and into the middle class, we must adapt to the changing times and move beyond the same old policy solutions.

President Obama plans to issue an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contractor workers and is calling on Congress to do the same for all workers. He also demanded Congress extend long-term unemployment insurance for yet another year. For half a century, we’ve focused primarily on protecting and sustaining safety-net programs: food stamps, unemployment benefits and incremental raises to the minimum wage. While I support temporarily extending unemployment benefits and increasing the minimum wage in a responsible way, these programs simply help those in need to get by. What I haven’t heard from the president is any concrete plan to create an environment that nurtures economic growth and help workers find high-paying skilled jobs.

Don’t get me wrong: After three years, I have learned the hard way that nothing is easy in the Senate, even if it’s popular and right. I know everyone says that a “grand bargain” on spending and entitlement programs is dead, but I still hold out hope that the president will dust off the Simpson-Bowles framework and put the force of presidential leadership behind it. Because, let’s face it: Until we get our financial house in order, we cannot invest in our priorities. And it is those priorities where we finally have some agreement.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that we need to reform our Tax Code. So why not reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent over the next 10 years, cutting the rate by 1 percentage point annually? We could simultaneously close a new set of loopholes and deductions each year to raise additional revenue. Then, we could decide how to invest these new revenue sources.
My recommendation would be to put 70 percent of new money toward reducing the debt and the remaining 30 percent toward infrastructure. This would put our country on a level playing field in the global economy, help reduce our deficit and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. This would reform our Tax Code and create jobs. This is not politics; it’s just good government.

Democrats and Republicans all agree that American workers and companies produce some of the world’s best products. So why not do more to help these workers and companies export their products to emerging markets where the demand for quality goods is only growing? A recent report by Third Way showed that over the past decade, we’ve seen America’s share of trade with Asia-Pacific markets experience the steepest decline of any of our regional competitors. In 2020, leading Asia-Pacific economies will import almost $10 trillion in goods, Third Way estimates, offering significant new opportunities for American exporters and workers. By strategically regaining our share of Asia-Pacific export markets, we could increase U.S. exports by $600 billion and support more than 3 million new jobs in 2020 alone.

Democrats and Republicans also agree that accessibility to information is the gateway to attaining knowledge and sustaining our competitive advantage. We should promise to expand broadband access so that every household, educational facility, business and municipality has the Internet. Broadband Internet transports high-speed information and an unlimited amount of knowledge, which sets the foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness, educational opportunities and a higher quality of life. The Federal Communications Commission reported in 2011 that 62 percent of American workers rely on the Internet to perform their jobs. And that percentage will continue to rise annually.

We should re-establish a commitment to get connected. Let’s invest more in public-private partnerships such as the FCC has with telecommunications providers. For example, we’ve already seen gains from programs that exchange price-cap funding for broadband development commitments to connect hundreds of thousands of unserved or underserved areas. These programs would also include subsidies for schools and libraries as well as rural hospitals. A report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that a $10 billion investment in broadband would produce as many as 498,000 new jobs.

Some bedrock values define America. One of them is pretty fundamental — we believe in opportunity. We believe that everyone who wants to work hard and play by the rules should have a shot to succeed. But reform begins with leadership and a willingness to be bold. So in the spirit of John F. Kennedy, who chose boldness when he altered the discussion of his time to champion the New Frontier initiatives, I encourage us all to change the debate of our time. Let’s reset our agenda to achieve success and work together to accomplish it. Let’s prove to the American people that Washington can still have a positive impact on their lives.

Source: By Sen. Joe Manchin