We said it first last week. Now, everyone is catching on: it’s (past) time for Congress and the Administration to pivot to a jobs agenda. While there are already pretty clear indications from recent polls that voters may forgive the gamesmanship on the debt ceiling, they are unlikely to forgive stubbornly high unemployment and the complete lack of attention from our elected leaders to the economic concerns of American families.
But the jobs pivot is not off to a good start. Congress will not resume business until September. The White House offers up “small ball” proposals, defends its record on jobs, and promptly announces a domestic terrorism initiative.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says the President does not need to pivot to jobs because it has been his focus all along. I must have missed that. There’s a difference between talking about jobs, which the President has certainly done, and showing leadership on a jobs agenda, which has been sorely lacking.
It’s now clearer than ever that we need to make the August heat even more uncomfortable for our elected leaders. “Show me the jobs” must replace the anger two years ago over health care and spending. A focus on jobs, after all, is the top priority of voters on the right, in the center, and to the left.
But we don’t need more of the same. Tax cuts directed towards outsourcers or Wall Street won’t help. Nor, quite honestly, will free trade agreements, which Congress looks set to pass when it returns. Even the rosiest scenarios for free trade agreements show they create 70,000 jobs over a long time horizon. (By comparison, if every American spent $64 more a year on American-made goods, we would create 200,000 jobs.)
What should Washington do on jobs? Focus on manufacturing. It offers the most value-added for the rest of the economy. And, as new polling shows, it’s also wildly popular with American across the board: Democrats and Republicans, all regions, and even a lot of overlap between Tea Party supporters and union households.
Here’s a jobs agenda that everyone (except the regime in Beijing) should be able to get behind:
1. Invest in infrastructure through a deficit-neutral program of at least $500 for long-term, high-value projects. Create a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage financing for critical projects of national significance.
2. Reshape the tax code to provide more incentives for domestic production and inward investment, such as those for clean energy manufacturing and investments in plant and equipment.
3. Provide a level playing field for American workers and businesses by penalizing China’s currency manipulation and launching (or ramping up) targeted trade cases to counter intellectual property theft, state-owned enterprises, subsidies, and rare-earth mineral restrictions.
4. Reshape our educational system to provide more vocational education opportunities to high school students and a seamless transition to technical school to create a talented pool of young manufacturing workers.
5. Apply Buy America requirements to more federal procurement, which would support 33 percent more manufacturing jobs per dollar of taxpayer investment.
6. Reform the research and development tax credit to provide a bonus to firms that commercialize their innovation in America.
Taken together, these steps would provide America with a solid foundation for economic growth and job creation. Congress and the Administration, please act on them. Your own jobs may be at stake.
As bad as the economic data are right now, Americans feel even worse. They think the next generation is worse off than we are. They believe America has lost its lead to China. Those are visceral feelings that are difficult to change unless Washington adopts a new vision. Do our leaders want to be remembered for governing over America’s economic decline, or do they want to lead an economic rebirth of our nation? I hope they feel the August heat.