But the gridlock that has plagued the federal government over the past few years canít continue. Divided or not, the federal government has to undertake bold actions to restore our nationís competitiveness and get the economy moving again: Eight percent unemployment and one percent growth should never be the norm.
FRESH THINKING NEEDED
Breaking the gridlock and implementing bold policies requires a fresh way of thinking in the nationís capital. At the National Association of Manufacturers, when we consider a policy, we ask ourselves, ďWill this grow our economy?Ē
For too long, economic growth has been only a secondary consideration among our elected leaders in Washington. Sometimes, itís because they are focused on satisfying a certain political constituency. Other times, growth takes a backseat because the nation is on the brink of a crisis Ė like a government shutdown or default of our debt Ė and our leadersí top priority is avoiding an economic catastrophe.
But, for this new session of Congress and a second-term Obama Administration, growth must come first. The men and women we put in office need to view solutions to our nationís problems through the lens of economic growth, just as manufacturers do.
THE DEBT THREAT
This growth test is especially important if policymakers tackle comprehensive tax reform as part of a broad effort to restore the nationís fiscal foundation. Our growing debt is a threat to our prosperity and the opportunities that will be available to future generations, but we wonít get control of the debt with a stalled or shrinking economy. After all, itís not simply a matter of revenues and spending; if new tax policies make us less competitive, we will never achieve the growth that is a necessary component of a long-term budget solution.
Pro-growth tax reform is one opportunity before the President and Congress. Another is energy policy. Our nationís energy strategy should be competitiveness, yet that idea has been missing from the debate.
Sensible tax and energy policies can help revitalize the US economy and get businesses hiring again; but they arenít the only aspects of a competitive business climate. Manufacturers Ė and job creators in any sector Ė need a balanced regulatory system that safeguards the health and safety of Americans while ensuring that businesses can compete.
REIGNING IN REGULATION
Regulators are bombarding manufacturers with new rules. In fact, over the past three decades, Washington bureaucrats have burdened manufacturers with more than 2,000 regulations Ė and more are on the way. President Obama needs to ensure that the agencies donít overreach or allow partisan, ideological considerations to win out over common sense. At the same time, Congress must conduct vigorous oversight of federal agencies and refrain from ceding excessive power to bureaucrats.
Congress and the President can also work together to strengthen our nationís infrastructure. Members of both parties recognize the need for wise investments in our nationís transportation system. Democrats and Republicans came together in 2011 to approve three free trade agreements. We now need that spirit of cooperation in pursuing new trade opportunities. Itís ultimately up to the President and Congress to choose a pro-growth path or settle for gridlock. Manufacturers will be there pushing them to make the right decision and making clear the consequences of inaction on this nationís competitiveness.
Business advocacy makes a difference. Manufacturers can lead the debate. We can drive the agenda so that our elected officials make the right choices, not just for our sector but for the entire country.
Author Jay Timmons is president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and a leading advocate for the nearly 12 million Americans employed in the manufacturing sector. NAM is the largest US manufacturing association. Its mission is to foster a stronger economy by enhancing the competitiveness of American manufacturers. To learn more about the organization, visit www.nam.org.