Economy & Budget

Congress is in need of strong medicine

Everyone inside the Beltway knows that Congress is in dire need of strong medicine, and 90 percent of Americans agree. Congress as a whole is less popular than it’s been since polling was invented. Unfortunately, too few of my colleagues are listening and focusing their efforts on healing the sick branch of government. 
I’ve been working on fundamental reforms in Congress for many years, including a book published in 2006 and a major speech at Harvard last year. I am delighted that we have a rare chance this year to turn reform ideas into reality. 


Senate should stand firm on JOBS Act

With the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (HR 3606), dubbed the “JOBS Act,” by the House of Representatives on March 8, 2012, momentum for reform of the legal regime governing capital formation in the United States is building. President Obama expressed his support for this regulatory reform, emphasizing that HR 3606 “will help startups and small businesses succeed and create jobs, which is fundamental to having an economy built to last.”  It is now up to the Senate to take up this momentum and pass comparable reform legislation.


Over-regulation dragging down capital markets, small business

If the name of the bill didn’t give it away, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act is meant to spur job creation. Instead of taking President Obama’s approach of borrow and spend, this bill takes a look at how start-up companies in the U.S. are regulated. This new look at job creation is long overdue.

Over the last decade forces have fundamentally changed the look of the global capital markets. The first comes from increased competition abroad: Europe and Asia have developed mature financial hubs that are increasingly on par with New York and Chicago. But like a coach benching his star player, the U.S. has done a lot to help the competition.


House should follow Senate and help restore Gulf Coast

Last week, the Senate voted to dedicate 80 percent of the civil fines from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to restoring Gulf communities, ecosystems and the economy. The amendment to the Senate transportation bill introduced by Senators Mary Landrieu, Bill Nelson, and Richard Shelby, was based on the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act, sponsored by the three members and six other Gulf State Senators. The amendment received strong bipartisan support, with 23 Republican votes and 53 Democrat.

Funds from the RESTORE Act could be used for wetland reconstruction, rebuilding depleted oyster beds, and building barrier islands. These natural resources are not only vital to protecting coastal communities in the face of the next Katrina like storm, but will also allow these communities to be more economically resilient as well. The Gulf region is home to a $23 billion fishing industry; with many fisher families depending on the Gulf’s natural resources.
Walking through New Orleans, the impact of the Gulf’s natural resources is everywhere, from restaurants advertising local seafood dishes to tourist operators luring visitors to take a boat ride through the Bayou. In Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, beach-lovers bring much needed dollars to hotels. The oil spill created havoc for small businessmen across the region; the RESTORE Act brings back the dollars to the communities that suffered the biggest environmental disaster our country has seen.


Why the national debt didn’t matter then, but does matter now

Democrats and Republicans take turns condemning and piling up debt. For example, while Franklin Roosevelt was president, Democratic Party platforms were mostly silent about government debt, while Republicans regularly condemned it. In 1960 Democrats criticized President Eisenhower for failing to reduce the national debt, but avoided the issue during the 1960s and 1970s.

When President Reagan increased the national debt during the 1980s, Democrats launched the strongest anti-debt campaign in U.S. history, but Republicans stopped talking about it. Democrats criticized a reported comment by Vice President Cheney that debt doesn’t matter, but now that a Democratic president is presiding over debt increases, Republicans are raising the volume, while Democrats downplay the issue.

Are the politics of the national debt just a cynical sham, or are there times when debt matters, and times when it doesn’t?


Washington is in need of a surgical intervention

If you believe the national debt and the federal budget deficit are urgent priorities, a Congressional budget hearing on February 28 offered insight into why it’s so difficult to restrain government spending.
Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta attempted to fend off reductions in spending at the Department of Defense, told Congress that the budget couldn’t be balanced with defense cuts alone. He said further cuts to his department would “hollow out the force and inflict severe damage to our national defense.”
One might be skeptical of Panetta’s claims that further savings in defense spending are impossible; the realities of waste and fraud in the defense procurement process are well documented. But on an essential point, Panetta is right: if we’re going to get our national spending problem under control, it’s going to take a much broader approach to budget reform that requires putting everything on the table.


View from beyond the Beltway: Pass a bipartisan transportation bill

We hail from three different levels of governance in three states, across three geographic regions, and from both parties, but we strongly agree on this: We desperately need an updated, bipartisan federal transportation bill that meets the 21st-century needs of communities like ours.
With just a handful of legislative days left before the March 31 expiration, the Senate now seems on the verge of voting on a bipartisan bill. The road has been rougher in the House, but Wed. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) urged his troops to make one last run at crafting their own measure.
We were heartened to hear that House leaders intend to back away from ending the dedicated funding for public transportation begun under President Reagan. But we hope the changes to the earlier draft will go well beyond that.


Celebrate agriculture, don't stifle agriculture

Today is National Agriculture Day. Today is a day to recognize all that America’s farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses do, a day to celebrate the abundance provided by our agricultural entrepreneurs.

As businessman-farmers ourselves, we know firsthand the challenges our producers face each and every day. We also know that the national debt crisis endangers the prosperity of everyone across the United States, and that wasteful farm program spending has been a real contributor over the decades. That’s why we introduced the Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger (REFRESH) Act in October — a deficit-reduction bill that cuts an estimated $40 billion over 10 years, ends policies that work against market forces and offers viable insurance options for farmers.

As both chambers of Congress grasp for solutions to our mounting federal deficit and a farm bill that expires in a few short months, our bill remains the only comprehensive piece of agriculture legislation that can claim this level of savings, combined with fundamental policy reforms.

Previous op-eds by us this week here on the Congress Blog have outlined some of the farm policy improvements made in our bill: we propose energy programs to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil while also creating jobs across rural America; we call for conservation reforms that would free up land for farmers to grow more food while ensuring that important conservation programs are fiscally sustainable; and we offer commonsense reforms in the farm bill’s huge nutrition title that would reduce waste in food programs and close loopholes, saving $14 billion over the next 10 years while still allowing us to meet the needs of the hungry and fulfill our budgetary obligations.


REFRESH Act: Meeting needs of hungry while cutting costs

Our government’s $15.3 trillion debt casts a cloud of uncertainty over every American’s economic security. Americans from every walk of life—rural, urban, young, old—are left treading water in Washington’s sea of red ink. Too many politicians talk about cutting spending without following through. In reality, we can only tackle out-of-control deficits if we begin the work of setting priorities and finding savings. As conservatives, we know that, when it comes to nutrition programs, we must balance our fiscal obligations with our convictions to help those who are truly in need.

On one hand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 49 million people in the United States were food insecure last year. That means that, at times during the last year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.


Employer criticisms of new immigration rules are not credible

The Department of Labor (DOL) just issued new rules for the H-2B guest worker program, a temporary foreign worker program for jobs outside of agriculture that don’t require a college degree. The new rules will help put unemployed Americans back to work. This is especially true for those hardest hit by the recession: young workers and those with a high school diploma or less. The rules help prevent corporate greed from trumping the needs of the unemployed and simultaneously protect the most vulnerable immigrants in our workforce.

Unfortunately, employers that hire H-2B guest workers are lobbying Congress to kill or suspend the new rules, and they’re likely to challenge them in the courts, too. Rodney Alexander, a House Republican from Louisiana, has already proposed a joint resolution that would nullify them. Why? Because employers claim it is too difficult to fill job openings with U.S. workers, and that the new H-2B rules are so burdensome they will devastate entire industries. These are bogus claims: there are millions of available U.S. workers and the new rule’s requirements are modest.