After years of struggle, the U.S. economy is finally bouncing back. Key economic indicators are moving in the right direction. Our gross domestic product growth rate is up, the unemployment rate is down, and consumer confidence is on the rise. Of course, this turnaround is fragile. One only needs to look at the recent volatile swings in the stock market to know that this recovery is not complete. It has taken a long time to turn the economy around and many Americans still feel a sense of uncertainty about the future. Despite this, I remain very confident our country is on a better economic path. More can be done by the private sector, government, and all Americans to solidify our recovery. We all have to work together and everyone has a role to play.
Last year, change came to the nation’s capital. Wisconsin’s own Paul RyanPaul RyanNewsmax CEO: 'Trump still the winner after Ryan plan fails' Conservative media struggles with new prominence under Trump Report: Ryan pleaded on one knee for ObamaCare repeal vote MORE (R) unexpectedly became the Speaker of the House. I was proud to see my fellow Wisconsinite take the gavel in the House and get the gears of government working again. I know that conventional wisdom dictates that Washington is permanently gridlocked and nothing ever gets done. While this may have been true in the past, 2015 proved to be different.
Speaker Ryan brought fresh thinking and a little bit of “Wisconsin Nice” to the job. He proved that compromise is not a dirty word and that you can get things done in DC. And he taught us that heated political rhetoric is no substitute for thoughtful policy ideas.
The end of the year brought deals on taxes, the budget, and highway funding. Although these deals did not address all of the economic issues facing our country, it did bring more certainty in the short term to create more stability for 2016. It is encouraging to see Speaker Ryan, Congress, and President Obama working together to get things done.
History seems to indicate that you can’t accomplish much in Washington in an election year. I reject that notion and hope that our leaders in Washington will build on the progress made in 2015.
A trade deal with Asia and comprehensive tax reform are major areas where Congress can and should try to craft agreements this year. Business just can’t wait until January 20, 2017 for Congress and the White House to get back to work. We need action now.
One policy area where there is already bipartisan agreement is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS is a government mandate that requires transportation fuel to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels, such as corn-based ethanol. The RFS came about for noble reasons but has proven over time to have unintended consequences that hurt both businesses and regular families. At Briggs & Stratton, we’ve seen first-hand the serious problems that increased levels of ethanol causes in small engines. Fuel containing more than 10 percent of ethanol will eventually cause engines to fail, leaving consumers with broken products and abundant frustrations. Of course, it is illegal to put higher blends of fuel in our products, but “misfueling” remains a major issue. Most consumers buy fuel based solely on price and many just don’t know about the myriad of problems caused by higher blends of ethanol.
That’s why we’ve partnered with retailers and other outdoor power equipment manufacturers to educate consumers on the real risks that ethanol poses to small engines. Other groups are doing their part too. Diverse organizations like Americans for Tax Reform, the Environmental Working Group, Oxfam and the American Meat Institute have all worked hard to point out the serious problems with the RFS. In addition, advances in technology have proven that there are emerging biofuels that can power our engines without breaking them. But more needs to be done.
Congress should review the RFS and take into account the real damage that consumers face through this misguided mandate. Many leaders in Congress have proposed sensible solutions.
Bipartisan leaders like Reps. Jim SensenbrennerJames SensenbrennerGOP rep: Funds from Mexican cartels can pay for border wall GOP rep: Trump or Mike Pence will be president for next 4 years Wyden, Sensenbrenner lead February town halls MORE (R-Wis.), Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteWeek ahead: Senate takes aim at Obama-era 'blacklisting' rule House panel blocks Dem effort on Trump's potential business conflicts House panel to hold hearing on foreign surveillance law MORE (R-Va.), Peter WelchPeter WelchSanders says he will introduce 'Medicare for all' bill Dem lawmakers propose bill to regulate drone data collection Cummings: Trump commits to strong push for Medicare drug price negotiation MORE (D-Vt.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.) have all crafted legislation that should be considered this year. There are other common sense answers that will help our economy and protect consumers. Congress should build upon its bipartisan successes in 2015 and defy those who cynically proclaim “nothing gets done in an election year.” Policy makers should reform the RFS in 2016.
I remain very confident in our future. Our economy is improving, but more remains to be done. Briggs & Stratton has been manufacturing in the U.S. for almost 110 years. I could not be more proud of the products we make or my colleagues that make them. We are ready to make American products for another century. With some help from leaders in Washington, and a little “Wisconsin Nice,” I know our next century will be even better than our first.
Teske is chairman, president and CEO of Briggs & Stratton Corporation.