Kerry warns partisan fighting threatens U.S. global economic standing

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) made an impassioned plea Tuesday for an end to partisan fighting in Washington, and warned the nation’s international standing is at stake.

Kerry called on Democrats and Republicans to set short-term political goals aside to focus on investment opportunities that could bolster the economy for decades. He delivered his remarks at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-allied think tank in Washington. 

He urged colleagues to invest the hundreds of billions to repair the nation’s decaying transportation infrastructure and build a renewable-energy technology sector.

If the nation does not rebuild its highways, ports and railways and become a leading manufacturer of solar and wind technology, it will lose crucial competitive advantage to China and the European Union, Kerry warned.

“We as a people face another Sputnik moment today,” Kerry said, referring to the U.S. space race with the Soviet Union in the last century. “And the great question is whether we will meet this moment as Americans did so boldly five decades ago.”

Kerry noted that China invested an estimated $350 billion — or 9 percent of its gross domestic product — in infrastructure in 2009, and the European Union’s infrastructure bank financed $350 billion in projects between 2005 and 2009.

“Other countries are doing what we ought to do. They’re racing ahead because they created infrastructure banks to build a new future; but we’ve yet to build a new consensus for our own national infrastructure bank to make Americans the world’s builder’s again,” Kerry said.

The United States is now ranked 10th in global competitiveness among the world’s biggest economies. Investors have begun pulling billions out of the nation’s domestic stock funds to invest in foreign markets, and companies such as Applied Materials and IBM are opening major research and development centers in China.

“The world of the next generation will change too rapidly for political parties to focus too narrowly on the next election,” Kerry said. “And the 21st Century can be another American century — but only if we restore a larger sense of responsibility and replace the clattering cacophony of the perpetual campaign with a wider discussion of what is best for our country.”

Kerry argued the federal government helped invent the Internet, spurring the creation of a $1 trillion technology market with one billion users. The energy economy is a $6 trillion market with 4 billion users and could grow by 50 percent over the next three decades.

Green technology innovation could become the economic engine that the tech boom was in the 1990s, Kerry believes.

“Yet, as of today, without different policy decisions by us, most of this investment will be in Asia, and not the United States,” Kerry said.

China produced 5 percent of the world’s solar panels two years ago but now is home to the world’s largest solar manufacturing industry and exports more than 90 percent of its production.

China’s government is expected to spend three times as much as the U.S. on public clean-energy projects over the next few years, and has surpassed the U.S. as the fastest growing market for wind energy.

Kerry referenced Kevin Parker, the global head of asset management at Deutsche Bank, who has accused the U.S. government of falling “asleep at the wheel on climate change.”

“Now is the moment for America to reach for the brass energy ring — to go for the moon here on earth by building our new energy future,” Kerry said. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue; but instead of coming together to meet the defining test of a new energy economy and our future, we’re now leaving a political season in which too many candidates promised not to work with the other party.”

Kerry said bipartisan cooperation helped the U.S. develop its space program and build an interstate highway system.

He said filibusters have now become so common in the Senate that it has become difficult for Congress to govern.

“We have reached the point where the filibuster is being invoked by the minority not necessarily because of a difference over policy, but as a political tool to undermine the presidency,” he said.

Kerry said he supported the filibuster reform proposal Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced last week.

The most significant proposed change would require senators who filibuster to hold the Senate floor and debate constantly to block legislation. The moment opponents relinquish the floor, the majority party could move to pass its legislation.

Democrats who support the proposal say it would allow senators to use the filibuster to block big bills such as a repeal of healthcare reform, but would make it inconvenient to block judicial nominees or less-controversial legislation.

“There’s a real bipartisan consensus just waiting to lift our country and our future if Senators are willing to sit down and forge it and make it real,” Kerry said. “If we’re wiling to stop talking past each other, to stop substituting soundbites for substance.”