Commonsense solutions for sustainable job growth

At the risk of sounding as hyperbolic as Howard Cosell announcing an Ali fight, the moment before President Obama is a profound one. Sure the Washington silly season of debate centers on deficit reduction or jobs, but that debate is simply a red herring that detracts from the real issue. The real issue is not jobs versus deficits — we need a focus on both; it is whether we are prepared to take the steps necessary to compete in the new global economy even if most of the nation is so focused on survival it cannot stomach real change. The real issue is whether popular incrementalism will prevail over disruptive and challenging change that sets the nation on a robust economic growth path now and into the future.  

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The president’s speech Tuesday and the solutions he offered on economic growth and job creation are a strong start, but more needs to be done. To spur sustained job growth, the private sector has to be a more prominent part of the effort, and innovation must be the key driver.

I am not alone in that view. A diverse group of over 100 CEOs representing a wide cross-section of the tech sector and the political spectrum sent a letter to President Obama encouraging a jobs agenda that is built on driving innovation here at home that is then exported to the world, resulting in new capital inflow and new jobs in the United States. As CEOs of some of the world’s leading technology companies, the signatories to the letter understand the economic pain that is being felt today, but also see the promise on the horizon with adoption of the right policies.

The policies advocated by these CEOs are not the stuff you see on banners at the Macy’s parade, but they are the types of efforts that are needed to ensure we have something to be thankful for now and in the future Those policies include:  

• Accelerating release of recovery funds to fund broadband deployment and adoption, universal health IT, and green energy, including the Smart Grid, to restore U.S. leadership in sectors that have been designated priorities for governments around the world.

• Cultivating the world’s best and brightest workforce with training programs focused on future market demands and proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math; and legislation to retain foreign skilled workers already in this country or seeking advanced degrees at our colleges and universities so they can innovate and create jobs in the U.S.

• Spurring investments by enacting a permanent and strengthened research and development tax credit as well as other key business tax incentives before they expire at the end of this year; revising our own international tax code to ensure a level playing field with foreign competitors at home and abroad; creating investment tax incentives such as bonus depreciation; and providing corporate pension plans with an extended timeline for catch-up payments so that they can avoid crushing obligations resulting in further economic contraction.

• Promoting exports of U.S. goods and services by aggressively following up on recent commitments to expand the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to win passage of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement; and supporting swift conclusion of the Doha Round, passage of the other outstanding free trade agreements, and promotion of trade in green technologies through a comprehensive Environmental Goods and Services Agreement.

Washington can often be reminiscent of a circus: everyone attempting to juggle 10 different items while constantly jostling over even the non-controversial. To move beyond a jobless recovery, and significantly achieve a recovery where there is an increase in real wages, the president is right that we must end the circus atmosphere and move beyond the populist, prosaic, and partisan to what is in the national interest. The policies above fit the bill and should be acted upon immediately. There are at least 100 CEOs who are prepared to stand with the president and Congress with a seriousness of purpose to match the significance of the challenge and opportunity that is before us.

Garfield is president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council.