Turning to nation’s business in wake of tragedy

As Congress returns to work this week, our community is still recovering from the tragedy in Tucson, Ariz., and praying for the health of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and all of the wounded. A tragedy like this doesn’t make our differences disappear; but this can, I hope, be a time to remember that the grave challenges our nation faces are common to us all and can only be overcome with common effort.

In this new Congress, I hope that members of both parties will take seriously the responsibility they share: to find common ground on the problems that worry Americans most, problems like a lack of jobs, a struggling middle class and a dangerous debt. In the 112th Congress, Democrats will meet that responsibility by putting forward a positive agenda — one that can win bipartisan support.

On jobs, both parties understand a renewal of American manufacturing must be part of the solution. Manufacturing is a strong source of well-paying, middle-class jobs today, a key source of innovative advances for the future and an important source of our nation’s pride. That’s why I’ve worked hard to advance the “Make It In America” agenda, a plan to strengthen American manufacturing.

In the 111th Congress, Democrats and Republicans came together to support “Make It In America” bills to help inventors get their products to market faster, make it cheaper for American manufacturers to obtain the materials they need to produce goods, help veterans find jobs in the growing clean energy sector, and more. And in this Congress, I’m confident we can build on that success by passing bills to enhance job-training partnerships between businesses, educators and workers; help match job-training programs to the jobs that are in the highest demand; fight for a fair playing field for American exporters; and hold China accountable for the currency manipulation that gives its manufacturers an unfair advantage.

But job creation, while essential, isn’t enough. Even before the economic crisis hit, we were a country with an historically struggling middle class, with stagnant middle-class wages and with levels of inequality we haven’t seen in nearly a century. Lifting the middle class again is difficult and complex work — but it can start with strong support for outstanding education and basic research to create the well-paying jobs of the future.

In the 112th Congress, I’m hopeful the parties can find common ground on education reform. We should build on the successful “Race to the Top” program, bringing more data-driven accountability to our classrooms, while giving schools, teachers and at-risk populations the support they need to excel.

And, with China on pace to overtake us in patent applications, it’s time to renew a bipartisan commitment to scientific research. As George Will argued this month, “Congressional conservatives [should defend] research spending. … Research, including in the biological sciences, that yields epoch-making advances requires time horizons that often are impossible for businesses.”

Finally, the two parties must find common ground to put America’s fiscal house back in order. The consequences of failure could be catastrophic for our economic strength, our national security and our children’s opportunities.

I believe the proposal of the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission needs to be at the center of our national conversation. Though there’s a great deal in the plan to inspire disagreement on both sides of the aisle, it rightly recognizes that a solution to debt must address both spending and revenue. On the spending side, we have to reform entitlements to keep them solvent for future generations, and we have to continually scrutinize discretionary spending, especially the largest contributor to discretionary spending, defense.

Likewise, we cannot ignore the revenue side of the ledger. I believe we must simplify the tax code and reduce both rates and tax preferences. A simpler tax code can unleash economic growth by saving families and businesses precious time, and it can reduce the deficit. If President Obama pursues tax reform in this Congress, he’ll have my support.

In the wake of tragedy, I know that it can be difficult to turn again to the business before us. But let’s remember that Rep. Giffords was attacked doing work at the heart of our democracy: listening to her neighbors. We can honor her by bringing a new seriousness to that work, both when we listen to our own neighbors and when we speak for them in Washington.

Rep. Hoyer is the House Minority Whip.