To get the Senate back to work, turn to manufacturing
On November 5, 2014, the then-incoming Majority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), spoke at a victorious press conference in Louisville and said that with Republicans in control of the Senate, “we’re going to pass legislation,” and that “this gridlock and dysfunction can be ended.”
Sure enough, with a party in the minority that prioritizes progress and compromise over obstruction, the Senate has passed bipartisan legislation to start off this Congress. From passing a 10-year “doc fix” and legislation to combat human trafficking to promising, bipartisan efforts at the committee level to fix “No Child Left Behind” and ensure Congress has a role in reviewing a potential nuclear deal with Iran, the Senate is showing signs of life.
However, as we pick the last of the low-hanging legislative fruit and inch closer to the elections of 2016, continuing this bipartisan momentum will not be easy. Fortunately, there is one issue – with dozens of related bills – that remains ripe for bipartisanship: manufacturing.
That’s why last week, I kicked off the “Manufacturing Jobs for America” (MJA) campaign with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) to solicit, introduce, and pass bipartisan legislation to support American manufacturing.
During the last Congress, the MJA campaign was a resounding success that garnered support from both sides of the aisle. We began with 27 senators and 36 bills, half of which were introduced with bipartisan support, and by working together, with Republicans and Democrats, eight of those 36 bills were enacted into law. One bill was especially important – our measure to create a national manufacturing strategy that will for the first time lay out a proactive, comprehensive, and long-term policy for investing in and strengthening American manufacturing. Eight out of 36 might not be a great batting average, but in Congress, that’s a fairly impressive success rate.
So this year, we’re starting anew, reintroducing some bills that didn’t get to the finish line last Congress and proposing new legislation that will boost American manufacturing and support good, middle class jobs in communities across the country.
That’s why the MJA campaign is the Senate’s best bet to build on this year’s bipartisan momentum. Manufacturing isn’t a regional issue or a partisan issue – it’s something that has defined the American economy and the American workforce for generations in all 50 states, and our growing list of supporters speaks to that. From the National Association of Manufacturers, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, DuPont, and Dow, to the AFL-CIO, United Autoworkers, and United Steelworkers, our campaign to pass manufacturing bills is bipartisan to its core. It’s about results, not politics.
Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a union member or a Wall Street investor, the facts about manufacturing remain the same. Workers in manufacturing jobs earn 24 percent more than workers in other industries, and each new manufacturing job adds another 1.6 jobs to the local economy. For every dollar in manufacturing sales, another $1.34 is added to the economy, and we’ve seen clearly that investments in manufacturing have a stronger overall impact than investments in any other economic sector.
The facts also show us that despite our economic recovery, which has added nearly 900,000 manufacturing jobs in the last five years, there’s much more we still need to do to support American jobs, particularly while tens of thousands of open positions remain unfilled because manufacturers simply can’t find workers with the skills they need.
So, in the coming months and for the rest of this Congress, we’ll push pro-manufacturing legislation driven by four main goals: strengthening America’s workforce, increasing access to international markets, creating conditions for businesses to grow, and expanding access to capital.
We’ll also work to change outdated perceptions about manufacturing, particularly those based on images of the dirty, unsafe factory floors of generations past, because the reality is that today’s manufacturing jobs require 21st century skills and expertise, training in math and science, and the ability to work collaboratively to solve complex problems. We want parents and young people, in particular, to realize that manufacturing offers challenging, rewarding, and often lucrative careers.
One bipartisan MJA bill we’ve already introduced is The Manufacturing Universities Act, which is supported by business groups and universities around the country along with Sens. Baldwin, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). This legislation would help American universities strengthen their engineering programs and work directly with local businesses so they can prepare students to compete for the manufacturing jobs available right now.
As millions of Americans remain underemployed or out of a job, they’ll be watching Congress more closely than ever to ensure we do our part to improve the economy and help get people back to work.
If Leader McConnell truly wants to build on the bipartisan progress we’ve made this year, supporting manufacturing is the answer.
Coons is Delaware’s junior senator, serving since a United States Senator from Delaware. He sits on the Appropriations; the Foreign Relations; the Judiciary; and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. He is also the co-chair of the Senate’s Manufacturing Jobs for America campaign.
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