Solving our national problems

With nearly 100 new members elected to the House and Senate in what will be a divided Congress next month, progress on domestic and global issues will not be easy. It will be critical for both political parties to reach across the aisle to find solutions on issues such as trade, immigration, and denuclearizing North Korea. These problems dominated headlines in 2018 and will probably continue to do so in 2019. New policy recommendations from the George Bush Institute shed light on these critical topics and how lawmakers can move the needle on key issues to create a productive year.

There is no denying the United States is heading into the new year with a strong economy. But with a healthy dose of skepticism among the general public about trade, many fail to realize how much opportunity that the North American Free Trade Agreement created for our country and the region. Since 1990, annual trade with Canada and Mexico increased by about $800 billion after adjusting for inflation, while annual trade with the rest of the world rose by an even greater $2.3 trillion. The agreement did not take jobs away from Americans. Instead, estimates indicate that nearly 200,000 export related jobs were created each year by the agreement.

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Congress will begin debating a new trade deal with our North American neighbors. The United States Mexico Canada Agreement has the ability to bring similar prosperity to our own economy. Should the agreement get through the divided Congress, the George Bush Institute offers trade policy recommendations that further integrate the business relationships between the United States and our North American neighbors to benefit our own economy. Through market driven infrastructure expansion, consistent workforce development standards, and deliberate efforts to prioritize programs that enhance regional competitiveness, our continent will become an even better place to live and work, which is vital as other countries and key trade blocs could otherwise lead the way forward.

Nothing disrupts the harmony of Congress more than immigration policy. The United States is home to more than 44 million immigrants who come from all over the world with the hope of building a better life. The current rhetoric has many in our country taking an inward look at immigration and wanting to close doors to entrepreneurs and innovators. More than ever, legislators need to modernize our immigration policies to accommodate our aging workforce population. These reforms should affirm the United States as the land of opportunity where people of any background can work hard, develop new ideas, and benefit from the fruits of their labor.

Congress and the administration must carry out policy recommendations such as evaluating green card policies, eliminating individual country caps, expanding the H-1B visa program, overhauling the existing H-2A and H-2B visa programs, and creating a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, all while strengthening our own border security. The United States has always been the land of opportunity, but an outdated immigration system runs the risk of us losing our footing. 

On a global front, 2018 was a year of firsts. A historic meeting between the president of the United States and the North Korean leader took place in Singapore. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE and Kim Jong Un discussed denuclearization and building a bilateral relationship, but they failed to address the gross atrocities and human rights abuses in North Korea, where egregious practices extend far beyond horrific prison and labor camps. It has been documented that the revenues from slave labor camps fund the nuclear program of Kim Jong Un. To successfully remove the threat North Korea poses to the United States and the rest of the world, human rights must be part of any conversations moving forward. Lawmakers will be well served to follow our policy recommendations to deal with North Korea.

I am hopeful that our country can continue being one of compassion and unity. But it will take significant work for Congress and the administration to come together and find common ground on these issues and more. We offer our recommendations as a starting point, which are presented with the simple goal in mind of solving the challenges our country is facing.

Holly Kuzmich is the executive director of the George Bush Institute.