Restore economic security

Two years after having reelected a Democrat to the White House, the American people are now sending Republican majorities to Capitol Hill. The message is clear: quit the political point-scoring and get to work.

To be sure, there’s no shortage of places to start. But as our economic recovery moves at a snail’s pace and as the middle class continues to feel the squeeze, Congress should focus on how it can work together to grow a vibrant economy that will create well-paying jobs and help restore a sense of economic security to millions of Americans who are worried about what the future will bring.

As we look for ways to re-energize our economy, I hope we’ll consider the following four things:

Invest in infrastructure: The United States spends less than 1 percent of its annual gross domestic product on infrastructure investments, and yet this network, much of which is in desperate need of repair, is the foundation of our economy. Increasing public investment in rebuilding deteriorating roads and bridges would not only provide immediate jobs across multiple sectors, an enhanced transportation network would also have immediate ripple effects throughout the economy, allowing people and goods to travel in faster, less encumbered ways. But infrastructure investment in the 21st century can’t be limited to roads and bridges. To ensure that Americans can compete in the global information and innovation economy, we must support private and public investment to broaden the availability of affordable, high-speed Internet as well.

Reform the outdated tax code: Our tax code is outdated and far too complicated, and it’s holding our country back from stronger economic growth and improved competition with the world. Maine small-business owners are desperate for the clarity and predictability that would come from a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code. Done properly, tax reform can lower rates for individuals and businesses, facilitate greater investment in our priorities and reduce the national debt. Lower marginal tax rates would mean more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans and more capital for businesses to invest in priorities that will enable them to grow. Imagine the possibilities if weary investors had the confidence to finally pull their money off the sidelines and put it back into play.

Improve and expand education and job training opportunities: A highly skilled and educated workforce is the key to preparing Americans for the jobs of tomorrow. The ways in which students are taught have been the same for hundreds of years. It’s time we think outside the box to explore innovative models that will allow students to shorten their time to receive credentials, like dual enrollment and early college programs. We also need to do more to connect unemployed workers to available jobs and, when necessary, help them acquire the necessary skills to be prepared for the rapidly changing workforce. And we must work to make college more financially feasible for students. We could, for example, find ways to help limit the growth of student debt. They could include improving financial aid counseling on the front end, when students are making the choice about where to attend college; and through simplifying student loan repayment programs, which can reduce an individual’s monthly payment based on income, resulting in more take-home pay for borrowers.

Overhaul the immigration system: It’s estimated that nearly 12 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally, and because of their status, most of them are working in the shadows — in a sort of black market of labor — where dishonest employers can hire them and pay them substandard wages. Not only does that displace an American from a job, it also exerts downward pressure on the wages of Americans currently employed in that same sector. Giving immigrants here illegally an earned path to citizenship would bring them out of the shadows so they can contribute their ideas, energy and capital to the American economy in a way that’s better for everyone.

None of these changes are possible, however, unless Congress decides to work together. Congress’s inability to accomplish even the most fundamental tasks of governing has halted economic entrepreneurialism, shaken investor confidence, and — to put it plainly — disgusted the American public. Perhaps no other institution has as much power to make a difference in the lives of the American people as Congress, but if we are to achieve anything meaningful, then we’re going to have to be driven more by the desire to enact change than by the desire to win the next election.

It will be difficult, but in challenge there is opportunity, and we owe it to the American people to seize it.

King is Maine’s junior senator, serving since 2013. He serves on the Armed Services; the Budget; the Rules and Administration; and the Intelligence committees.