In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama talked about a year of action to restore an opportunity society, one where every American can pursue his or her dreams. I couldn’t agree more with the goal, but I disagree with most of the President’s ideas about how to get there. We have tried the top down approach of more government, more regulations, more spending and record debt, and it hasn’t worked.
The President did talk about a few areas where we could make progress if he is willing to build on common ground between Republicans and Democrats to break through the gridlock and create more opportunity.
The President mentioned the need for more skills training. I agree that we can do a better job getting workers the skills they need to take advantage of the jobs that are available. In Ohio, there are about 400,000 unemployed workers at the same time that 100,000 jobs remain open and unfilled. For too many Americans, the only jobs that are available are those they don’t have the skills and qualifications to fill. The effects ripple throughout our economy. There are federal programs in place that are meant to help the unemployed get the skills they need to find new jobs, but they aren’t working. I have proposed bipartisan legislation that would combine and simplify those programs, while redirecting resources to better match skills with available jobs.
The President also talked about an all-of-the-above energy policy. That policy should include energy efficiency proposals like the bipartisan, pro-growth Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act. This legislation will make it easier for employers to use energy efficient tools that reduce their costs, enabling them to put those savings toward expanding their companies and hiring new workers. But a true all-of-the-above energy policy also means taking advantage of all our domestic energy resources, even those the President frequently maligns like coal, natural gas, and oil. Instead of fighting a war on coal and piling on new regulations that will prevent new cleaner coal plants from ever being built, we should embrace the economic opportunities that coal presents. We should also foster the growing boom in natural gas by ensuring that government overreach does not interfere with innovative technologies like fracking and horizontal drilling. And we should continue to expand domestic oil production. We should do more to facilitate safe and environmentally sound oil exploration on federal lands, and we should finally approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.
At the start of the speech, the President said we needed to reform our broken corporate tax code to bring back jobs. Both parties agree reform is necessary. It’s complicated. It’s riddled with loopholes. And worst of all, it drives jobs and investment overseas. I was concerned that the President seemed to backtrack on his earlier commitment that such reform would not increase taxes but rather close loopholes and lower rates. I do hope that we can work with the President to make our tax code one that works for the American worker, not against them.
Finally, the President talked about the need to pass the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to negotiate new trade agreements that expand American exports and spur the creation of thousands of jobs. We only have trade agreements with 20 countries, and together they represent only 10 percent of the global economy. Yet 46 percent of our exports go to these countries. New agreements mean more exports, and that means more jobs.
If the President were to engage with Congress on these four bipartisan proposals to increase opportunity, he could translate his words from the State of the Union into action. It will take his leadership, and if he provides that, I believe both sides can come together and find common ground. Much more needs to be done — on the debt, health care costs, kindergarten through 12 grade education, and many other issues. But let’s get started where we can. Republicans are ready and the American people need our help.
The President talked about a year of action. Let’s hope he is willing to work with Congress to turn his words into reforms that will help the American people.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator for the state of Ohio.