What happened to the land of opportunity?

Jan. 12, 2013 @ 05:14 PM

You’ve heard me say it a thousand times before, but it needs to be said again. It is time to change direction in Washington. With a stubborn unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent in North Carolina and no end in sight for our economic woes, drastic measures need to be taken to place unemployed Americans atop Washington’s priority list.

America’s need for jobs got a lot of attention during the election season, but its urgency cannot be lost in the wake of campaign rhetoric. The national unemployment rate has inched down from 10 percent in 2009 to under 8 percent today, but this only masks our nation’s real jobs problem. Today, 23 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or have stopped looking for work. A record 47 million people are poor enough to be on food stamps. In the Eighth District alone, these numbers soar about the national average. Regardless of education level, the longer someone is unemployed, the tougher it is for them to find a job, and if they finally do, it will likely be for a lower salary than their previous job. In fact, median household incomes today stand at 1995 levels. What happened to the Land of Opportunity?

This is the question that prompted me to run for office in 2011. And it was for this same reason that one of my first acts as a Member of Congress was to embark on a “Listening Tour” throughout the 8th District. On this Listening Tour, which will be completed by the end of the month, I’ve been meeting with job creators and employees at local Chambers of Commerce and economic development groups to gain answers to the question, “How exactly can jobs be created in each and every county and how can we stimulate economic growth specifically within our community?”

Here are a few thoughts from the leaders in our community:

•  Fiscal Responsibility

We need an economy where lenders will lend, buyers will buy, and employers will employ—all because they have confidence in our financial institutions. To get there, we need get our national debt under control. That means, Washington must stop spending money it doesn’t have. No more unsustainable practices like printing money to buy our own debt. We need legislators who are committed and willing to make common-sense decisions that will stop the spending madness in Washington.

• Certainty

The uncertainty in healthcare costs, energy costs, taxes and regulations are holding small businesses back from hiring new workers and expanding their businesses.  Who could blame them?  We can’t seriously ask a business owner to place millions of dollars on the line when the political whims of bureaucrats in Washington could take it all away.  The best policy government can enact to create jobs is to get out of the way and give small businesses the confidence to plan, invest, and hire again.

• Collaboration 

Collaboration is key.  It’s going to be hard to find areas where Republicans and Democrats can work together, but that is our challenge now, and if we don’t attempt it — believe it or not —  things will only get worse. When thinking about the daunting situation our nation finds itself in, I am often encouraged by remembering the spirit of collaboration between North Carolina’s late-Senator Jesse Helms, and Massachusetts’s late-Senator Ted Kennedy. These two could not have held more opposite views on a majority of the issues, but they trusted each other and found areas where they could agree in order to get things done.

The freshmen of the 113th Congress seem to understand the importance of this. I have spent significant time getting to know my colleagues from the other side of the aisle and while we may often vote differently and end up cancelling out each other’s votes, much like Jesse Helms and Ted Kennedy, I believe we will find issues where we can agree and work together to get our constituents back in the workplace. This same tactic applies to the 12 counties of the Eighth District. We must have inter-county dialogues and collaborate to work for the good of our community.

• Incremental Change

With a split Congress, it will be hard to get big things done in Washington. But by working on small, piecemeal changes we can certainly start chipping away at the larger problem. For example, the hundreds of regulations in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and President Obama’s healthcare law are killing small business growth. I would bet that I can work with a Democrat in the Senate to implement a small change that would have a big impact on business and job creation. Implementing incremental change is the way we can start to make a difference in the 113th Congress.

While reflecting on the Listening Tour thus far and thinking about the needs of our District, I am optimistic—optimistic that we can move this country and our District forward. It won’t be easy, and not every decision will be popular, but I’ll never stop advocating for greater opportunities and promoting a smaller government agenda. Together, we can get folks back to work.