Bridging the Aisle for a Stronger U.S. Economy
Charles E. Bunch, Chairman, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and Chairman and CEO, PPG Industries, Inc. (Feb/Mar 07)
Recently, there's been a great deal of media coverage regarding the change of direction in political winds in Washington. Clearly, the Democratic Party's control of the House and Senate will shape a new world of government for manufacturers to navigate.
Indeed, manufacturing in the United States faces many continuing challenges. Yet when it comes to engaging with our elected officials in the development of public policy, I believe there is an obvious need for greater bipartisanship in Congress. We must focus on members based more on how they've voted with regard to manufacturing rather than party affiliation. We don't care on which side of the aisle legislators sit . we care about where they stand on the issues that impact manufacturing and how they actually vote.
With more than 14 million Americans employed directly in manufacturing, every single congressional district boasts a factory or is home to people who work in the sector. Politicians understand that their constituents' well-being depends on maintaining a vibrant manufacturing economy.
The value of a bipartisan approach becomes even more apparent with the release of NAM's agenda for the 110th Congress: "Investing in America: Agenda for Jobs and Economic Growth." Two issues that top that agenda lend themselves to cooperation across the political aisle: energy and infrastructure.
During the 109th session of Congress, manufacturers gained a major, bipartisan victory with passage of energy legislation. Opening of the Gulf of Mexico to further oil and natural gas development succeeded with strong support of Republicans and Democrats who recognized that limiting domestic energy supplies leads to higher prices and hurts consumers and manufacturers alike.
These same considerations will help manufacturers promote energy security, a goal both parties fully embrace (even if they differ on the particulars). This NAM priority calls for a comprehensive, national strategy of enhancing our nation's R&D; encouraging public-private partnerships; accessing domestic oil and natural gas; promoting alternative fuels; and increasing base-load power generation from clean coal and nuclear power.
Infrastructure, too, is a fundamental economic issue that reaches across political lines. U.S. manufacturers are the most productive in the world, but without the ability to move our products from the factory to the market, that productivity is just wasted.
Growth in America's population and economy requires a comprehensive approach toward infrastructure. We need a 21st century transportation network, with improved intermodal links and upgraded overall capacity. New, innovative technologies can help ensure reliable, low-cost shipping on roads, rail, water, and in the air.
Manufacturing's policy agenda is of course much broader than just these two issues. We must address the shortage of skilled employees through training and education, and healthcare costs pose an increasingly expensive burden that damages U.S. competitiveness. Tax policy and legal reform demand our constant attention as well.
But infrastructure and energy can chart a path toward political success in 2007. They are issues of critical importance to every member of Congress, and are economic priorities that do not inherently break down upon partisan lines. With the powerful case to be made for manufacturing, we can build bipartisan coalitions that produce policy victories - and a stronger economy for all Americans.
Manufacturing is the foundation of America's prosperity, and only through a strong and productive manufacturing sector can the United States continue its role as the world's economic leader.