Winston Churchill once said, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else." As a nation, we've been trying "everything else" for years to solve our biggest problems. From immigration reform and our overly complicated tax system, to health care, entitlement spending and an outdated patent litigation system, our elected representatives overlook commonsense solutions for political advantage.
Recently, while on stage at The Next Web, an Amsterdam tech conference, I was asked by a CNN commentator about "dysfunctional American government." I defended our government, as any traveling American should, as solving many challenges, indicating that vocal disagreement is the price of democracy.
But I am increasingly puzzled why Congress can't act to solve a real problem when the solution is obvious, easy and supported by Americans. Can tiny minorities with loud voices and deep pockets ruin our great nation?
Americans are so frustrated with inaction on big issues that the lack of jobs is no longer our biggest concern. For the first time since 2009, a Gallup poll found that Americans are more concerned about government dysfunction than unemployment.
Members of Congress need to stop punting and act on the following:
1. Immigration - Most Americans agree that we need to allow easy immigration for the best and brightest and those who can create jobs. We should increase access for high-skilled immigrants. We must allow people who grew up here to become citizens and we need a path forward those who can speak English, have been here a long time and contribute positively to society. The Gang of Eight comprehensive plan is a great framework for action.
2. Taxes - Our tax code is too complicated and has too many loopholes. Our corporate tax rates are the highest in the developed world, and our best companies park trillions of dollars overseas, as they have already paid taxes on their money and cannot return it to the U.S. without paying more taxes. Imagine the boost to the economy and job creation if we simplified the code, overseas money was allowed to return, and our corporate tax rates were lower.
3. Health Care - Our health care costs are spiraling out of control, in part because the cost of drugs is higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world. In late April, the United States sued Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., a Swiss-based drug company, for allegedly offering doctors improper incentives to promote their drugs. Novartis was the subject of a similar lawsuit a few years ago, accused of paying kickbacks to doctors to promote Trileptol, a drug for neuropathic pain and bipolar disease. They settled for $422.5 million in 2010. Novaritis also pays secret rebates to doctors using Lucentis rather than the cheaper yet equally effective Avastin, a fact uncovered in a New York Times story and the subject of a Senate hearing. Yet the kickbacks keep being paid and the taxpayers suffer. At some point Congress can and should step in and stop making Americans the world's highest payer for drugs.
4. Entitlement Spending - Our entitlement system is out of control and outdated. People are living longer than when the program was first started. In 1930, life expectancy was 58 for men and 62 for women, while retirement age was 65. Today, men live, on average, to 76 and women to 81, while retirement is 67 for those born after 1959. Worse, entitlement spending is often no longer need-based. About half of adult Americans live in households receiving government payments. While some, like veterans and the truly disabled, need and deserve a helping hand, there are plenty of Americans who would do just fine without government handouts. In 2010, 58 percent of entitlement money went to middle-class Americans -- people making between $30,000 and $120,000 per year.
5. Patent Trolls - Businesses of all sizes agree that their ability to invest and hire new employees is being throttled by a tsunami of threats from patent assertion entities, more commonly known as "patent trolls." The number of these suits has doubled in the past three years. In 2012, patent trolls filed 61 percent of all patent lawsuits. Startups are hit particularly hard, and are being forced to spend their limited time and profits evaluating and defending often-absurd claims. Sadly, even the successful defense of a patent lawsuit can be astronomically expensive. This week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation that would address this problem by requiring all suits to be reviewed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before they go to court. Unless Congress acts, patent trolls will undermine employers that create goods and services and hire Americans.
Let's hope Churchill was right about Americans. At this point, we have tried everything else. It's time to rise above special interests and posturing and act. It's time to enact commonsense solutions to our problems. It's time to do the right thing.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own.
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