If you want to win a bet next Tuesday, wager your friends that President Obama will say "Made in America" in the State of the Union address. It's the closest you'll ever get to a sure thing.
"Made in America" is a wildly popular notion across the political spectrum. The President has uttered the phrase dozens of times over the past year. So, it shouldn't be shocking for him to say it on January 24. But, what's behind the rhetoric? Is there any "there" there? That's what I'll be looking for on Tuesday evening.
It's fair to say that this administration has showered more attention on American manufacturing than it has seen for a long time, and that our sector of the economy has stabilized somewhat after years of serious decay. But, treading water simply isn't good enough while China passes us, and our high unemployment rate threatens to sink us.
What the President has proposed so far on advanced manufacturing, insourcing, and skills is all positive, but it is also minor league compared to the efforts of our global competitors. The administration's rescue of General Motors and Chrysler has been good for our economy and consumers (who now have better cars from which to choose), but it was more akin to emergency room care than to a long-term strategy to regrow manufacturing. That's one of the reasons why America's share of global manufacturing has declined. It's also why Germany still has over 20 percent of its economy in manufacturing while in the U.S. the number is closer to 11 percent.
We know the American people want the White House and Congress to go "all in" for manufacturing. That means better tax, investment, education, and trade policies. There is plenty that the President could do on his own -- right now -- without having to wade through Congress. As the White House is fond of saying, "we can't wait." For instance, the White House could:
There is also plenty that Congress can and should do, as well. Quite honestly, failing to pass any of these proven, popular policies will result in self-inflicted wounds for our economy.
These policies aren't partisan or ideological. Taken together, they will make a real difference. A strong manufacturing base is critical to many of our economic and strategic goals: rebuilding the middle class, lowering our budget deficit and the debt we owe to China, and ensuring that we have the ability to innovate. China's not waiting for us.
If the President really wants to see "Made in America" stamped on products shipped all over the world, he needs to be bold. We'll be watching. And so will voters.
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