Strengthening the State of our Union

This week, President Obama offered Congress a plan to rebuild our economy with proposals focused on manufacturing, innovation, and workforce training proposals that I and many of my colleagues support and have already been working hard to advance in Congress.

This is especially necessary in my home state of Rhode Island, which lost 11,000 manufacturing jobs during the Great Recession and continues to struggle with a 10.8% unemployment rate, the third highest of any state.

If the House Republican leadership is serious about working together and with the President to put America back to work, they should consider measures in four key areas that present the greatest opportunities for long-term job growth in our country: reinvigorating our manufacturing sector, preparing the workforce for the jobs of the 21st century, helping small business innovators and entrepreneurs, and creating additional consumer demand by strengthening the middle class.

We need to ensure that states like Rhode Island, which are hurting more than most right now, can take advantage of new manufacturing opportunities and market conditions. That's why I have introduced the Make It in America Block Grant Program Act to provide competitive grants to help small to medium-sized manufacturers hardest hit by the Great Recession retool, retrofit their facilities, and train employees so they can maintain their current workforce, create new jobs, and better compete in the 21st century economy.

We also need to ensure our young people have the highest quality education to compete successfully in the new economy and that we are providing more Americans with the skills and training they need to access jobs in high growth industries. Yet, despite the fact that we have millions of Americans out of work, some members of Congress continue to put forth policies that would only make this situation worse, such as proposals to cut more than $2 billion from Workforce Investment Act programs, money that we use to retrain displaced workers. Instead, we should be working to enact comprehensive workforce development legislation that meets the needs of employers and builds a pipeline of skilled workers ready to compete successfully.

In addition, we must give our small business owners the tools they need to thrive. More than 95,000 small businesses make up the backbone of my home state, Rhode Island. In the final quarter of 2011 alone, Rhode Island firms received approval for more than $22 million in Small Business Administration loan guarantees. We must continue to support these loan guarantees, and several other key SBA technical assistance and capital access programs that help our small businesses expand their operations and create jobs.

Finally, the most effective way to grow our economy and increase demand for the goods and services businesses produce is to strengthen our middle class. We need to extend the payroll tax cut, which in my home state alone would provide an estimated $400 million in tax relief for approximately 600,000 hardworking men and women. We need housing policies that pull struggling homeowners above water, and return vitality to our neighborhoods and housing market. We need to make infrastructure improvement a national priority, including the creation of a National Infrastructure Development Bank, which will leverage public and private investment in vital infrastructure projects and create innovative funding mechanisms to rebuild our crumbling bridges, roads, and schools.

As we work to rebuild our economy, Congress must have good information on the jobs impact resulting from legislative actions. That's why, last week, I introduced the Jobs Score Act, which will amend the Congressional Budget Act to require that, in addition to preparing cost estimates for legislation reported by any committee of the House, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will also prepare an estimate of the number of jobs which would be created, sustained, or lost in carrying out the measure, including regional and state-level estimates when possible.

In 2011 there were a number of lost opportunities to work, in a bipartisan way, to address some of the great challenges we face as a nation. Instead, a faction in Congress brought us to the brink of defaulting on our financial obligations and attempted to hold up important proposals that benefit our middle class.

Every American, whether they live in Rhode Island, Texas, California, or somewhere in between, knows that Washington can do better.

We need to build ladders of opportunity and tear down barriers for Americans who are willing to work hard, be responsible, and play by the rules so everyone can achieve success and fulfill the American dream. These are the priorities we share, and the policies that I will continue fighting for in Washington.