08/04/2011 11:08 am ET Updated Oct 04, 2011

America's Agenda Is Jobs

I am so pleased to be part of HuffPost Black Voices inaugural edition. Over the last decade, digital media has transformed how we connect about policy, politics, culture and what our national priorities should be.

This new blog space offers African-Americans a powerful tool to connect with each other and the broader audience around the world who cares about what really matters to our community.

If my 28 years in public service have taught me anything, it's that our issues are never just about us, they're really about everyone. We are part of a broader, much more complex American story. When we hurt, America hurts. And what elevates us lifts up the entire nation.

Nowhere is that more evident than the urgent need to focus all of our attention on growing jobs and restoring our economic security. While the overall unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, more than 16 percent of African-Americans are looking for work.

Much pain is behind those numbers... including a failed system of urban education, too little investment in worker retraining, a tax policy that still rewards corporations who outsource good American jobs overseas, and the very real legacy of inequality and exclusion that perpetuates a lack of diversity in the economic life of our nation.

In Congress, we have just lived through another episode of bad political theater... starring the Republican Tea Party.

Instead of approving a clean debt ceiling increase and focusing on jobs, which is exactly what the Congressional Black Caucus advocated for, and what a majority of the American people actually supported, the Republican leadership in the House allowed a small group of extremists to hijack the legislative process and take our nation to the brink of default.

Reaching the compromise that avoided default, preserved our AAA credit rating and cut spending was messy, but it was a necessary first-step.

In the coming months, we will ask wealthy Americans who have done extremely well... even during this recession, to put something in the pot too.

We can't balance this budget on seniors, working people, at-risk children, and minorities who have borne the worst of this recession. This is a time for shared sacrifice by all.

I support President Obama's pro-jobs; pro-growth agenda to help America out innovate, out educate, and out build the rest of the world.

When Congress returns, all of us should focus on how to simultaneously make investments that are going to grow jobs while we put everything on the table to reduce spending in an honest and open way.

In everything that we do, we need to remember the dignity of work. Nothing is more important than being able to look in the mirror and know that you can take care of your family. That's what we all should be fighting for.

As the president said earlier this week, the American people's agenda is to get back to work. It's not a Democratic or Republican agenda, it's an American agenda. We have to put people back to work. And that's also the fastest way to close the budget deficit.

But we also need to increase revenues, because anyone who tells you that we can balance the budget with spending cuts alone has not mastered simple arithmetic, or they just aren't telling you the truth.

That means closing loopholes, ending tax dodges for big oil, hedge fund managers, and the most fortunate among us, and allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire at the close of 2012.

The United States is also in dire need of a restoration policy that invests in rebuilding our infrastructure and competitiveness. As we wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's time to do some nation building right here at home by putting the peace dividend to work to create jobs.

We can begin by reforming federal procurement policies to stop rewarding corporations who ship jobs off-shore with federal contracts, instead of hiring right here at home.

Our nation also needs a "Build America Bonds" program to leverage public dollars to strengthen the private sector and grow jobs by rebuilding America's schools, hospitals, transit systems, highways, the power grid and other vital infrastructure improvements.

A portion of the peace dividend should also be used to fortify universities, community colleges and trade schools who will play a vital role in helping retrain workers for the skills that our economy needs now and in the future.

Finally, we have to remember that the most powerful tool we have to create jobs and restore America's economic security is the talent, creative power and strength of our people.

As we fight to create jobs and tackle the deficit, we also need to maximize our most valuable asset... the human potential of every American.