Nearly two weeks ago, something remarkable happened in Washington. Congress passed — overwhelmingly — free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Strong bipartisan majorities came together and voted for these long-delayed trade pacts. President Barack Obama signed them. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has pushed for them for five years. And, as a result of these agreements, hundreds of thousands of Americans will find jobs, and businesses will have access to new markets and customers.
This is only remarkable because in Washington today it seems like there are almost no issues that enjoy such broad consensus. I disagree. Everyone has a jobs plan — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does, the White House does, Senate Republicans do. It’s safe to say that we all want to create jobs.
But the devil is in the details, and everyone knows that the competing jobs packages have no chance of passing wholesale. Nonetheless, Washington must do something to curb chronic unemployment and get our economy back on track. So where else can we find agreement?
There are opportunities in energy. We’re eagerly awaiting a green light on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would create hundreds of thousands of American jobs. The President’s Council on Jobs and The Washington Post Editorial Board have joined the growing, bipartisan ranks of Keystone supporters. Moving forward on this pipeline is an acknowledgment that our nation needs energy, and we must take the next logical step — developing our own resources to help meet demand.
There are opportunities in infrastructure. It seems likely that Congress will address the infrastructure piece of the president’s jobs plan. The Chamber of Commerce will take a close look at the specific proposals — and how they are paid for — to ensure that it would be money well spent. We should be rebuilding America’s infrastructure now, when labor is available, materials are cheap and the need is great. We’re going to have to do it anyway.
There are opportunities on regulations. New legislation gives us hope this could be another point of consensus. The Regulatory Accountability Act — introduced in the House and Senate with bipartisan support — would modernize our process for the first time in 65 years. And it would provide our nation’s job creators with some certainty and predictability.
Progress on these items alone won’t dig us out of the unemployment rut, but they’re a strong start. What we can’t afford is more dawdling and delays like we saw on the trade agreements. We’ve already fallen behind. We must take steps now to put Americans back to work, revitalize our economy and maintain our competitive edge.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.