Why Go Around?

Jan 31, 2014 Issues: Health Care, Jobs and Employment

When you go home from work after a long day, do you take a bumpy road that takes additional miles and time? Of course not, you take the most direct, fastest route even if there are some lights and traffic. Why go out of your way when all you want to do is get home?

In Washington, the direct route to getting something done is through Congress. There’s good reason why the President travels down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to lay out his priorities. Because without changes to the law, the proposals would be written in the sand of executive order and regulation.

Every President wants a lasting legacy, solutions that stand the test of time. When President Obama signs an executive order, that is a promise that may not last even the duration of his own presidency. These orders don’t have the force of law. They are much more likely to be struck down by a court and they can be undone by another executive order.

I understand that the President is frustrated that his big-ticket items aren’t going to go through a Republican-led House, but that shouldn’t prevent us from working together on things we agree on. In his State of the Union address, the President announced at least three proposals that could get bipartisan support. Why go around when we can work together?

The first proposal that could easily get through Congress is reform of federal job training proposals. There are roughly 20 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed right now. In our fast moving economy, workers have to continue developing their skills over a lifetime. Federal job training programs are supposed to ensure that no one gets left behind.

Unfortunately, federal job training programs have become duplicative and bureaucratic. There are over 50 separate programs now and duplication of effort may be wasting as much as $18 billion annually. Workers find themselves having to jump through a number of hoops before they become eligible.

In the State of the Union address, the President asked Vice President Biden to conduct a review of job training programs and called on Congress to help. The President however, is late to the game. The Republican budget called for consolidation of job training programs three years ago. Last year, the House passed the SKILLS Act that streamlines 30 separate programs into a new, single fund. This bill has been sitting in the Senate for nearly a year.

There’s no need for further review when the Government Accountability Office already studied this issue in depth. We don’t need a duplicative study to get rid of duplicative programs.

In his address, the President also called for cutting red tape to bring more natural gas plants online. Republicans agree that we should take more advantage of a clean-burning natural resource. In fact, we passed the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act last fall with bipartisan support.

New plants can’t be built without safe, efficient pipelines. Again, the Senate has not acted on this bill, even though it had support from 26 Democrats. If the President acts without authority from Congress, it is far more likely that radical environmental groups will stop any progress with lawsuits. We should work together to bring more clean energy online sooner.

The President also called for additional research into vaccines and cures for disease. The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act would eliminate public funding for the Democratic and Republican national conventions and instead fund pediatric research at the National Institutes of Health.

The bill passed with a veto-proof majority in the House. Just like the other two proposals I’ve discussed, this bill is sitting in the Senate. We can immediately move $13 million a year into research just by agreeing that the American taxpayer shouldn’t pay for political events.

The President also proposed a new investment product for low-income Americans, the MyRA. For years, I’ve been working to pass legislation to create individual development accounts to help low-income workers save for the future. I’m sure there are others in Congress who would work with the President to establish this new investment vehicle in law.

So much of what the President called for on Tuesday night has broad support. There’s no reason to go around Congress when there are so few barriers to passing lasting legislation.