It has been said that all politics is local, but when Americans in 36 states go to the polls tomorrow to choose their next United States senators, the results will have consequences for all of us. The question of who controls the Senate hangs in the balance. Keeping the status quo means keeping the current gridlock in Washington and dysfunction in the Senate; with a new majority, there will be a chance to break through that gridlock and get some things done for the American people.
On the major issues of the day, whether it is stopping job loss overseas through tax reform, taking full advantage of our exciting energy opportunities, addressing our nation’s record debt, defeating ISIS, or getting ahead of the threat posed by Ebola, the White House has not led. And under Democratic rule, the United States Senate has become the place where good ideas — even bipartisan ones — go to die. Washington seems stuck in neutral. It’s a sad state of affairs, and only the American people can do something about it, by electing a new majority.
I understand why some wonder whether a new Republican majority in the Senate will make any difference. But I believe it can and will. Whether it was Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill on tax reform and saving Social Security, or Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich on welfare reform and a balanced-budget bill, there are plenty of examples where divided government has been more effective in dealing with big problems. And we certainly have some big problems we need to address now.
Here are four specific examples in which, by working with the Republican House, more-moderate Senate Democrats, and the White House, a new Republican Senate can make progress and help get us out of the slump we’re stuck in.
First, let’s pass commonsense energy legislation to create immediate jobs, lower energy prices, make America more energy-independent, and improve the environment. This should include approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been pending for six years, passing the energy-efficiency bill that has been ready for three years, and improving a complicated and bureaucratic energy permit-issuing system.
Second, let’s help American workers, farmers, and service providers compete by giving President Obama the Trade Promotion Authority he has sought to open new markets to our goods. American workers have proven that they can compete with anyone on a level playing field, and the best way to provide that playing field is to negotiate robust new export agreements. These agreements would provide protections against unfair practices like dumping while making it easier to sell products stamped “Made in America” in stores around the world.
Third, let’s fix our broken tax code. Today we have the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, and it is driving businesses, investment, and jobs overseas. American workers are falling behind, and Congress must act. Studies have shown that up to 70 percent of the burden of corporate taxation is borne by labor in the form of lower wages and benefits. Tax reform would be a way to raise wages at a time when median income has fallen below 1989 levels. Democrats and Republicans alike are saying we should lower the rate and reduce or eliminate tax preferences. As with energy and expanding exports, there is broad bipartisan agreement on tax reform. All we are missing is leadership.
Fourth, let’s pass a budget, agree with the House on it, and go back to real oversight and responsible spending bills rather than the stopgap resolutions and threats of government shutdown we’ve seen too much of. Unbelievably, the current Senate leadership has passed only one budget in the last five years. It is past time for Congress to stop abdicating its constitutional responsibility to manage the power of the purse.
These are just four of the many proposals a Republican Senate majority could pursue, and I believe they are all areas in which the president would want to come to the table.
Will Republicans and Democrats agree on everything? Of course not. I am sure there are some pieces of legislation — such as Obamacare — where Republicans and Democrats will not see eye to eye. But at least we can have the debate, both in Washington and around the country.
Leadership in the halls of Congress starts with leadership at the ballot box. The American people can make their voice heard in just a few days. When they do, they can help change Washington, ease the gridlock that has plagued the Senate, and send a message that echoes from Alaska to New Hampshire and every state in between.
— Rob Portman is the junior U.S. senator from Ohio.