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Lee: Minimize Government Burden on Employers

President Barack Obama began and ended his speech to Congress earlier this month by correctly identifying America’s unemployment problem as a crisis that deserves urgent action by Congress. After two and a half years, it’s encouraging that the president finally recognizes the true magnitude of our job shortage.

Unfortunately, the president’s proposal was a predictably disappointing iteration of the failed economic prescriptions that he offered in 2009.

The president gave several similar speeches during his recent round of taxpayer-funded campaign stops. When those speeches received a less-than-enthusiastic response, the president took the unusual step of calling for a joint session of Congress — apparently hoping to create the perception that he had formulated a new approach to promoting job creation.

Those wanting to hear something other than a tax-and-spend agenda were surely disappointed. In fact, it’s difficult to believe that much thought went into the jobs speech beyond copying his 2009 address, which outlined the failed $800 billion stimulus package.

In 2009, the president insisted that Congress devote nearly a trillion dollars to a stimulus package designed to create new jobs in construction, green energy and rail projects, while giving hiring incentives to employers.

The president now claims once again that more spending will lead to new jobs for construction workers, as well as (this time) teachers and veterans. He also promised there would be similar incentives for businesses that hire new employees.

The president was wrong in 2009. Americans understandably have little confidence that pursuing the same failed policies will work this time. Adding a trillion dollars to our staggering national debt hasn’t significantly affected the employment rate, and short-term tax incentives do not create the kind of certainty employers need to create jobs.

A small, short-lived bump in employment may give rise to a comparably small, short-lived bump in the president’s approval rating, but it will have little, if any, lasting influence on the overall health of our economy.

Instead of lecturing Congress to pass yet another stimulus package “right away,” the president should be focusing on ways to minimize the federal government’s burden on individuals and job creators, giving them more money in their pockets and more freedom to invest, save, innovate and prosper.

A pro-growth jobs agenda would include:

• Enforceable spending restrictions. Immediate spending cuts will reduce the deficit and national debt as well as signal to businesses, investors and the credit-rating agencies that the federal government is serious about balancing its budget. It will also significantly reduce our debt-service costs, which over the next decade are expected to balloon to $1 trillion per year. Whatever one’s vision of government may be — vast and expansive or limited and defined — interest payments of this magnitude will severely limit our ability to finance current government programs.

• The Cut, Cap and Balance Act. The bill, which I sponsored in the Senate and which was later passed by the House, proposes the most comprehensive and serious spending reform in the past two decades. Passage of the bill would create the kind of certainty the market needs to create jobs across the economy. Furthermore, fiscal discipline will encourage improved monetary policy and help reverse the ruinous trend of a rapidly depreciating currency.

• Restrictions on regulatory overreach. While all Americans expect clean air, clean water and competitive business practices, very few believe it is necessary (much less desirable) to have 165,000 pages of regulations to achieve those goals. Such regulations cost businesses $1.75 trillion annually and have a chilling effect on economic growth and job creation. Congress should immediately pass S. 1438, the Regulation Moratorium and Job Preservation Act, and S. 299, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act. The former would place a moratorium on all new regulations until unemployment drops to 7.7 percent, the rate at which unemployment stood when the president took office. The latter would restrict Congress’ pernicious practice of delegating its authority to unelected, unaccountable executive branch bureaucrats.

• Encouraging domestic energy production. The president should reverse his assault on the productive sector of our domestic energy industry and remove excessive barriers to increased energy production. America has vast quantities of untapped oil and gas resources primarily because the regulations surrounding their development require an unnecessarily prolonged and restrictive federal regulatory approval process. Congress should act on legislation such as S. 706, the Domestic Jobs, Domestic Energy and Deficit Reduction Act, to encourage onshore and offshore energy exploration.

Enacting another stimulus package would be the wrong approach to promoting job growth. We need bold, transformative proposals to get Americans working. By focusing on getting government out of the way of those who actually create jobs, Congress can pursue a more promising and prosperous agenda than what the president outlined in his speech.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is a member of the Energy and Natural Resources and Joint Economic committees.

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