Economic Growth – A Tonic for What Ails DC

Posted March 31, 2017 at 5:42 am

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) – re-elected last year in a come-from-behind victory – recently spelled out a pro-growth, regulatory-reform agenda that he says is necessary to undo the “harm” that Washington is doing to U.S. citizens and especially to the business community.

“How many here think the federal government is efficient and effective?” Sen. Johnson asked rhetorically during a breakfast meeting with TRSA members on Capitol Hill during last week’s Leadership & Legislative Conference.

No hands went up in response to this question that the senator said he regularly poses to groups in his home state. “My follow on is ‘You’re right. This is a pretty dysfunctional place.’ One thing that I learned in my fist six years is that this is not a place that you want to control your life. You simply don’t. I don’t see much reform possible. To limit, yes. So my follow-on point is: Stop sending people to Congress who are dedicated to growing this dysfunctional, grossly ineffective place.”

Change won’t come easily. But Sen. Johnson said implementing policies that curb excessive regulations and simplify tax rules can help by boosting economic growth. He says he’s pleased with President Donald Trump’s emphasis on the economy and noted that Congress is doing its part by using the Congressional Review Act to nullify rules passed under the previous administration. “We’ve got to grow our economy,” Sen. Johnson said. “What’s holding us back? Well, overregulation from this place and taxes and the fact that we refuse to fully utilize our energy resources. So we are starting this regulatory review. That’s what the Congressional Review Acts are all about. And we’re starting to push those through. I think we’ve already passed eight in the senate … about $7 billion worth over 10 years. Sounds good, but we have a $2 trillion-a-year regulatory burden, so we’ve got a long way to go now.”

While he’s generally gung ho on deregulation, Sen. Johnson said he wants to take time to consider changes to the Affordable Care Act. While he’s no fan of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare-reform legislation, the senator said Congress needs to carefully weigh efforts to revamp that law. Three days after Sen. Johnson spoke to TRSA on March 21, the U.S. House of Representative fell short in its efforts to pass a healthcare reform bill. Sen. Johnson had warned that the bill was in trouble because GOP leaders were rushing it through without sufficient debate. “I’m trying to force leadership to provide information,” he said of similar efforts in the Senate. “I think the worst thing we could do is what the Democrats do, which is force this thing down members’ throats.”

The critical point is to find ways to lower premiums for Americans who’ve been hurt by the law passed in March 2010. “I need to feel confident that whatever reform, whatever we put in place will reduce those premiums,” Sen. Johnson said. “Normally I don’t talk about bringing down the cost of healthcare. It’s about restraining the growth of it. But in this case, there’s a population on those individual exchanges. That’s what Obamacare’s all about. Those people have been really harmed. In Wisconsin those premiums have doubled and tripled. There should be a realistic policy to bring those premiums down.”

After his remarks, the senator took several questions from attendees. One asked about the tight labor market, particularly for skilled trades such as maintenance and plant engineers.

Sen. Johnson said a well-managed guest worker program would help alleviate labor shortages, while giving the country get a better handle on immigration.  “My concept of an effective border-security bill, a primary component of that would be a robust guest worker program,” said Sen. Johnson, who chairs the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. “From my standpoint, we do have a worker shortage.” Most people who come to the U.S. as immigrants want to work hard and value the opportunities that America represents, he said. “We should be celebrating that. We ought to be making it a legal process. With a robust guest worker program, you eliminate a large chunk of illegal immigration.”

As for the skills shortage, Sen. Johnson emphasized the need for more vocational education, managed primarily at the state and local level, and with input from the private sector. A four-year college degree isn’t for everyone, and there are outstanding career opportunities in manufacturing and related businesses, where a trade-based education makes sense. “From my standpoint, you find something that you love to do and you never work another day in your life,” Sen. Johnson said. “That includes factory work, plumbing carpentry, all those types of things. We have to stop degrading the value of trades. It’s something really nasty that we’ve done culturally in this country.”