The state of our Union
By U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud
On Jan. 25th, President Obama delivered the State of the Union address. I think overall he struck the right tone. I strongly agree with him that we have to make improving our economy and creating jobs our top priority. Too many Mainers continue to struggle to make ends meet, and they expect real action to boost our small businesses and manufacturers.
I hope that the show of bipartisanship during the address is a sign of things to come. Unlike the partisan seating of past years, members of Congress crossed the aisle to sit with each other. I sat with Republicans Reid Ribble of Wisconsin and Steve Southerland of Florida. It was interesting to find out that Congressman Ribble, who is in the construction business, did some roofing work in Wisconsin on buildings owned by the Great Northern Paper Company – the same company that ran the mill that I worked at in East Millinocket. Being together during this annual tradition was a welcome change that I hope is the beginning of a new annual tradition.
One of the priorities mentioned in the President’s speech has the potential to turn the current spirit of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill into action. I was pleased to hear the President embrace the repeal of an unnecessary bookkeeping burden that was placed on small businesses by the new health care reform law. I worked with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to introduce a bill to repeal that onerous provision, and I expect congressional leaders to take it up soon.
Reining in our national debt must also be a top priority. We can’t get ahead in the global economy if we continue to tread water in a sea of debt. I support the President’s goal to invest in what makes our country stronger and scale back or eliminate what doesn’t. But to be successful, it’s going to require difficult decisions and bipartisan cooperation to move forward.
There is no doubt that we need to improve our nation’s competitiveness, and I was pleased the President prioritized it. Boosting our nation’s education system, ramping up research and development and truly supporting our manufacturing sector are all things we must move forward on. We’ve seen manufacturing in Maine and throughout the country decline, and it’s long past time that we focus on reversing that trend.
But part of the President’s prescription for change is flawed and ignores the lessons of the past. I strongly oppose his call for the ratification of the free trade agreement with Korea, as well as deals with Panama and Colombia. The Korean deal is based on the same trade model as NAFTA, which has led to significant job losses and reductions in our manufacturing sector in Maine. These were the actual results of NAFTA, even though we were promised at the time that it would generate thousands of new jobs. I’m disappointed that the President is now using the same trade model and talking points of the past, all while ignoring the negative, real world experiences of states like Maine in the process.
Whether it’s a true focus on job creation or deficit reduction, the President’s words will ultimately be judged by his actions and what Congress does to work with him. Moving forward, we need to avoid falling into the same old Washington habits of political gamesmanship and point-scoring. The problems confronting our country are serious, and they require us to work together in a substantive way and with the best interests of the American people in mind.
Moving forward from here, our focus needs to be on improving our economy and creating jobs. It was great to see Republicans and Democrats sitting together during the President’s address, and it’s my hope that this spirit of civility is not forgotten and is carried forward to our future discussions and debates.