By Phil Kadner
There’s not much hope for solving the really tough problems facing this country when the government can’t even get behind a good idea.
I was reminded of just how bad things are Wednesday when U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) stopped by the Southtown Star for an editorial board interview.
In September, I wrote about a bill that Lipinski passed out of the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives to address the problems with manufacturing in this country. The measure would have required the development of a national strategy to revitalize American manufacturing.
The goal was to create new jobs that paid working people a good wage while helping this country protect the manufacturing base that remains.
It might not have been a perfect piece of legislation. It was by necessity a compromise between Democrats and Republicans.
But it addressed an issue just about everyone in this country recognizes should be a national priority.
Lipinski’s colleague, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16th), was a co-sponsor. And the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act passed the House 339-77, an overwhelming endorsement by a Congress that’s fractured along ideological lines.
So what happened?
The bill died in the U.S. Senate.
I can’t tell you why exactly, but a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate majority leader, told me Durbin preferred a version of the bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
In addition, there were indications that the Obama administration didn’t like the bill because it would have transferred some policy-making decisions out of the White House to Congress.
That was before Obama mentioned during his presidential campaign that he might create a secretary of business in his cabinet to address the very issues that Lipinski’s bill attempted to resolve.
So let’s stop for a minute here to recap.
The U.S. House recognizes there’s a major problem that needs to be solved, and Democrats and Republicans agree on a strategy. Illinois’ senators, Durbin and Kirk, apparently agree there’s a problem but want a slightly different approach to solving it.
The president ponders creating a new cabinet post to solve some of the problems, but so fears losing some of his presidential authority that he doesn’t want Congress directly involved in solving the problem.
And you expect these people to solve the critical issues that face Medicare and Social Security and come up with plan to reduce the enormous national debt?
When I expressed my pessimism to Lipinski, he replied that he still hoped to get a manufacturing bill passed this year.
He said he still believes there’s hope that the government can constructively address the issue of a manufacturing strategy for the future.
I believe he meant what he said. But based on what I’ve seen, I believe he is wrong.
The Lipinski-Kinzinger bill, theoretically, would have brought businessmen, academics and government leaders together to study all of the problems and opportunities facing the manufacturing industry. They would develop a comprehensive strategy for this country to compete internationally.
An annual report would contain all of their research and recommendations and be made available to citizens on the Internet. The president would have been required to address the report in a presentation to Congress.
There are some free market believers who think the federal government ought to stay out of business.
But the fact is that other nations, China being the most obvious, have a national strategy not only to develop manufacturing but to steal jobs and technology from U.S. companies.
It’s a form of business warfare, and if this country doesn’t fight back it will certainly lose.
Kinzinger, a Republican conservative, recognizes that fact, as does Lipinski, a moderate on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Kinzinger recognized that creating a new government bureaucracy to address the issue of manufacturing was preferable to doing nothing.
But nothing is what’s being done.
For the Southland, that means thousands of manufacturing jobs that were lost when industrial plants and steel mills went out of business have not been replaced.
It means that scores of buildings that once housed ancillary businesses remain abandoned.
It means less property tax revenue for suburbs that are struggling to provide services.
It means no jobs for Southland towns where the unemployment rate was more than 10 percent before the Great Recession began.
Most importantly, there remains no national strategy for this country to create jobs that will allow working people to pay their mortgages, send their children to college and plan for a comfortable retirement.
Ultimately, of course, that means a lot less revenue for the U.S. government and cuts into vital programs that rebuild roads, fund mass transportation, support the military and provide health care for the elderly.
So there will have to be program cuts and higher taxes.
The manufacturing bill didn’t get a lot of media attention, and neither the left- nor right-wing fanatics seemed to care about it.
They seem to prefer issues that provoke conflict, not bipartisan agreements that can provide solutions.
But that one legislative initiative clarified for me what’s wrong with our government.
Even when opposing political parties agree, nothing gets done.