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Five months to Election Day, and its still the economy. In this Roll Call special report, 10 Members of Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), weigh in on the economic challenges immediately ahead, taking measure of the policy imperatives and the politics that go along with it. Weve asked our authors to weigh in on one of five areas that are indelibly linked to our economic well-being: health care, energy, defense, transportation and financial services. Their passionate words illustrate just how critical and fascinating the next few months will be on Capitol Hill.
Democrats in Congress made a commitment to our middle class to create jobs and rebuild our economy. And we are delivering. As we move toward this falls election campaign, the contrast between the two parties could not be more clear: Congressional Republicans are on the side of Wall Street, special interests, Big Oil and insurance companies.
The Democratic agenda has been made clear: Tax Americans more so government can spend more. It started with a trillion-dollar stimulus bill that has failed to hold unemployment in check. Then it was a trillion-dollar health care bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will increase health insurance premiums for millions of Americans.
Conventional wisdom says Congress ducks tough choices in election years, and it predicts at best a watered-down energy bill. The same doubters said health care reform was dead until we passed it and prematurely buried the Wall Street reforms we passed last week. They forget Congress passed the Clean Air Act in an election year and strengthened it in another election year to fight acid rain. Nothing would make Americans more frustrated than to see another year go by without action to break our dependence on foreign oil which makes Iran $100 million richer every day create millions of jobs and reckon with climate change. In 2010, our job is to do what Americans sent us here to do.
These are challenging times, and our nation is at a crossroads. Our economy is ailing, unemployment is soaring, spending is out of control, and deficits are at record levels. And yet, rather than pursue sound policies that create jobs, the administration remains steadfast in its efforts to push ahead with its job-killing cap-and-tax scheme.
While there has been a lack of bipartisan consensus on many issues vital to the country during the 111th Congress, in the area of transportation, there is much consensus. For the first time in years, significant progress has been made on crucial aviation and surface transportation issues. From the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Surface Transportation Board, to improving bus safety and combating distracted driving, Congress is advancing legislation that will enhance Americas transportation system, with an emphasis on infrastructure and safety improvements. These enhancements will lead to a safer and more efficient transportation sector, which is essential to fueling Americas economic engine.
As Congress ponders its next step in moving America back to economic health, we should keep in mind an important lesson from the past 15 months: Investment in infrastructure works. The transportation and infrastructure investments provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have been a tremendous success. They have helped stem the tide of job losses from the worst economic crisis facing the nation since the Great Depression.
When it comes to solving our nations problems, politicians should borrow the doctors oath: First, do no harm. The big-government politicians ruling Washington love finding ways to spend taxpayer money on programs to cure whatever seems to be ailing the country that day. More often than not, they end up doing more harm than good.
Federal regulators have been heavily challenged in the past year by an array of tragedies and regulatory failures: miners killed in a methane gas explosion, the largest oil spill in history, failure to discover a $50 billion Ponzi scheme and the global meltdown of financial markets. In each case, both industry and regulators could have done more to prevent loss of life, environmental disaster and financial ruin. But they didnt, and therein lies the fundamental challenge facing Congress before it adjourns: ensuring that regulators have the power and the will to provide effective government oversight of the industries they regulate.
Napoleon Bonaparte famously said that an army marches on its stomach. True as that was of 19th-century armies, the military of today marches on its fuel supply and, for our armed forces, fuel has replaced food as our Achilles heel. The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of oil in the world, using 93 percent, or 6.9 billion barrels, of the U.S. governments total consumption each year. This dependency on foreign oil has burdened us with complex national security challenges and places undue risk on our service members on the battlefield.
On May 8, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a speech at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kan., in which he stated: The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, opened a gusher of defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the last decade, not counting supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Which brings us to the situation we face and the choices we have today as a Defense Department and as a country. Given Americas difficult economic circumstances and parlous fiscal condition, military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny.