Bringing Congress Together to Make America More Competitive in the 21st Century | Commentary

Posted June 10, 2015 at 1:05pm

The hallmark of our nation’s economy has long been the ability of anyone with creativity, ambition and a good work ethic to realize their dreams and move America forward. From the light bulb to the iPhone, the legacy of American invention has shone brightly throughout the world. Yet while our culture of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit remain strong, the policy framework that empowers that spirit to flourish is losing its competitive edge.

For years, enabling our nation’s innovative drive was an economic system unparalleled around the world — from competitive tax laws to public investments in research, infrastructure and education. We’ve long understood something many other countries haven’t: For innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive, we need a strong, competitive economic ecosystem. There simply is no single “silver bullet” for economic growth.

While other nations catch up, our system is deteriorating in a number of ways. Federal investments in basic research and development are not keeping up with inflation and our tax code remains riddled with complexity, unable to spur growth and provide the certainty our businesses need. We also have to address the tough questions about how to fund our infrastructure, transportation and education systems. In our dynamic market economy, the natural churn of businesses opening and closing keeps our nation competitive, as long as we’re creating more businesses than we’re closing, of course. According to the Census Bureau, however, U.S. businesses are now failing faster than they are being created for the first time in 35 years — since the data was first recorded. Meanwhile, the 2014 Global Innovation Index saw the U.S. innovation ecosystem fall to sixth place, while ranking 39th in ease of starting a business. These declines are coupled to a global R&D forecast that projects leading competitors — such as China — will surpass the United States in total R&D investment by 2022.

Yet even with these challenges, we do retain a competitive edge. Americans’ entrepreneurial drive still spurs our economy; manufacturing output continues to increase; our colleges and universities remain the envy of the world; innovations in the American energy industry have reduced our trade deficit and improved our energy security; and private sector R&D has rebounded after several years of stagnation.

We now find ourselves at a competitive inflection point. We can either do more to nurture and take advantage of our strengths — only some of which we’ve mentioned — or we can fall behind in the 21st century. In order to support our competitive strengths, we’re launching the bipartisan Senate Competitiveness Caucus, a forum to bring together Democrats and Republicans to address the most pressing issues facing our economy. We’ve worked together before on important bills such as the STARTUP Act and MLP Parity Act, which would make it easier for innovative small companies and clean-energy projects to access financing and grow quickly. The Council on Competitiveness, a nonpartisan organization that brings together leaders from every corner of our economy — from industry to academia, to labor to government — will be a key partner in the effort to advance the caucus and find solutions to America’s biggest competitiveness challenges.

Rather than focus on just one issue or one bill, we’ve formed the caucus with the understanding that it will take a whole range of policies working in concert to sustain our innovation ecosystem.

We’ll pursue ways to invest in our roads, bridges, ports and highways so they meet the needs of a 21st century economy. We’ll work to make our tax code more competitive so the United States will remain the best country in which to do business and raise a family. We’ll seek to streamline regulations to protect consumers and make it easier to start and grow a business. We’ll look at our federal budget and focus federal resources on pro-growth policies that will create an environment for job creation now and into the future. We’ll work together to boost manufacturing because no country can support a strong middle class without a thriving manufacturing sector. That’s just a start.

If the past century has taught us anything, it’s that other countries will not slow down when it comes to chasing America’s economic success. That means even though the United States remains a world leader in innovation and competitiveness, it will only become more difficult to retain that position in the coming years. Members of the Competitiveness Caucus understand that we are now competing with every country, every government, every worker and every business on the planet. Congress must come together to turn our economic challenges into opportunities for growth.

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, are co-chairmen of the bipartisan Senate Competitiveness Caucus. Sam Allen is chairman and CEO of Deere & Co. and has served as chairman of the Council on Competitiveness since 2010. Deborah Wince-Smith is president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness.