Jan 02 2019
Message from U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, Ranking Member:
As the 115th Congress and my time as the Ranking Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee winds down, it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the work JEC Democrats have done to highlight the critical economic challenges facing working Americans and also to look forward to the opportunities ahead. It is unfortunate that as this Congress ends, we are in the midst of a government shutdown because President Trump is demanding that Congress spend taxpayer dollars on an ineffective border wall.
Job one for JEC Democrats over the past two years was to explain in clear language the consequences of policies pursued and enacted by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans. We showed how Republican policies in the 115th Congress harmed workers, increased Americans’ health insurance premiums, jeopardized local economies surrounding our public lands, rolled back consumer financial protections, and exacerbated inequality by providing tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. We created a regular feature, Consumer Corner, to track how administration policies affect everyday consumers.
At the same time, we sought to provide a blueprint for inclusive economic growth. Growth that reduces, not widens inequality. Growth that reaches rural communities that too often have been left behind. Growth that enables a fair shot for each of us, no matter our zip code.
Fundamental to building a more inclusive economy is understanding not just how fast the economy is growing, but also who is benefiting from that growth. I joined with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to introduce the Measuring Real Income Growth Act, which would require the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to report how economic growth is distributed across the income spectrum. Under our bill, when BEA reports Gross Domestic Product each quarter, it would also report how that growth is distributed by each decile of income earners, providing a much more complete picture of the economy – and who it is working for.
JEC Democrats also examined policies that can open new doors of opportunity and generate future growth – such as expanding access to proven middle-skills pathways, including apprenticeships and career and technical education, to enhance the skills of America’s workforce; and making a college education more accessible and affordable. We also looked at connecting all Americans to high-speed internet; investing in clean energy to reduce carbon emissions, create jobs and grow our economy; and rebuilding our infrastructure to better withstand natural disasters that are becoming more frequent, costly and intense with climate change. These forward-looking policies can help set up the next generation for success.
I am especially proud of the comprehensive report we prepared – Investing in Rural America – that details both the unique barriers to growth as well as the enormous opportunities in rural America. I hope this report will serve as a resource for policymakers who are committed to improving the lives of the 46 million Americans who live in rural communities.
An issue that cuts across all regions is wage growth – or the lack of it. The absence of earnings growth for working Americans over the past several decades may be the defining economic challenge of our time. After adjusting for inflation, wages have been stuck or barely growing for nearly four decades, while costs of child care, education and health care have all climbed higher. Republicans promised that their tax law would change this – that it would boost household income by at least $4,000. Instead, large corporations spent much of their tax savings buying back their stock.
To better understand the persistent wage challenge, JEC Democrats examined the multiple causes of wage stagnation – from increased market concentration of big firms and decline of worker bargaining power to slower productivity growth and lax enforcement of antitrust laws. As we look ahead to the next Congress, policymakers must renew our focus on lifting workers’ wages. With a new Democratic majority in the House, I am confident that we will see new approaches to boosting wages and increasing living standards.
Last fall, with the US National Climate Assessment and the report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we heard yet again from leading scientists about the disastrous consequences of failing to address climate change. The climate assessment finds that if emissions continue to grow at current rates annual losses to the U.S. economy will reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century. I know that Democrats will continue to push for ambitious and responsible policies to combat climate change and I look forward to playing an active role in these efforts.
While we researched, analyzed and wrote about dozens of issues, we didn’t get to everything we wanted to cover. Criminal justice reform is one we missed. I am pleased that Congress passed criminal justice reform at the end of 2018 to make communities safer, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayers money. It is an important step to ensuring the integrity of our judicial system.
Rising prescription drug prices is an issue that hits all of us, with older Americans on fixed incomes among the most vulnerable. It, too, is an issue for further analysis.
Finally, and importantly, thank you for your continuing interest and work on a broad range of economic issues.
I hope you enjoyed the holidays and have begun the new year refreshed and reinvigorated.
All the best for 2019,
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
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