Our economy is slowly recovering from the brutal 2008 recession, but hardworking Americans and small businesses are still struggling to make ends meet. While there are no quick fixes to turn our economy around overnight, I want to update you on my work in Congress to boost our economic competitiveness, create jobs, and improve the lives of Oregonians.
Investing in Our Infrastructure Future
I was very pleased that in a rare show of bipartisanship, Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA). WRRDA authorizes funding for navigation, flood control and environmental restoration projects. Since the earmark ban, Oregon’s small ports have been slowly silting in, putting our fishermen and their livelihoods at greater risk. As a member of the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the final bill, I was able to set aside funding for small ports, which will help keep Oregon’s ports open and safe, create jobs, and ensure our coastal communities are able to thrive. This is a great example of federal infrastructure investments being leveraged into jobs and as a result, a stronger economy.
Despite this victory, we must still resolve another infrastructure crisis – our rapidly deteriorating transportation system. While other nations are investing in modern transportation programs, the U.S. is about to let the Highway Trust Fund run dry, eventually ceasing all highway and transit projects. This will mean the loss of about $470 million in federal funds to Oregon and will put at least 700,000 jobs at risk nationally, according to the Department of Transportation. I am currently leading the fight in Congress to create a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism for the Highway Trust Fund to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and put Americans back to work.
Investing in our transportation infrastructure is not only necessary to repair our deteriorating highway system, rebuild the 150,000 structurally-deficient bridges (American Society of Civil Engineers), or deal with the $86 billion transit deficit (Department of Transportation). It is also the best way to create jobs, make our economy more competitive, and provide a lasting benefit to future generations. The Department of Transportation estimates that every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure creates or sustains more than 34,000 jobs and produces $6.2 billion in economic activity. These are not just construction jobs. They are private sector jobs in engineering, technical support, architectural design, manufacturing, and small businesses. If we are serious about helping hardworking Americans recover, we need to make investments in America’s future that create jobs and boost the economy.
Keeping Jobs at Home
One of the great things about investing in infrastructure is that we can’t export those jobs. Building a bridge or dredging a port is by necessity American jobs. Unfortunately, that is not true for other manufacturing jobs. It is unconscionable that Americans continue to struggle to find work to put food on their tables and take care of their families, while multinational corporations continue to push outsourcing free trade agreements, evade paying their fair share of taxes, and ship jobs overseas.
Unfortunately, our failed trade policies have led to the export of millions of high-paying jobs and decimated our manufacturing sector. During my entire Congressional career I have vigorously spoken out and voted against every single free trade agreement (FTA), including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA directly displaced more than one million U.S. jobs and 14,000 in Oregon. I am currently leading the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest FTA that is being negotiated in secret. The TPP is being touted as the first ever “living agreement,” which would mean any country could join after the agreement has been signed and ratified – including China. An FTA with China would spell the end of our domestic manufacturing capacity and take more jobs away from hardworking Americans.
During my entire time in Congress I have also fought against the use of offshore tax havens and other loopholes often exploited by U.S. corporations to avoid taxation. I have voted against adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit to make corporate tax subsidies permanent. I am also currently a cosponsor of two pieces of legislation to combat tax abuses – the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act and the International Tax Competitiveness Act. These bills would make sure corporations who make a profit here in the U.S. pay their fair share and keep jobs at home.
U.S. trade policy and a tax code that favors the rich have made it easier for multinational corporations to chase the cheapest wages around the world at the expense of U.S. workers. For far too long, multinational corporations have dominated the conversation on trade policy and taxes to suit their bottom line, which is increased corporate profits, not investment in America and its workers.
Certainty for Rural Communities
While the rest of the state has slowly recovered from the recession, rural communities in western Oregon have been left in the dust. County budgets have been slashed, forcing deep and painful cuts to critical services like sheriff’s patrols, jail beds, and public health programs.
For three years, I have worked on a bipartisan basis to help counties on the brink of financial disaster. The O&C bill that I wrote with Reps. Walden and Schrader – and which passed the House of Representatives last September – would generate as much as $90 million a year and create thousands of new private sector timber jobs for cash-strapped rural Oregon counties. The bill also includes critical Secure Rural Schools transition payments that will sustain counties until the long-term management plan is implemented. Under this bill, failing, rural Oregon counties will receive an estimated $166 million for essential government services like education, roads, and law enforcement.
Any solution must balance the preservation of our environment for future generations and the preservation of rural, timber dependent communities through sustainable forest management. I am still working with Senator Wyden to finalize a balanced plan that can pass both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratically-controlled Senate so it can be signed into law. While there has been a lot of noise surrounding this issue from both sides, this legislation is still a work in progress and I am confident that we can continue working with all stakeholders to finalize a plan that protects our conservation values and provides financial certainty for vital public services.
Protecting Innovation and Small Businesses
If we want the U.S. to be a global leader in innovation, we need to protect American inventors and small businesses from the frivolous litigation tactics of patent trolls. Patent trolls use vague patents to threaten companies with patent infringement lawsuits in hopes of extorting a quick settlement. When the companies decide to settle instead of spending millions going to court, they have to put off expanding their business and hiring more workers, which is a huge blow to our economy. This issue not only affects large tech companies, but also retailers, coffee shops, credit unions, airlines, and many other industries.
I was the first Member of Congress to introduce legislation aimed at deterring patent trolls. I was also the lead Democrat on a recent anti-troll bill, the bipartisan Innovation Act, H.R. 3309, which passed the House 325-91 earlier this year. The Senate recently held a hearing on patent trolls, and I will continue to urge my colleagues in the Senate to take up the Innovation Act so we can put an end to this lucrative extortion racket and allow businesses to thrive.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to level the playing field for ordinary Americans. I will continue to fight for investments in infrastructure, make sure corporations pay their fair share, and reform our failed trade policies – all of which will strengthen our economy and put Americans back in living wage jobs. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues subscribe to faulty economic policies that stymie job creation and cater to special interests and corporations. I will continue to stand up against this Washington, D.C. insider mentality, advocate for working families who are struggling to make ends meet, and build an economy that works for everyone.
Congressman Peter DeFazio represents the 4th District of Oregon.