Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

April 11, 2013

Phil Power: Congress is the barrier to prosperity

You’ve probably heard it said a thousand times: “The biggest barrier to a prosperous American economy is the U. S. Congress.”

Cynical? For sure. But sadly true today, in important ways. The Economist, the respected international news magazine, recently ran a big piece on “the America that works,” the ordinary Main Street economy, far from the hyper-partisan babble of Washington.

Among their findings: America’s politicians have been “feckless” about resolving the looming structural problems facing our economy. “The politicians in Washington have not inflicted any crippling damage yet,” the British-based publication concludes, but the editors go on to say that “the combination of dysfunctional politics and empty coffers is preventing Congress from dealing with the economy’s other obvious shortcomings.”

One case in point: America’s big businesses are sitting on a $2 trillion mountain of cash, afraid to invest because they can’t imagine Washington’s bickering, gridlocked politics ever fixing anything.

But The Economist also found that under the blaring headlines, the “real” economy is doing pretty well. Both the jobs and the housing markets are coming back. The stock market has returned to near-record levels not seen since 2007. Investment in research and development is back to record highs.

States and localities, pressed for cash, are innovating like crazy. Louisiana and Nebraska are talking about abolishing corporate and personal income taxes. Kansas has a “repealer,” charged with getting rid of red tape. Our own Gov. Rick Snyder has an ongoing program of eliminating obsolete state regulations.

Nationwide and in Michigan, schools are undergoing the biggest overhaul in memory. Michigan’s new, rigorous core curriculum is toughening up standards while schools and teachers are being held more accountable than ever for results.

Michigan is taking caps off the number of charter schools, designed to fill gaps left by poor public schools, while the worst public ones are being forced into the new Educational Accountability Authority, which will have broad powers to reform them.

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