By JAY TIMMONS
Tuesday’s presidential debate took on a very different format, and a very different tone, from the first debate. It was much more combative, with the candidates painting very different pictures of their vision for economic recovery and manufacturing growth.
Both President Obama and Governor Romney spoke early and often in support of growing manufacturing jobs in the United States. While it’s good to hear the support, it is incredibly important to implement policies that will not just lead to recovery, but to sustained growth. The candidates spent much of the night discussing the elements that make it 20 percent more expensive to manufacture in the United States — taxes, regulation, energy and trade.
Time and again, the conversation returned to job creation — fundamentally the most significant issue in this election. Manufacturers couldn’t agree more, but we’d like to remind the candidates that it’s also essential that we fill the 600,000 job openings in the manufacturing sector that remain unfilled today because employers can’t find workers with skills that match the jobs. Energy policy is an immediate pathway to jobs. President Obama spoke about increased oil production and a desire for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, but yet again, this debate came and went without the president mentioning the Keystone XL pipeline. Governor Romney had it absolutely right when he told the audience at Hofstra University that we need to “take advantage of energy resources we have and we’ll see manufacturing jobs come back.”
Governor Romney advocated in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline again and also spoke of shale gas, a game-changer that would create 1 million manufacturing jobs. The president also supported shale gas efforts, but his endorsement of more federal regulation on shale will handcuff the growth opportunity that it represents.
Special attention was paid to trade Tuesday night — a critical aspect of our economy for manufacturing growth. President Obama deserves credit for signing the Colombia, South Korea and Panama free trade agreements and increasing exports. But manufacturers need more — the United States has a trade surplus with nations with whom we have free trade agreements. Governor Romney is right in the need for expanded trade that will open up markets for manufacturers in the United States and level the playing field around the world.
As the debate repeatedly returned to jobs, tax policy and its impact on economic growth was a focal point. The candidates doubled down on their position — Governor Romney in his support for bringing down rates across-the-board, and President Obama in his support for an increase in the top individual rate.
Unfortunately, if the two-thirds of manufacturers who file at the individual rate are hit with the looming tax hike, they will see a continuation of the tough times they’ve experienced over the past four years. With energy and health care costs increasing and the fiscal abyss approaching, manufacturers are getting squeezed on both ends. That’s not a recipe for economic growth.
Getting the nation on track again and putting our fiscal house in order requires addressing the factors that make it 20 percent more expensive to manufacture in the United States. The moment that we put in effect the pro-growth policies that manufacturers are calling for is the moment our true recovery can begin.
Jay Timmons is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.