Hope and Change? How About Growth and Jobs (Skot Covert Commentary)

Despite big promises, President Obama has done little to deliver prosperity to the nation. Hope and change don’t pay the bills. With jobs scarce and many more-experienced people looking for work, millennials like me have suffered disproportionately during this time of economic hardship. With the right pro-growth policies, however, Republicans can fix this problem — and fix our relatively poor performance with young voters at the same time.

Though we are technically in a recovery, it doesn’t feel like it for most Americans, especially for people in my age group. The Economic Policy Institute recently studied the economic environment facing my cohort, and found that the current weak labor market “has been, and continues to be, very tough on young workers.” Our unemployment rate was 14.5 percent as of March, “slightly over twice as high as the overall unemployment rate.” If so-called “missing” young workers are included — those who have stopped looking — the rate would be a shocking 18.1 percent.

Fortunately, we know how to turn this situation around: a positive, pro-growth agenda that focuses on creating the right environment for economic expansion. If President Obama won’t lead on the issues important to young people, then Republicans in Congress need to move forward without him and put all their energies into just such an agenda: tax reform, trade expansion and dealing with our broken immigration system and border issues.

Tax reform is the linchpin. The current tax code is incredibly complex and in many cases picks winners and losers based on myriad exemptions, credits or other loopholes. Furthermore, the U.S. has the highest nominal corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, which discourages U.S. businesses from investing domestically, shifting more operations, jobs and tax dollars overseas. Not to mention that the high costs of complying with our overly complex tax code result in valuable economic resources being spent on extensive tax preparation, compliance and filing activities — instead of being used for business expansion and growth.

If we really want our businesses (and the economy) to succeed, we must ensure they aren’t put at a disadvantage in the international market. Lowering the corporate tax rate and greatly simplifying the tax code would help ease the overhead costs of U.S. businesses, thereby helping to increase their competitiveness overseas as well as putting more money in their coffers back home to invest in new jobs and workers, new businesses and their local communities. Of course, efforts to lower the corporate tax rate must be combined with an overhaul of special exemptions and loopholes in order to make a rate reduction revenue neutral — or even revenue positive.

But lower taxes aren’t the only way we can help expand trade for U.S. firms. We also need the president and Congress to work to promote and pass international trade deals. To make this a reality, Congress should reinstate the Trade Promotion Authority that expired with the second term of President George W. Bush.

The TPA gives Congress a specific timetable to follow on trade deals and prevents amendments from being added to trade bills. This keeps trade pacts moving through Congress and frees them from getting bogged down in the usual legislative infighting of Capitol Hill, greatly increasing their chances of passage. This is a good thing: History clearly demonstrates that trade deals significantly benefit our businesses, workers and economy.

Finally, immigration reform. This is a touchy subject and one most politicians would like to avoid in an election year. But we cannot wait any longer — our businesses need clarity on these questions, and our laws need to be enforced and border protected. Congress must work to find a common-sense solution to both business workforce issues and the problem of illegal immigration. Without such a solution, our businesses will continue to make hiring and labor decisions in an environment of uncertainty and more and more illegal immigrants will pass through our borders.

Combined, tax reform, trade expansion and real immigration reform and enforcement would provide our struggling economy with the kind of jolt needed to return us to consistent, healthy growth.

If Congress can move on this agenda, it will help our business community vigorously expand the economy and create good jobs. And that will be good news for Republicans, because regardless of their current political dispositions, millennials will remember which party helped them move out of their parents’ houses come future elections.

Skot Covert is the national co-chair of the College Republican National Committee. A native of Ozark, Covert is a recent graduate of Arkansas Tech University. E-mail him at SCovert@CRNC.org.