WASHINGTON —Congressional gridlock and confusion on Capitol Hill is damaging the American economy and the capabilities of the private sector, experts told a House committee Tuesday.
Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank, said that congressional turmoil is damaging the private sector’s confidence and ability to recover from years of recession.
“It is extremely hard to see how careening from crisis to crisis—from fiscal cliff to debt ceiling to sequester—supports the private sector,” Bernstein said at a hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., top Democrat on the panel, echoed the concerns.
“We’re running this government on a 90-day leash,” he said. “And for us, that’s a long leash. We’ve gone 30 days in the past.” The hearing was called to consider ways to improve schools and grow the economy. Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, told the committee that the upcoming battle over sequester—automatic, heavy spending cuts—was “absolutely” detrimental to the security of the economy. Should Congress fail to stop the cuts, he said, the effect will be even worse.
Turmoil that damages America’s workforce doesn’t just come from Congress, some committee members said.
Controversy surrounded January’s federal appeals court ruling invalidating President Barack Obama’s recess appointments National Labor Relations Board members. The manufacturers association supported the ruling. But Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., said the court ruling violated precedent and questioned Timmons as to whether ideology was overriding the greater good.
Chairman Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said that the decision created confusion and stunted progress in labor relations.
In his testimony, Timmons also urged that Congress take action on immigration reform, specifically in repairing a restrictive visa and green card system that bars the private sector from hiring “the right person with the right skills at the time.”
“American companies cannot hire the employees they need and will either not hire at all or move jobs abroad if the workers are not available domestically,” he said.
Utah Gov. George Herbert, who also appeared before the committee, said that red tape in Washington and inaction in Congress have slowed reforms in his state. However, Herbert, a Republican, outlined three statewide educational efforts that he said have helped the private sector flourish. On his list: science, technology, engineering and math training; dual immersion and foreign language education; and working to increase the state’s percentage of workers with a college education to more than 66 percent.
Increased focus on STEM education has been a major priority of government in Washington and the states in recent years. All of the witnesses stressed the importance of stepped up efforts in math and science in the nation’s schools.