Sen. John Thune: New GOP majority in Senate will focus on boosting economy
He predicts action on Keystone pipeline, ending medical device tax
Editor’s note: Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
This week, Republicans will take over the Senate, thanks to the American people’s overwhelming support in the 2014 elections, and our first priority for the next two years will be alleviating the economic pain the American people have experienced under the Obama administration.
More than five years after the recession officially ended, too many Americans are still feeling the pinch. Wages have remained stagnant, and median household income has dropped almost $3,000 on the President’s watch. Meanwhile, prices for everything from groceries to education have risen. And instead of helping, most of the administration’s policies have had a negative impact on the economy.
Just last week we learned from an employer survey that a majority of small businesses say that Obamacare has reduced their profits, causing many of them to freeze or cut workers’ wages or reduce other benefits.
Despite all this, this week the President will be conducting a campaign-style tour in an attempt to claim credit for the sliver of positive economic news we’re finally seeing after six bleak years under his policies. Unfortunately, the President’s attempted victory lap can’t disguise the fact that our economy is still nowhere near where it should be.
But there is reason to be hopeful.
The new Republican majority will get right to work on job-creating legislation, starting with legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which the President’s own State Department has admitted will support more than 42,000 jobs during construction. Keystone XL enjoys bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, and I hope the President will finally sign off on this job-creating project.
Republicans will also take up two other bipartisan jobs measures that were stuck in the Democrat-led Senate for far too long. We are committed to repealing the job-killing Obamacare medical device tax, a tax on life-saving medical devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps. This tax has already eliminated thousands of jobs in the medical device industry, and it’s on track to eliminate thousands more if it isn’t repealed. Given the economic stagnation of the past six years, the last thing our economy needs is a tax that is eliminating thousands of jobs.
Republicans will also work to repeal the Obamacare provision that changed the definition of full-time employment from 40 hours a week to 30 hours. This provision has forced countless businesses to cut back on hiring or reduce workers’ hours and wages, which has meant fewer jobs and opportunities for American workers. Eliminating this provision has bipartisan support, and Republicans look forward to taking it up this year.
In addition to passing job-creating legislation, Republicans will also make oversight a priority in the new Congress. Executive branch agencies have run amok over the past few years, and it’s time to rein them in. The Obama Environmental Protection Agency, to name just one agency, has proposed regulations that would drive Americans’ energy prices through the roof and result in the loss of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands,of American jobs. It is long past time for Congress to assert its oversight authority to protect Americans, particularly those who can least afford it, from this kind of executive overreach.
While we hope to work with Democrats as much as possible, the new Republican majority will not hesitate to draw bright lines between Democrat and Republican priorities. Republicans are committed to fundamental reforms, like transforming our tax code to make it simpler and fairer, cutting job-killing regulations and passing trade promotion authority so American goods can compete on an even playing field internationally.
Republicans are going to get Washington working for Americans again. Under our control, the Senate will return to regular order, which means bills will be considered out in the open in committees before coming to the Senate floor, and all senators, regardless of party, will have a chance to propose and debate amendments.
Over the past few years of Democrat control in the Senate, too often the minority party was shut out of the legislative process, leading to dysfunction and gridlock. Under Republican control, the Senate will get back to work. Creating jobs and encouraging economic growth should be bipartisan priorities, and we look forward to working with Democrats on everything from repealing the job-killing medical device tax to approving the job-creating Keystone XL pipeline. We hope Democrats and the President will join us.