By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the election finished, members of Congress and the Obama administration must work together to solve the nation’s fiscal woes and improve the economy, business leaders said last week.
Agriculture would benefit from a quick resolution to the financial situation, said Steve Wellman, president of the American Soybean Assoc. (ASA). The organization wants to work with Washington, D.C., on avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff” being discussed nationwide, passing a farm bill, extending current estate tax rates and expanding trade opportunities, Wellman explained. “With Democrats continuing to have a majority in the Senate and Republicans continuing to hold a majority in the House, the need for both parties and the president to work to find common ground on the pressing issues important to our country is critical,” Wellman said.
“A hallmark of agricultural policy has always been its bipartisan nature. ASA urges the President as well as members of both the House and Senate return to Washington with a renewed sense of purpose (this) week, so we can all get back to work serving America’s hard-working families.”
The fiscal cliff refers to several tax and spending changes that could take effect at the beginning of 2013 if no action is taken. For example, the Bush-era tax cuts will end Dec. 31, as will the temporary payroll tax cut enacted at the end of 2010.
Automatic spending cuts for many federal agencies, including the USDA and the Department of Defense, will begin in early January if an agreement isn’t reached on a deficit reduction plan. “I don’t think there’s anything more urgent than dealing with this financial crisis,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Assoc. of Manufacturers. “America’s competitiveness is truly at stake. The bottom line is, businesses have to operate in an environment of certainty.”
Discussions should focus on growth and providing jobs, he noted, adding it’s been heartening for the manufacturing community that politicians and others have been talking about the importance of a strong manufacturing base.
Political leaders must work together to end the nation’s financial problems, said John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable and former governor of Michigan. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and go right to work,” he said.
The administration and Congress need “to get the fiscal cliff situation resolved, avoid sequestration and the draconian defense cuts. One of the hopes I would have is that we can get back to the regular order of doing business in Congress. We’ve got to get some of these issues resolved.”
Members of Congress returned to Washington this week for a lame duck session. The history of Congress accomplishing much during such sessions is pretty dismal, Engler noted. On the plus side, though, everyone knows all the issues and the people involved, he said. “They’ll be sitting across the table from each other saying, ‘You again.’ What we need is action and that requires decisions to be made,” he said. “We want policies that lead to economic growth. One of the shortcomings has been the inability of anyone to put a specific plan on the table.”
The result of winning the election is “you get the opportunity to lead and you get the opportunity to put something on the table,” he said.
There’s a time for politics and a time for governing, and this is definitely a time for governing, said Greg Casey, president and CEO of the Business Industry Political Action Committee. Leadership matters, and it’s time for political leaders to get around a table and look at plans to fix the problems, he said.
“The No. 1 issue is jobs,” Casey explained. “The voters have chosen (President Barack) Obama’s approach to jobs over (former Gov. Mitt) Romney’s approach to jobs. It’s an opportunity to grow the economy and provide jobs. They have to do something to pull the plug on the fiscal cliff.”