Make It In America: What’s Next?

Innovative Ideas from the Third Hearing on Remaking
the House Democrats’ Jobs Plan

On Wednesday, October 28, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and House Democrats held the third hearing in a series of hearings titled “Make It In America: What’s Next?”

Since 2010, House Democrats have been focused on their Make It In America jobs plan to support a robust domestic manufacturing sector, promote American exports, encourage businesses to bring jobs back to the U.S., and invest in education and skills training. Five years later, sixteen Make It In America bills have been signed into law to do just that.

Now, House Democrats are working together to update the Make It In America plan so it reflects the new economic challenges and opportunities we face in today’s economy. During the first “Make It In America: What’s Next?” hearing, twenty-one House Democrats testified, discussing challenges and successes in their districts and what the Make It In America plan should look like today. During the second hearing, Members heard from outside experts who are leaders in areas critical to our long-term economic competitiveness and job growth, and who shared their thoughts on new challenges and new opportunities in today’s economic landscape.

The third Make It In America hearing featured testimony from eighteen House Democrats over the course of four panels: Rebuilding America’s Promise, Making Government Work Better, American Innovation, and the Future of American Manufacturing & Skills Training.

PANEL ONE: Rebuilding America’s Promise

Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04): “Policies that promote legal immigration and legal status for immigrants actually make things better for everyone else, all Americans across the board… Today’s immigrants are simply part of a pattern that has been repeating itself for as long as we have been a nation. Immigrants with few resources build up congregations and parishes, then neighborhoods and business districts, and then businesses and corporations. And eventually they are so integrated into our society that we cannot imagine our cities without their contributions… But immigrants do not just contribute to the economy as consumers and employees — although it should be noted that immigrants have the highest workforce participation rates in the American economy. More than that, they are creating jobs as entrepreneurs and business owners… Longitudinal studies show that when immigrant workers gravitate to sectors of our economy, they increase the productivity of the native born and have a positive impact on wages. That’s right, the evidence shows wages for native-born workers tend to improve when there are more immigrants… So, despite all the rhetoric, despite all the simplistic answers we get from politicians trying to scare you into voting for them, the reality is that immigrants are not taking a piece of our pie. Instead, on average, immigrant workers are contributing and making a bigger pie. And as it turns out, they are also picking, washing, and packaging the apples, the cherries, and the blueberries we have in those pies.”

Representative Bobby Scott (VA-03): “…Basic protections like fair schedules and paid sick days shouldn’t depend on winning the boss lottery. They should be the fundamental right of every American. That’s why yesterday…I launched the Working Families Agenda. The Working Families Agenda calls on Congress to deliberate on the responsible solutions that hardworking Americans want and need… [The agenda] includes legislation that would boost wages; help workers better balance work and family; and level the playing field so that all workers have a chance to succeed… It’s been a very long time since most people got a raise. We need to pass legislation to raise the minimum wage… We need to help workers better balance work and family life. Nearly 40 percent of the workforce doesn’t have a single paid sick day…We need federal paid sick days and paid family and medical leave laws which 80 percent of the public supports… It’s past time to level the playing field so that all working families have a fair shot…We must strengthen protections from discrimination so that all working families have a fair shot.”

Representative Paul D. Tonko (NY-20): “A modern economy needs modern infrastructure. The competitiveness of our nation depends on it. We usually think of the highways, railways, ports, and airports used to bring domestically manufactured goods to market. But we also need to think of the energy and water needed to make that happen. There is a growing awareness of the crumbling roads and bridges in need of repair, but underground water systems are out of sight and not getting the attention they deserve. Clean and reliable water for residents and businesses should be a given. But sadly, our water infrastructure is in terrible shape… Re-investing in our infrastructure is the responsible thing to do. And, there are so many benefits. In addition to creating construction jobs, these projects create demand for pipes, machinery, concrete, and other materials needed to rebuild these systems. Water is an engine for the economy. Without safe drinking water and sound water management, it does not matter how much we invest in workforce training, STEM education or advanced manufacturing. Businesses will not invest in areas without reliable public infrastructure.”

Representative Dan Kildee (MI-05): “We should be taking up legislation that makes a significant and long-term investment in our crumbling infrastructure. Congress’s failure to focus on meaningful investment in our cities — and infrastructure everywhere — only exacerbates the problem and increases costs every month… The failure to focus on our nation’s aging infrastructure can be seen in my district. Right now, my hometown of Flint, Michigan, is going through a crisis. In the twenty-first century, my hometown cannot guarantee clean, safe drinking water to its residents — in the wealthiest nation on Earth… Aging water infrastructure has led to lead leaching into the city’s water supply at dangerous and unsafe levels. It is a public health crisis leading to serious health concerns for my constituents. And now, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in damage have been done to the city’s already aging infrastructure… The example of Flint is a stark reminder that we cannot simply ‘manage’ our struggling cities out of the downward spiral of decline and disinvestment. Older industrial cities like Flint reflect decades of stagnant or declining job opportunities, weak housing markets, declining populations, decaying infrastructure — problems that cannot be fixed in a few months or even a few years… We cannot leave cities like my hometown of Flint behind. The success or failure of cities like Flint and the people who live in those places should be a concern of all Americans, and Congress cannot sit idly by and claim it bears no obligation to do anything to rebuild the great legacy cities.”

Representative Brendan Boyle (PA-13): “In order to help as many struggling workers to personally ‘Make it in America’ with as much upward mobility, economic security, and prosperity as enjoyed by past generations, we must restore our beleaguered middle class by giving it a more substantial stake in our economy. Even though our labor force now creates an average of 72 percent more income for employers than it did in 1973, the average hourly wage for employees has risen only 9 percent. This figure represents a fundamentally undervalued workforce that needs fairer pay, fairer opportunity, and fairer rules. As we look to restore the basic bargain, we must remember that Unions play a critical role in reaffirming the value of labor… Labor’s commitment to producing well-qualified and highly experienced workers through apprenticeships and exhaustive forms of training has produced entire generations of highly skilled tradespeople and laborers that have exceedingly high standards for the work they do… In a recent survey of manufacturing firms, seven out of ten executives reported that they cannot hire enough workers with sufficient technical training. It is estimated that such a skills gap will leave 2 million job openings without qualified candidates in the next ten years. To bridge such a massive gap, it will take a coordinated effort among the public and private sectors to upskill more Americans and fully develop their professional potential. It will be well worth it for workers — who stand to earn much more with greater skills to market; for their employers — whose reputations rely on productivity and high-quality products; and for our economy at large — which will be unbeatable if it fully employs the massive potential of the American workforce. The basic bargain of fair pay for fair work, modest as it is, is our greatest and most potent asset.”

PANEL 2: Making Government Work Better

Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-16): “As many of you know, in most states electoral maps are drawn behind closed doors to protect incumbent seats by whatever party holds a majority statewide. Sometimes this process is accelerated in order to swing the outcome of upcoming elections. In other cases, the two major parties cut backroom deals to preserve the status quo and ensure years of non-competitive elections. This process is not only rigged to preserve the power of incumbents and the two major parties, but is also designed to keep out independent candidates and third-party challengers. What results is a troubling reality in which politicians choose their voters instead of voters picking their elected officials… That is why my colleagues — Representatives Brownley and Lowenthal, as well as Representatives Larson and Barrow before them — and myself have introduced legislation that creates a more transparent electoral process to hold politicians accountable to the people they represent by requiring all states to form independent citizen redistricting commissions… By requiring all states to form independent citizen redistricting commissions, our legislation will create a more transparent election process and hold our politicians accountable to the people they represent.”

Representative John Sarbanes (MD-03): “Overwhelmingly, Americans believe that big money campaign contributors and Washington-insiders have more access and influence to the machinery of government than do the voters. In fact, a recent survey found that a whopping 96% of Americans agreed that it was critical to reduce the influence of money in politics… ‘Power-based’ [campaign finance] reforms start with the basic goal of giving a voice back to everyday Americans. Again, the issue is not the presence of money in politics. The issue is the source of that money. There is too much money in politics coming from too few. I believe we can effectively address the challenge of concentrated money with practical and proven campaign finance reform: decentralized small donor democracy. Working with a diverse coalition of reform advocates, policy experts, legal scholars, and my colleagues on Capitol Hill, I have advanced legislation that would create a new ‘power-based’ system: The Government By the People Act (H.R. 20). Through a combination of small dollar campaign contribution tax credits and publically-supported multiple matching funds, the Government By the People Act would democratize our campaign finance system, empowering everyday Americans and the candidates they support to reclaim their republic.”

Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06): “The American idea of rags-to-riches is great. We need to support the idea that everyone can be the next Bill Gates. But we should also be the party that supports folks looking to purchase their first home, or starting a new small business, or getting the family’s first college degree. To help with that we also believe in the power of government to bring about this shared prosperity. But we know that power can only be harnessed when our government is working effectively. So at the beginning of this year the New Democrat Coalition released the American Prosperity Agenda — a blueprint to show that our party is for a vibrant economy in which every American has an opportunity to succeed. A key part of this agenda is improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government. Because right now, many people are feeling left out. They see agencies and programs that are not listening to their needs… I’ve always believed that government works best when folks are transparent and accountable to the people they represent. It’s my belief that our government agencies should take the same approach. That’s why our Agenda included a call on the General Services Administration to work with Yelp to create unique Yelp pages for each agency or department within our government.”

PANEL 3: American Innovation

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30): “I strongly believe that if the United States is to remain competitive over the long term, we need to ensure that American companies maintain the capacity to manufacture new and innovative products here at home. The key to maintaining this capacity is through strategic investments in advanced manufacturing research, development, and education. I’m proud that several programs have been enacted that contribute to the goals of Make It in America. These include the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which improves the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing and increases domestic production; stimulates U.S. leadership in advanced manufacturing research, innovation, and technology; and accelerates the development of an advanced manufacturing workforce. Another example, the Regional Innovation Program provides support to innovative initiatives that accelerate technology commercialization, job creation, and economic growth in the United States… I am concerned that if we are not willing to make these investments as a nation — or worse, if we roll back our level of investments — then we will lose a generation of STEM talent to other pursuits. Our capacity for science and innovation and our global economic competitiveness may never recover from such a loss… Investments in our science, innovation, and education enterprise are essential for our long-term economic growth and prosperity. This should not be a partisan issue.”

Representative Scott Peters (CA-52): “We have to be working on a bipartisan level to reduce duplicative regulatory burdens, repeal harmful excise and trade taxes, and speed up the approval process at the FDA so that we can safely get these drugs and devices to market. Patients in our competitor countries are often able [to] access these items months or years before they can here in the United States, putting our country at a competitive disadvantage and dis-incentivizing investment here in America… First we must increase funding for scientific research grants, specifically at NIH. Funding for NIH, even with the 21st Century Cures Act earlier this year is not keeping pace with inflation, and our competitors in China and Europe are investing more heavily than we are — threatening our ability to keep talent here in the United States. Second, as I alluded to earlier, we must find a bipartisan way to expedite the FDA approval process. Third, we need to ensure that there is incentive for private investment in ideas by allowing inventors to protect their intellectual property. That happens through a strong patent system that rewards innovators. Fourth, I continue to advocate for a repeal of the Medical Device Tax. Small medical device companies in my district continue to tell me how this tax on profits — not on sales — is harming their ability to grow, makes manufacturing their products outside the US more attractive, and is decreasing investment in R&D. Lastly, we need to pass bipartisan immigration reform and update our outdated and uncompetitive visa program. When we educate the best and brightest in the world here in the United States at our world-renowned universities, we should keep those graduates here in America so that they can start the next Google or Facebook in this country not in Japan or India.”

Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15): “As we talk about what’s next, we cannot ignore a quickly growing sector of the economy — the sharing economy, also known as the ‘on demand economy.’ Many of you have likely joined the approximately 80 million Americans who have engaged in the sharing economy last year. The sharing economy, made most famous in recent years by U.S. companies like Uber and Lyft, allows people to rent or borrow goods directly from another individual to help expand access to products and services… These technological innovations have helped us to better use resources, reduce our environmental footprint, and provide goods and services to people that may otherwise not be able to afford them. Much of this new technology is driven by companies in Silicon Valley, the heart of which is just outside my congressional district. These platforms, apps, and other related technologies are being made in America.”

Representative Seth Moulton (MA-06): “Congress must take action to strengthen our innovation economy by helping businesses break down barriers, encouraging young people to take risks to start new companies, and creating a 21st century education system that prepares our children for the jobs of the future. First, Congress ought to encourage innovation at every turn… Second, Congress needs to promote entrepreneurship, especially among young people. The stark reality is that entrepreneurship in the U.S. fell 30% during the recession and hasn’t recovered… Congress needs to act to make college affordable so young people can get busy creating the Next Big Thing… We often say that small businesses are the engine of our economy. That’s not entirely true. While small businesses are critically important, new businesses account for nearly all net new job creation in this country… Lastly, Congress needs to help build a 21st century education system that prepares our students for the jobs of the future. We all know that a good education pays lifelong dividends by providing the skills necessary to earn a living wage and lead successful professional careers… Innovation will drive our future economic growth if Congress makes the right investments to support our new businesses, our young entrepreneurs, and our students.”

PANEL FOUR: The Future of American Manufacturing & Skills Training

PART A — Manufacturing

Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02): “Throughout the country, and especially in my home state of Washington, aviation means jobs. Washington is home to 1,350 firms in the aerospace cluster employing more than 132,000 people. Many of these jobs are union jobs, and they almost universally pay a good wage, supporting middle class families in my district… Over the next 20 years, Boeing predicts China will need nearly 6,000 new airplanes. The emergence of new international markets is already having an impact on U.S. aviation. U.S. manufacturers are adjusting their strategies to target new customers in emerging international markets. Similarly, U.S. airlines are drawing an increasing amount of their revenue from international flights… Aviation is an increasingly global business, and we need to be clear about what that means for our jobs here at home.”

Representative David Cicilline (RI-01): “…[W]e can do more in Congress to ensure that our manufacturing sector continues to grow and thrive in today’s economy. Keeping firm ‘Buy America’ requirements will help keep traditional manufacturing in America. I am proud to have introduced the 21st Century Buy American Act, which closes loopholes that allow federal agencies to waive Buy America requirements, increase the domestic content percentage requirement, and provide resources for U.S. manufacturers of items in short supply to help them compete against foreign manufacturers for U.S. government contracts. This bill will help rebuild our manufacturing industry and create new jobs by providing an increased demand for American-made products by the federal government… It is also critical that we continue to change the attitude towards manufacturing as a career path. Ensuring that students receive strong STEM education in their academic careers will increase the likelihood they consider manufacturing as a career path. New manufacturing initiatives, such as the Maker Movement has changed the narrative about manufacturing from an antiquated industry to a new, technologically advanced enterprise. Reshaping how we talk about manufacturing will ensure that young Americans entering the workforce view manufacturing as a viable career path and an entry way into the middle class.”

Representative Brenda Lawrence (MI-14): “A strong manufacturing sector is essential to our nation’s economic prosperity. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturers contributed $2 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2014. The manufacturing industry also supports an estimated 17.6 million jobs in the United States — about one in six private-sector jobs. In Michigan alone, more than 600,000 Americans are employed by the manufacturing industry. Just last month, Michigan ranked second among all States by adding 2,600 new manufacturing jobs… As some of you know, I am the Co-Chair of the bi-partisan Congressional Investment in America’s Skilled Workforce Caucus. I started this Caucus to highlight the growing concerns and challenges voiced by industry, labor, and academic experts on the difficulty in finding skilled workers to fill jobs, as well as the skills gap currently prevalent in our workforce… We need to overcome the negative perceptions of vocational training programs, and apprenticeship programs. We also need to recognize that a four-year college program is becoming unaffordable for most middle-class American families. Lastly, we need to recognize that students who fare poorly in our educational system might succeed in a system that emphasizes a learning-by-doing culture.”

PART B — Education and Skills Training

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18): “American businesses can only remain competitive when they have the trained and educated workers they need. This is why I have introduced a bill that will help strengthen our education and skills-training programs to make sure our workers are getting the preparation and certifications they need while also providing an opportunity to find and retain work once trained with those high-demand skills. H.R. 73, the ‘America RISING Act of 2015’ which stands for Realizing the Informational Skills and Initiative of New Graduates, establishes a grant program for stipends to assist in the cost of compensation paid by employers to certain recent college graduates and provides funding for their further education in subjects relating to mathematics, science, engineering, and technology… Recent college graduates need the experience that can be obtained only in the workplace to refine their skills and lay the groundwork for productive careers and small and disadvantaged businesses need the technologically based problem-solving skills possessed by recent college graduates, particularly those with training in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Enabling recent graduates to obtain employment with small business and companies operating in economically distressed areas benefits the national economy by granting graduates deferred payments on their student loans with frozen interest rates while they gain essential business management experience that they can put into practice throughout their careers. All the while providing businesses the human capital and technical expertise needed to compete and win in the global economy of the 21st century.”

Representative Jim Langevin (RI-02): “Today, I would like to touch on a topic that not only affects my home state of Rhode Island, but also has broader economic implications for our nation: the Skills gap. I hear a constant refrain from employers that despite their numerous job openings, they are unable to find employees with the necessary skills to fill them. This gap is a persistent drag on our economy, but it is one that we have the tools to fix… Ultimately, the success of any skills training program lies in an employer-educator partnership. Students need to be aware of the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen field, and they need to visualize the potential opportunities available to them. The emphasis on in-demand skills cannot be overstated, and the easiest way to ensure that training matches workplace needs is to make sure that employers and school systems are working hand-in-hand to train the future workforce. One of the most effective means to expand coordination between employers and educators is through the use of apprenticeships. While these programs are uncommon in the United States, they have enjoyed longtime and widespread acceptance in Europe, particularly in Switzerland and Germany… Earlier this month, I hosted a CTE Caucus field hearing in Rhode Island. Business and educational leaders were briefed by experts from German and Swiss industry as to how their apprenticeship models work, and how they are most effectively adapted to the United States… With the proper level of engagement and the right set of policies in place, these partnerships can be a true catalyst for workforce development.”

Representative Mark Pocan (WI-02): “Today, I would like to touch on two items I consider to be very important moving forward as we craft an agenda to Make It in America. The first is the role labor unions play in ensuring we have a robust middle class market for American goods and services, and the role collective bargaining plays for union and non-union workers alike. The second is the need for our work force to have cutting edge skills training to ensure we have the most competitive workforce that’s up for any challenge. In order to do this, we must have the worker training pipeline that meets the needs of employers while providing a pathway to good, middle class jobs that can support a family. Unions are critical to creating a robust middle class and promoting social mobility… Therefore, we must make sure workers have the legal protections they need to ensure that their voices are heard and they can bargain in good faith for their fair share. In order to make it in America, we must fiercely protect workers’ freedom of speech, specifically the freedom of association and their right to organize… Which brings me to the importance of having cutting edge skills training for workers: we have to make sure that our workers receive training to fill cutting edge manufacturing jobs through traditional and non-traditional sources, including apprenticeship… We must provide workers and job seekers with better access to employment, education, training, and support programs to help them secure good, well-paying jobs. And we must address some of the persistent challenges with expanding apprenticeships: education (lack of awareness), cost, incentives and Federal legislative shortcomings.”