By Scott Paul
The polls are long closed and the votes are counted. An election-weary country has turned its attention to the holidays, happy that political ads have disappeared from the airwaves.
But the beat in Washington goes on. Politicians spent a substantial amount of money winning new seats and defending old ones this cycle. So after the most expensive election in American history, I’ve just got to ask: What did all of that money go to?
It went to ads. Ads about jobs.
With images of America’s factory floors providing the backdrop, political advertising about creating jobs, addressing outsourcing to foreign competitors and cracking down on China dominated television sets during Election 2012 — a reflection of voters’ legitimate concerns about the health of the economy.
These ads played everywhere. In the Youngstown TV market alone, the presidential campaigns and their affiliates spent more than $5.3 million on ads discussing job growth and more than $750,000 on ads focusing on trade.
Nationwide, the contest’s bill for advertising on these issues was staggering, totaling more than $700 million.
That’s quite a sum. And the fact that the campaigns spent so much money on these issues suggests that they knew what voters know: We need a jobs plan, one focused on making things in America.
In the last decade, we’ve lost more than 5 million manufacturing jobs to overseas competitors, particularly China. Simultaneously, our trade deficit with that country has grown. The deficit with China for September 2012 was $29.1 billion — the second highest monthly deficit yet recorded. For the whole of 2011, in fact, our trade deficit with China came to a record $295 billion, and we’re on track to exceed that number in 2012.
America’s manufacturing sector isn’t easily replaced. It makes up about 12 percent of our gross domestic product, accounts for nearly 75 percent of our research and development, two-thirds of our exports of goods and services, and nearly 12 million good-paying jobs. This industrial capacity is unwisely conceded.
So instead of continuing to forfeit a crucial sector of our economy to a global competitor, what can we do about it?
We can do plenty. Here are a few steps the incoming Congress can take to support America’s businesses and workers:
Give American businesses new tools to counter China’s currency manipulation, industrial subsidies, intellectual property theft and barriers to market access. Get tough on trade cheats.
Apply “buy America” provisions to all federal spending so domestic firms get the first shot at procurement contracts. If American businesses are capable and competitive, this one is a no-brainer.
Condition federal loan guarantees for energy projects on the use of homegrown supply chains for construction. The recent boom in American energy production can and should be a vehicle to put more homegrown firms to work.
Dedicate more federal education funding for technical skills programs to address looming worker shortages in the manufacturing sector. Make sure we’ve got a class of engineers and tradesmen to fuel the next surge of industrial innovation in this country.
Ensure the benefits of tax reform go to companies that make things in America, not to Wall Street banks or retailers who don’t really face global competition.
In short: Establish a concerted national policy to restore America’s manufacturing base and the good jobs that come with it.
This sector remains vital. Talk of reshoring is on the rise, the rescue of the auto industry was a success, and the economy has added 500,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010.
And that momentum is precisely why we shouldn’t stop now. Politicians had the wisdom to highlight these issues on the campaign trail. Now, they need to follow through on their promises to fight for American jobs and hold trading partners like China accountable when they cheat on their agreements.
They talked the talk. Now let’s see them walk the walk. To Washington, I say: America is watching. So don’t allow an opportunity to revitalize American manufacturing to go to waste.
Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a non-profit, non-partisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America’s leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers to explore common solutions on topics such as job creation, infrastructure investment, international trade, and global competitivenes. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.