Replicating the Bipartisan Economic Successes of the 1990s

Dean C. Garfield photo

While today's headlines are appropriately focused on Japan, North Africa and the Middle East, it is important that we not lose sight of our domestic imperative to drive growth and create jobs.  Based on past experience, our divided government may be exactly what is needed to do just that.

Our experience in the 1990s suggests as much.  Then, Congress and the administration set aside partisan differences and advanced effective, pro-growth policies. Democrats and Republicans joined efforts and agreed on a variety of legislative and regulatory changes that provided the framework for today's world of 1,000-channel cable systems, smartphones, an infinitely diverse Internet, stronger global technology standards and increased trade of core products and services. The value of bipartisan efforts was demonstrated in a decade that saw the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the creation of more than 22 million jobs in less than eight years and, remarkably, the longest economic expansion in America's history.

Today, as in the 1990s, there are particularly fertile opportunities for bold technology-oriented legislative initiatives in the areas of broadband Internet, business tax/regulatory policy and trade.

Let's start with efforts to make fast, reliable, inexpensive broadband Internet access available in every corner of our nation. Doing this could create thousands of jobs and create new opportunities for entrepreneurs. The United States, where most key Internet technologies are invented, still does not provide home-broadband Internet to about 40 percent of its population. In the 1990s, Congress helped bring the Internet to the masses for the first time with the 1991 High Performance Computing Act which invested in high-speed infrastructure linking research labs, business centers and universities. Now, Congress should act expeditiously to bring the Internet to all Americans by making more wireless spectrum available through market auctions.

Another area that deserves immediate attention is our antiquated tax structure.  The U.S. has the worst tax system in the world, bar none.  As a point of comparison, the Japanese recently reacted to two decades of slow growth by lowering the country's rates and moving to a competitive territorial system.

Congress and the Obama Administration should move to bring sanity to our tax code by building on the legacies of Presidents Reagan and Clinton.  Both presidents faced divided governments yet managed to make real progress on tax priorities with President Reagan advancing comprehensive reform and President Clinton advancing the Internet Tax Freedom Act (which bars most Internet taxes.)  Such leadership on taxes is long overdue.

Finally, if both parties are committed to supercharging the American economy, they should come together to stand for common-sense trade agreements with thriving economies such as Korea, Panama and Colombia. The trade agreements of the 1990s, including NAFTA, were a big part of the record job creation from that era. The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which will create tens of thousands of new jobs, has languished in limbo since 2007.  If both parties are committed to job creation, there is no excuse for failing to move that agreement and the other pending free trade agreements across the finish line this year.

As with the 1990s, there are real opportunities in front of both parties to enact genuine, meaningful, pro-growth reforms that will energize the nation's high-tech economy, create American jobs and build a more prosperous future.  It is in both parties' interest to seize the moment.

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