The POTUS Presser: Jobs, Tax Reform, Immigration, and Climate

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“Our top priority has to be jobs and growth . . . providing more Americans the chance to learn the skills that businesses are looking for right now; keeping this country at the forefront of research, technology and clean energy.”   That’s how President Obama opened his first post-election news conference, before spending the majority of time talking about anything but job creation. 

President Obama speaks at his news conference on 11/14/2012.Ok, in the President’s defense, he doesn’t control what questions the reporters ask, and they wanted to talk about General Petraeus and Ambassador Rice, and attempt to negotiate a solution to the fiscal cliff in the nearly 60 minutes that they had to question the President.  That said, there were some issues that the President touched on that likely won’t get top billing in your morning papers.  So here’s a look at three topics of interest to the tech sector:

Tax reform.  As part of his answers to questions on what he might accept as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations with Congress, the President stated his belief that tax reform should be a central piece of the discussions.  Once there is agreement with Congress on how to address the income tax cuts first enacted during the George W. Bush Administration, the focus can shift to comprehensive tax reform.

“Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step.  And what we can then do is shape a process whereby we look at tax reform -- which I’m very eager to do.  I think we can simplify our tax system. I think we can make it more efficient.  We can eliminate loopholes and deductions that have a distorting effect on our economy.

“So, I want a -- big deal. I want a comprehensive deal. I want to see if we can, you know, at least for the foreseeable future, provide certainty to businesses and the American people so that we can focus on job growth, so that we’re also investing in the things that we need.”

Immigration.  Telemundo’s Lori Montenegro asked the President about the prospects for a broad immigration reform bill.  The President noted that discussions already are taking place between Members of Congress and White House staff about what should be in a comprehensive reform package, including ways to reduce the green card backlog for high-skilled immigrants.

“The business community continues to be concerned about getting enough high-skilled workers.

“And I am a believer that if you’ve got a PhD in physics, or computer science who wants to stay here, and start a business here, we shouldn’t make it harder for them to stay here, we should try to encourage them to contribute to this society.”

We agree with the President, and bipartisan discussions are currently underway in Congress on legislation that would provide more green cards for master’s and Ph.D. graduates of U.S. colleges and universities.  Congress has the opportunity before year’s end to pass this and other modest reforms that impact the innovation sectors of our economy, and together, could represent an important down payment on comprehensive reform.

Climate change.  Energy, the environment, and sustainability are key issues for the tech sector.  We are constantly looking for new ways to reduce our carbon footprint and create smart products and services while reducing our impact on the climate.  The New York Times’ Mark Landler asked the President whether he would make a climate change bill a priority in his second term.  “What specifically do you plan to do in a second term to tackle the issue of climate change?” he asked.  “And do you think the political will exists in Washington to pass legislation that could include some kind of a tax on carbon?”  Here is the President’s answer:

“I am a firm believer that climate change is real. That it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions.  And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.

“Now, in my first term, we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks.  That will have an impact. That will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere.  We doubled the production of clean energy, which promises to reduce the utilization of fossil fuels for power generation.  And we continue to invest in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.

“But we haven’t done as much as we need to.  So, what I’m going to be doing over the next several weeks -- next several months is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what can -- what more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then, you know, working through an education process that I think is necessary -- a discussion, a conversation across the country about, you know, what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.”

Yes, but back to the question of significant legislation moving through Congress -- will it happen?  The President’s response provided a candid analysis of the politics in the climate debate.

“I don’t know what -- what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because, you know, this is one of those issues that’s not just a partisan also.  I also think there are regional differences.  There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices.  And, you know, understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that.  I won’t go for that.

“If on the other hand we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.

“So, you know, you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward.”

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