America’s Pocketbook

This newsletter continues the series that points out the difference between Congressman Roe and me on issues facing the United States and Tennessee District 1.

During my visits to every county of the District over the last year, I have listened to many concerns about the current status and direction of our economy. I’m continuing to listen, but based on what I have heard so far, my economic plan includes the following:

We need wage growth as well as jobs. Congressman Roe touts the current low unemployment rate. This is positive news, as far as it goes, but wages are not keeping up with inflation. Too many people are actually continuing to fall behind in real purchasing power and can’t earn enough to care for their families. It may be true, as Rep. Roe says, that Tennesseans are smart shoppers. But it is not a good thing when thrift shopping is not merely a virtue but has become a survival skill because wages have not kept up.

Sadly, Tennessee is Number 1 in minimum wage jobs per capita—and Congress has worsened the situation by failing to adjust the minimum wage since 2009. In the intervening nine years, prices have continued to rise but minimum wage workers have lost over 17 percent of their purchasing power to inflation. We need higher quality jobs in the region, and we need the education and training programs to support job expansion. This education and training should not come at the expense of saddling workers with even more unsustainable student loan debt.

We must get to work on our neglected infrastructure. Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt, federal grants and programs have historically been a major contributor in this area. Congress needs to just step up and help instead of procrastinating and unrealistically praying for a private-sector solution to public works needs.

One infrastructure area in which I agree with the Republican Congress and the President is the need to improve internet service, especially in rural areas. Thirty-nine percent of rural Americans lack internet service that meets the FCC minimum definition of “broadband” service. It should be unacceptable that the United States, which invented the internet, has average internet connection speeds significantly lower than numerous other countries such as South Korea. This is certainly an area where I would be pleased to be part of bipartisan work to ensure that the goal of broadband internet expansion comes to fruition.

Economic development and environmental protection should be viewed as partners, not as competing interests. In our region, what is good for the environment is good for the economy. Tourists from around the world come to the Smoky Mountain National Park, hike the Appalachian Trail, and enjoy other natural beauty in our region. We can grow both eco-tourism and agri-tourism.

We must effectively confront the opioid epidemic. Families are being destroyed; many affected employees are pushed out of the workforce; existing businesses are saddled with rising health-care costs; and new businesses are discouraged from relocating to our region since they are worried about “healthcare of the workforce.” This term implies fear that too many potential employees cannot pass workplace drug tests.

We must not repeat past economic mistakes. The disastrous recession of 2008-09, the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression of the 1930s, wiped out the savings of millions of Americans and put millions out of work. It was caused in large part by bad behavior on the part of banks and mortgage lenders. Congress responded by adopting common-sense measures to prevent such things from happening again. Yet, Congressman Roe recently voted to roll back financial system rules that protect the nation from a repeat of dangerous economic practices of the banking and investment industry. I don’t see any reason to believe that Wall Street bankers of today are any more wise or ethical than they were ten years ago. Those who don’t learn from history tend to repeat it. Hundreds of years of international history shows that loosening the reins on financial institutions often leads to financial meltdowns.

We must stop pretending about the federal deficit. The most recent national budget continues to mount a huge deficit. In the past, Rep. Roe described the national deficit as “outrageous.” Yet, when it came to voting in favor of last year’s tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that drastically increased the deficit, Rep. Roe happily voted in favor. Now, acting under authority that applies to national emergencies, President Trump has cited the deficit as his reason for cancelling scheduled pay raises for federal workers. In other words, the deficit that Rep. Roe voted to increase less than a year ago is now being recognized as a national emergency. Of course, freezing the pay of federal workers will not be enough, and Paul Ryan has previously announced that Social Security and Medicare are the next targets.

I feel that we must control a national debt that now runs at about $65,000 for every American and rising. It is unconscionable to pass on this huge financial burden to future generations, especially when so much of the debt increase is being incurred to support tax cuts to corporations and wealthy individuals.

The Republican Party used to stand for fiscal responsibility, but I think the current leadership has lost its way and moved on from the fiscal values of the average East Tennessee voter. I appreciate the fact that so many voters—Independents, Republicans, and Democrats—recognize that the political rules have changed. I thank everyone for giving me a chance to earn their votes.