Answering Anxiety With Opportunity

In Southfield, just outside of Detroit, where I grew up, my family and many of the families around us didn't have a lot of money. But the American middle class was strong, and we knew that with a little sacrifice and a lot of hard work, my sisters and I could become whomever we wanted. The American Dream was available to my generation and generations before us, but today hard-working Americans are confronting changes in our economy that threaten their opportunity. Wages are stagnant, entire industries are shrinking and disappearing, and the constant evolution of technology has many feeling left out in the workplace.

Economic anxiety is dominating our presidential politics. Candidates are blaming their own boogeymen - Wall Street or immigrants - for the struggles of hard-working Americans. The fear themes in these campaigns reflect the anxiety felt at dinner tables every night. Americans who have worked in the same place for decades don't feel like they are getting ahead and are confronted with tough choices. College graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt are unable to find the high-quality jobs that they expected after graduation. And couples are emerging only slowly from student debt, having put off large purchases like buying a home or a car, without a penny saved for retirement.

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Most Americans don't want to build a wall or get a handout; they want an opportunity. People in the middle of their careers want to acquire the skills they need to keep up. Graduates strive to work a high-quality job that is worthy of the degree they worked hard to earn. And everyone hopes for the freedom to move jobs, or cities, without fearing that they will lose their healthcare or fall behind saving for retirement. All of the political noise from the fringes are of no use to these folks -- it's clear that many of the commonsense solutions that America needs are not on the far left or far right, but in the center.

A year ago, I joined my colleagues in the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 52 pro-growth Democratic lawmakers, to release the American Prosperity Agenda. Together, we created this roadmap for progress that lays out a long-term strategy to grow the economy of the future in a way that leaves no one behind. Earlier this month we released a one-year report that benchmarks our progress. It details the more than 200 pieces of legislation and initiatives proposed by me and the other members of the New Democrat Coalition during the past year to achieve the goals we laid out.

We've offered bold initiatives to reform our broken tax and immigration systems. Our goal of achieving funding for basic scientific research will fuel discovery, create the biotech jobs of the future in places like my district in San Diego, and improve and save the lives of millions. New Dem Chairman Ron Kind's Rebuilding American Manufacturing Act will make America a more competitive place to do business and create high-quality jobs. And we advocate proposals to fix a broken Congress, like my bill to institute a five-day Congressional work week. It's simple: most working Americans put in a five day work week. Congress should, too.

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Our approach is pragmatic and result-oriented. Over half of the items in the report are bipartisan. And that approach carried the day last year during the fight to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which gives new, small business ventures access to capital. As Congressional Leadership failed to heed arguments about the importance of the Ex-Im bank to supporting small businesses, Rep. Denny Heck led the effort to collect signatures to force a vote on reauthorizing the bank. With support from the New Democrats, we got that vote and reauthorized the bank, marking an important victory for small business owners across the country who need its support to export their products around the world and create jobs here at home.

The American Dream is not dead, but in a rapidly changing world we cannot sit back and pretend that the path to achieving it hasn't changed. With the American Prosperity Agenda as our roadmap, the New Democrat Coalition is advancing forward-thinking proposals to create the jobs of the future and give Americans the skills and education to compete for them. In doing so, we help ensure that the next generation has a fair shot at creating their own success, and that America reaps the benefits of a strong, educated and skilled workforce that will drive American prosperity.