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Southern Wisconsin’s families continue to work hard to make ends meet in an uncertain economy. In Wisconsin, the unemployment rate remains at 3.4 percent, while the national unemployment rate stands at 4.1 percent.  Also telling is that the labor force participation rate stands at 62.7 percent.  The participation rate refers to the number of people who are either employed or are actively looking for work.  The number of people who are no longer actively searching for work would not be included in the participation rate.  In a struggling economy, many workers often get discouraged and stop looking for employment, as a result, the participation rate decreases.  Another way of looking at this is the U-6 unemployment rate, which is a comprehensive measure of labor underutilization that takes into account persons marginally attached to the labor force as well as persons who would like to be employed full time but can only find part-time work – in other words, the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged who have given up on finding work.  The U-6 unemployment rate stands at 8.0 percent.

As the economy continues to struggle, much focus has been placed on increasing taxes to address our deficit and our debt.  These tax increases would hit job creators, like those small manufacturers located in industrial parks in our communities, and hard-working families.  Our local manufacturers and families are already forced to live under the strains of the current difficult economy.  Asking them to pay more will hurt our local communities.  What the federal government needs to do is stop spending too much.  It simply can no longer afford to spend money that it does not have and take out more loans to pay for that spending.

Economic growth comes when American families and small businesses work, save, and invest.  Congress needs to prioritize legislation that encourages job creation by keeping taxes low, controlling government spending, and addressing the severe problems that lay ahead if we do not reform critical government programs that are driving up our national debt.  Left unchanged, these programs will continue to take up a larger portion of our budget each year, crowd out other government spending, and hurt our economy.

A Responsible, Balanced Budget to Grow the Economy and Create Jobs

It has been more than seven years since the financial crisis rocked our nation's economy, but the fiscal challenges still facing our nation are innumerable.  Economic growth is underwhelming, families' homes remain in foreclosure, paychecks cannot keep up with rising costs, students continue to struggle with skyrocketing tuition, and millions of hardworking taxpayers are seeing their medical costs increase as a result of President Obama's health care law.  Regrettably, the president and his party have turned to more taxes, more spending, and more regulation in an attempt to address these issues.

Each year, Congress must pass a budget agreement to set overall spending levels.  This budget resolution is more than a list of numbers – it is an expression of our governing philosophy, and for five straight years House Republicans have submitted and passed budgets that would tackle the looming debt crisis and promote economic growth.  The budget resolution is used as a framework to guide the 12 individual appropriations bills that must be passed annually in order to fund the federal government.  As you may know, Congress passed H.R. 1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which was then signed into law by the president on November 2, 2015.  This bill made adjustments to previously agreed upon caps and set the top line spending levels for the federal government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.  With this budget agreement in place, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees worked to draft an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government, and on December 15, 2015, H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2016, was introduced.  The bill combines the 12 separate appropriations bills into a single bill and provides funding for the whole government through September 30, 2016.  This $1.1 trillion appropriations bill is the product of a process that I have long criticized, a process that is too closed and driven by crisis and brinksmanship instead of by collaboration and big ideas. That said, as speaker, I had a duty to take ownership of the process that I inherited and, in doing so, I worked hard with my colleagues in order to produce a bill that will allow the House to return to regular order and put forward a bold vision for a better direction for our country.  

In addition to clearing the way for a more productive legislative process, this bill lays the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous, more confident America by accomplishing numerous priorities in a variety of important areas that affect the lives of Americans, including reforms to energy, tax, health care, and military policies.  Here is a list of some of the key accomplishments of the omnibus bill:

  1. Repeals the antiquated oil export ban.  This provision ends the 1975 ban on the export of American crude oil.  Domestic energy production is booming in the United States, and lifting the ban will help create jobs, grow our economy, reduce the world's dependence on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russian oil supplies, and promote greater exploration of our natural resources.

  2. Increases resources for our military.  The arbitrary spending cuts in the sequester have depleted the resources our armed forces need to carry out their mission.  This bill restores funding for our military to ensure our troops can confront today's challenges and defeat ISIS.

  3. Strengthens the Visa Waiver Program to protect the homeland.  The Visa Waiver Program presents one of the most urgent threats to our homeland from radical Islamic terrorism.  This agreement includes the House-passed bill to tighten the security requirements under the program.  It also denies visa waiver status to any individual who has traveled to certain terrorist hotspots, including Syria and Iraq, in the last five years.

  4. Prohibits new funding for Obamacare.  The bill contains no new funding for Obamacare and continues to prevent a taxpayer bailout of Obamacare's risk corridor program.

  5. Prevents the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to American soil.  The bill prohibits funds from being used to transfer terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States, and prohibits the construction or acquisition of a facility in the United States to house detainees.

  6. Blocks EPA overreach.  The bill contains no funding for new or expanded EPA programs, holding the agency to its lowest funding levels since 2008 and its lowest staffing levels since 1989.

  7. Reins in the IRS.  The IRS continues to act with impunity against the interests of hardworking taxpayers.  This bill freezes most IRS operations and maintains budget cuts necessary to ensure this agency roots out wasteful spending and redirects resources to better serve the American people.

  8. Maintains strong protections for life.  The bill maintains important pro-life provisions, including the Hyde Amendment, and prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion.  It also includes a ban on FDA approval for genetically modifying human embryos and cuts funding for a program involved in abortion-related activities, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), by seven percent.

  9. Honors our commitment to our veterans.  The bill ensures our veterans receive their much-deserved health benefits, speeds up VA claims processing, prioritizes modernizing the VA's electronic health care record system, and tightens oversight of construction projects.

  10. Provides critical health care benefits for 9/11 first responders.  More than 30,000 first responders continue to suffer from injuries or illnesses sustained during the 9/11 attacks.  The bill contains a bipartisan measure to permanently reauthorize critical health care benefits for these brave men and women—and it does so in a fiscally responsible way.

  11. 11. Repeals harmful labeling requirements on American meat.  The bill repeals mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements, ensuring that our economy does not suffer more than $1 billion in trade penalties.

On December 18, 2015, in strong bipartisan fashion and with my support, the House passed H.R. 2029 by a vote of 316 to 113 with my support—and that of 149 other Republicans and 166 Democrats.  Also on December 18, 2015, and in bipartisan fashion, the Senate passed a larger legislative package containing the omnibus bill by a vote of 72 to 26.  That same day, the president signed this bill into law. 

Budget Overview

Unfortunately, after almost seven years in office, the president's refusal to propose a plan to balance the budget and address our nation's serious fiscal problems is no longer surprising.  When we have divided government, as we do now, no one will get precisely what they want, and it is important for Congress to make the difficult decisions that allow our federal government to operate.  To be sure, while the president's failure to seriously lead or engage on fiscal policy issues has created immense difficulties, the dysfunction of a broken legislative process has too often prevented the members of Congress from taking part in meaningful deliberation that effective representation requires.  I have long called for a more open, inclusive, and participatory way of doing the People's business in Congress, and as speaker, I have committed to ensuring that the process of governing is no longer driven by crises, but by a unifying agenda based on big ideas. 

Expanding U.S. Trade

In a market where 96 percent of the world's customers live outside of the United States, it is crucial that the United States negotiates trade deals in order create more opportunity and more high-paying jobs here at home for American workers.  Without trade deals in place, we are playing from behind.  In fact, in the first 10 years of this century, the countries of East Asia negotiated 48 trade agreements.  By contrast, the U.S. negotiated just two such agreements in that region.  As a result, America's share of East Asia's imports fell by 42 percent.  To take this point a step further, if you look at the 20 countries that the U.S. has a trade agreement with, American manufacturers run a $50 billion trade surplus with them.  With countries that the United States does not have a trade agreement with, American manufacturers run a $500 billion trade deficit.  

Today's global economy represents a huge economic opportunity for Wisconsin businesses that export products, and whether we choose to engage or not, these markets are going to be open for business.  Trade agreements are crucial to the American economy.  In fact, one in five American jobs is tied to trade.  This is especially important in Wisconsin where trade supports over 785,000 jobs.  The United States has a choice to make:  Do we want to be at the negotiating table helping craft the policy or do we want to let another country - like China - write the rules?  Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) allows us to be in the driver's seat.

Trade Promotion Authority is an essential component to promoting economic growth, expanding opportunity, and creating more high-paying jobs for American workers.  In other words, we need to be able to make more things here at home and sell them overseas.  As you may know, Trade Promotion Authority is the process by which Congress grants the administration authority to negotiate trade deals in exchange for setting the administration's negotiation parameters.  By taking the recommendations of Congress, the consultative relationship between Congress and the administration improves, and the administration has a roadmap for how to conduct their trade negotiations.  Furthermore, because the administration's negotiating parameters are set by Congress, TPA not only allows the United States to negotiate from a position of strength and unity, but also allows Congress to have its voice heard. 

President Obama requested that Congress pass TPA to allow the administration to negotiate from a position of unity and strength during deliberations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),  a major trade deal with 11 Pacific nations, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  Without TPA, our country cannot get the best trade agreements for U.S. workers and businesses.  Trade agreements allow the United States to have greater access to foreign economies, which means expanded opportunities and higher incomes for taxpayers here at home.

On June 18, 2015, the House took action to set the framework for trade negotiations, passing H.R. 2146, a measure granting the President the authority of TPA, in bipartisan fashion and with my support by a vote of 218 to 208.  On June 24, 2015, the Senate passed TPA also on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 60 to 38.  As another component of our nation's trade agenda, the House and Senate also passed H.R. 1295, the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015.  This bill reauthorizes Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program which offers temporary assistance to workers who lose their employment as a result of a trade agreement.  On June 29, 2015, President Obama signed the authorizations of both TPA and TAA into law.  

Under TPA, Congress provides the Administration with a list of negotiating objectives and parameters, exercises continual oversight throughout any negotiations, and has the opportunity to attend negotiating rounds.  Finally, it requires the President to publish the text of a completed trade agreement 60 days before signing it, which ultimately gives Congress and the American public the final say in rejecting or accepting a deal. 

On October 5, 2015, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Administration and 11 other countries from across North America and the Pacific Region agreed to the terms of a TPP agreement.  A successful TPP would mean greater American influence in the world and more good jobs at home.  But only a good agreement – and one that meets the standards passed by Congress via Trade Promotion Authority – will be able to pass the House.  Fortunately, because the House and Senate passed TPA in June, Congress and the public both have the right to review the agreement before the United States enters into it.  Thus, I am reserving judgment until I am able to fully review the final text and consult with my colleagues and those for whom I work in the First District of Wisconsin.  I am pleased that the American people will be able to read it as well because TPA requires, for the first time ever, the Administration to make the text public for at least 60 days before sending it to Congress for consideration.  The Administration must clearly explain the benefits of this agreement and what it will mean for American families.  I hope that the Administration has exercised TPA to pursue the objectives Congress set for TPP negotiations and produced an agreement that the House can support.

Job Creation and Economic Growth

The economic growth that our country needs will not come from Washington.  It originates from the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people.  This spirit can only thrive if the government creates an economic-friendly environment that allows businesses to grow and create jobs.  To achieve these ends, Republicans in the House have passed dozens of bills aimed at empowering small business owners, reducing regulatory burdens, encouraging entrepreneurship, increasing competitiveness for American manufacturers, and paying down America's unsustainable debt burden.  As the 114th Congress continues, I will work to advance policies that address our economic challenges, foster innovation and investment, and help job creators without raising taxes on working families and small business owners.

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