• Where we go from here
    February 17,2013
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    Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. greets President Barack Obama after his State of the Union address to Congress last week.
    In my State of the Union address, I laid out ways Democrats and Republicans can work together to reignite the true engine of Americaís economic growth ó a rising, thriving middle class.

    We should ask ourselves three questions every day: How do we bring good jobs to America? How do we equip people with the skills those jobs require? And how do we make sure hard work leads to a decent living?

    We can begin by making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Now we need to accelerate this trend, by launching more manufacturing hubs that transform hard-hit regions of the country into global centers of high-tech jobs and manufacturing.

    We need to make our tax code more competitive, by ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and rewarding companies that create jobs here at home. We need to invest in the research and technology that will allow us to harness more of our own energy and put more people back to work repairing our crumbling roads and bridges.

    These steps will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But we also need to provide every American with the skills and training they need to fill those jobs. We should start in the earliest years by offering high-quality preschool to every child in America, because we know kids in programs like these do better throughout their academic lives.

    We should redesign Americaís high schools to better prepare our students with skills that employers are looking for right now. And because taxpayers canít continue subsidizing the soaring cost of higher education, Iíve called on Congress to take affordability and value into account when determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.

    We also need to reward hard work and determination with wages that allow working families to raise their children and get ahead by raising the minimum wage so that itís a wage you can live on. And itís time to harness the talents and ingenuity of hardworking immigrants by finally passing comprehensive immigration reform ó securing our borders, establishing a responsible path to earned citizenship, and attracting the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

    And we can grow our economy while shrinking our deficits. We donít have to choose between the two ó we just have to make smart choices. We have to set priorities.

    Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion ó which puts us more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need. Now we need to finish the job.

    But we shouldnít do it by making harsh and arbitrary cuts that would jeopardize our military readiness, devastate priorities like education and energy, and cost jobs. Thatís not how you grow the economy. We shouldnít ask senior citizens and working families to pay down the rest of our deficit while the wealthiest are asked nothing more. That doesnít grow our middle class.

    We canít just cut our way to prosperity. Thatís why Iíve put forward a balanced approach to deficit reduction that makes responsible reforms to bring down the cost of health care for an aging generation ó the single biggest driver of our debt ó and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. And we should finally pursue bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.

    Finally, while all these steps are important, our first priority must be to protect our children and our communities from harm. Overwhelming majorities of Americans ó Americans who believe in the Second Amendment ó have come together around commonsense proposals like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. And these proposals deserve a vote in Congress.

    Our work wonít be easy, and we wonít agree on everything. But America only moves forward when we do so together ó when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. Thatís the American story. And thatís how we will write the next great chapter ó together.

    Barack Obama is president of the United States.
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