5 Bills We’d Like Congress to Tackle Next

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — For much of this year, Congress has had a single-minded focus on budget issues and the ongoing debt ceiling debate, both of which are vital to the health of the economy. The result, however, is that little else has gotten done in Washington.

If you look on the White House website, you’ll see a list of featured legislation that includes just two bills from this year, both of which were passed in the first week of January at the end of the previous congressional session. Indeed, a review of all legislation signed by the current 112th Congress shows just two dozen bills dominated by minor appropriation measures and personnel appointments.

It should come as little surprise that Washington would be gridlocked, given the heated rhetoric and disagreements on both sides of the aisle about how to get out of the current slump, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to the many struggling Americans depending on Congress to fix the economy.

Regardless of what happens with the debt ceiling debate between now and Aug. 2, there are a few smaller bills that have been proposed in recent months that have the potential to improve the average consumer’s career and wallet in significant ways, if only Congress can put aside their differences and act.

Help for 99ers

Millions of Americans have been unemployed for more than six months and many are currently at the end of their rope, having used up the maximum allotment for unemployment, which can be as much as 99 weeks for those who lost their jobs at the peak of the recession. Amid all the talk of creating jobs and cutting spending, nothing has been done to provide a lifeline for this group. Earlier this year, several Democrats in the House pushed for a bill called the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2011, which would have provided an additional 14 weeks of unemployment benefits, but the bill was never approved.

If Congress can get its fiscal house in order in the coming weeks with regards to the debt ceiling, we hope they can find time to direct some of their attention to the long-term unemployment crisis after by passing this bill or a similar one.

End Unemployment Discrimination

Speaking of the unemployed, dozens of companies have been found to discriminate against job applicants who are currently out of work or simply not working full time, making it that much harder for many Americans to find work again. This month, the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 was introduced into the House of Representatives to rectify that issue, and we would like to see members on both sides of the aisle come together to pass it quickly.

Economic Revitalization

One might assume that a bill with the phrase “economic revitalization” in it would take priority in Congress given how much the economy clearly needs to be revitalized, but the bill, which had bipartisan support in the House, was shot down later in the Senate. The Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011, as it’s called, simply increases funding for the Economic Development Administration, which was created in 1965, to continue creating jobs in the U.S. for five more years by investing in community grants around the country. With unemployment still stuck above 9%, it seems like the wrong time to take a step back by inhibiting a proven job-creating program.

Small-Business Boost

There are several bills that have been proposed this year that could help foster a better environment for America’s small businesses, but which have yet to be approved. First, there is the Small Business Investment Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Reauthorization Act of 2011, which would renew two government programs that dole out billions to fund the nation’s small businesses on the cutting edge of technology. Aside from that, there is a bill in the Senate that would provide visas to immigrant entrepreneurs who start companies in the U.S., so that they don’t take their ideas elsewhere. Innovation has proven to be an essential part of a competitive economy, and Congress should take that to heart.

Simplify the Tax Code

For years, experts and legislators have asserted the need for the U.S. to simplify the tax code, a goal that President Obama reiterated in his State of the Union address this year to loud applause from both Republicans and Democrats. But here we are seven months later and nothing has changed. Last month, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the need to do so, and we hope that in the coming months legislators take up the cause. As Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) pointed out in that hearing, the current tax system is so complicated that it eats up 6 billion hours of time for businesses and consumers, and often leads people to miscalculate how much they need to pay, leading to excessive amounts of revenue owed to the government.

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