WORCESTER T&G: Pushing N.E.’s agenda in DC
As originally appearing in The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

By James T. Brett

With the new year comes a new Congress, and as our leaders return to Washington this month and the 114th Congress gets under way, there are many critical issues to be addressed. From ongoing budgetary concerns and the need to address our national debt, to funding for defense and transportation systems, to investments in innovation and education, Congress’ to-do list is indeed long.

There are, however, several issues that the New England Council believes Congress must address this year in order to promote ongoing economic growth in New England and beyond.

The first two are more immediate priorities: reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act and the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

In the longer term, we are hopeful that 2015 will be the year that Congress takes action to fix our broken immigration system and to address the shortage of highly skilled workers in the STEM fields

Terrorism Risk Insurance Act: One of the most urgent issues that the new Congress must address is the reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which expired at the end of 2014. TRIA was first enacted in 2002 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and provides a government-backed stopgap in the case of a major terrorist attack.

The fundamental goal behind TRIA is to ensure that businesses have access to terrorism insurance, so that in the event of an attack, construction projects can proceed, businesses of all sizes can remain open, and commerce does not come to a screeching halt.

TRIA was reauthorized in 2005 and again in 2007. Despite last-minute attempts to reach a compromise, Congress failed to reauthorize TRIA before recessing last month. Reauthorization of this program is critical to ongoing economic growth in New England and beyond, and The New England Council is hopeful that it will be a top priority for the new Congress.

Export-Import Bank: The Export Import-Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is America’s export credit agency, with a mission to assist “financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets.” Over the last eight decades, the Ex-Im Bank has helped businesses when other private financing tools were lacking.

The Bank’s success is exemplified in its overall loan default rate of less than 2 percent, and in the last fiscal year, only 0.25 percent.

In 2013, it generated $1 billion for the U.S. Treasury. Here in New England, the bank has financed $3.73 billion in exports since 2007, including $1.012 billion in Massachusetts.

Despite this success, the bank’s charter is due to expire on June 30, 2015, following a short-term reauthorization last fall. Passage of a long-term extension of the Ex-Im Bank’s charter in 2015 is critical to help our region’s exporters grow and compete in the global economy, and the Council urges Congress to take action in advance of the June deadline.

High-Skilled Immigration: Immigration reform has been a front-burner issue in Washington in recent years, and the Council is hopeful that 2015 will bring sensible, comprehensive reform. It is particularly important that any reform include measures to address the shortage of highly skilled workers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.

There are simply not enough U.S.-born workers with the skills needed to fill open positions in our 21st century innovation economy. At the same time, there are also not enough H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers available under the current system.

The comprehensive immigration reform passed by the Senate in 2013 included a measure to address this problem. Specifically, the bill increased the cap on H-1B visas to address the shortage in the short-term, while also allocating a portion of H-1B visa fees to enhance STEM education in order to develop a domestic pipeline of STEM workers in the long term.

The Council urges Congress to revisit comprehensive immigration reform in 2015, and to include measures to ensure access to a high-skilled workforce.

There are undoubtedly a number of other critical issues before the 114th Congress in the year ahead, including ongoing efforts to address the federal deficit, tackling our nation’s energy challenges, ongoing implementation of health care and financial system reforms, and efforts to expand free trade and increase access to foreign markets — just to name a few. However, the Council believes that by addressing these three priority issues — TRIA, the Ex-Im Bank, and high-skilled immigration reform — Congress has the opportunity to foster long-term economic growth here in New England and across the nation.

James T. Brett is the President & CEO of The New England Council, a non-partisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth.

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