Published Opinion - The right and left agree: Manufacturing makes Texas work

September 12, 2016

By Tony Bennett and Chris Wallace

In an era when political parties have never seemed more different, there is one major area where Democrats and Republicans strongly agree - the need to create more high-skill, high-wage jobs to strengthen our economy. Whether you care most about lagging economic growth, massive deficits or skyrocketing income inequality, increasing the pool of quality, middle-class manufacturing jobs is one of the most effective paths forward.

In Texas, we know this better than most. Our state's manufacturers generate nearly 15 percent of our total economic output and employ more than 866,000 men and women in jobs that pay an average of nearly $80,000 a year. Even as the critical oil and natural gas industries have been buffeted by chaotic and unpredictable global events, demand in the broader manufacturing sector has stayed strong and stable, providing a lifeline for our state's economy and Texans seeking "ladder up" opportunities to support their families and better their lives.

For the most part, policymakers in Washington understand this, and pro-manufacturing policies generally have broad bipartisan support. Both major presidential campaigns have proposed substantial infrastructure programs to boost manufacturing work nationwide. Even the recent controversy over the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which helps U.S. manufacturers of all sizes sell their products overseas, was resolved with a bipartisan compromise last winter to renew authorization for the bank so it can continue helping American manufacturers create jobs.

But in a country as big and raucous as ours, even the most straightforward, common sense ideas will find someone standing in the way. Despite the decision to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, U.S. manufacturers trying to work on new deals with the bank have found a new roadblock erected in their path by a small group of U.S. Senators - led by Alabama's Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee - that has blocked Senate consideration of new members to the Ex-Im Bank's Board that currently lacks a quorum.

American manufacturers and workers who look to the bank to stay competitive in a fierce global economy are paying the price. So far more than $20 billion in new deals has been held up, not based on the merits or due to any economic consideration or risk. The delay is simply due to politics and a few Senators refusing to move on from a fight even though broad, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate support the bank and want action to restore a board quorum to allow the bank to do its job and Texas manufacturers to do theirs.

We urge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, our state's senior U.S. senator, to speak up on behalf of Texas' manufacturers and refuse to allow one voice to risk Texas' position as the top export economy. And while Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has been a vocal critic of the bank, we hope he, too, will choose to act in support of U.S. and Texas manufacturers and put his considerable energies to work on new and more constructive debates that Texans care about. Fighting the good fight is one thing, but stubbornly clinging to a lost argument at the expense of American manufacturing jobs is another.

Americans and Texans alike are thirsting for bipartisan cooperation in areas where this is possible. And strengthening our manufacturing economy every way we can - including by fully restoring the Ex-Im Bank - would be a very good place to start.

Bennett is president of the Texas Association of Manufacturers. Wallace is president of the Texas Association of Business.

View this column as it appeared in the Houston Chronicle.