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Masonry Magazine: With Challenge Comes Opportunity


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By Peter Roskam

The election of a new President of the United States, House and Senate reminds us that our democracy is alive and well. Casting a vote at the ballot box not only holds elected officials accountable, it focuses our attention on the challenges we face. With no shortage of such challenges, this new Congress and President have an opportunity to secure our financial system, stimulate job growth, improve our education system and declare our independence from foreign sources of energy.

These challenges are bigger than one's political party, but the question remains: will this new Congress and Administration be one characterized by inclusion, or exclusion? As we have seen before, unchecked one-party rule does not always lead to progress. Bipartisanship is a lynchpin to wise policy that will help us address our most pressing problems.

This new Congress, first and foremost, must address our economy and the financial system in which it operates. Ultimately, we need a regulatory overhaul--not more regulation, but more effective regulation. Our 21st Century financial system has been regulated by a New Deal regulatory structure for too long, and for that we have suffered the consequences. A smarter re-design of current regulations, if crafted correctly, will help guard our financial system from over lending, unscrupulous banking practices and secure the confidence our markets need to rebound.

Inextricably linked to the security of our financial system is our economy's ability to retain and create jobs. Nearly 250,000 Americans lost their jobs last month alone. At 6.5%, our jobless rate is the worst it has been in 14 years. Small businesses are at the heart of our economy and must be stimulated. Representing 99% of all businesses in the nation and 65% of all new jobs, small businesses are often the first to cut jobs in economic downturns. We must keep the tax burden low on these economic drivers and encourage them to grow and innovate. Raising taxes during a time of economic instability will exacerbate the problem and cause further job loss.

Lost in the shuffle of economic news, but no-less important, is the great need to improve our education system, especially No Child Left Behind. The overall premise of NCLB is an honorable one, but the program has been implemented in some ways that actually hinder progress. We must have a policy that rewards teachers who work hard to improve their individual student's skill sets and not merely a blanket policy that has little regard for individual testing and growth.

Additionally, we must strengthen the skills our children learn so they are better prepared to enter the workforce. Once the envy of the world, parts our education system has been slipping as of late, particularly in math and science related curriculum. U.S. high school students ranked 24th out of 29 industrialized nations on an international math test in 2003. It is incumbent upon the U.S. Congress to work with educators to reform schools and improve our education system, particularly in the STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math. Without a suitable workforce, businesses will take their industry and capital outside of our country, reducing our competitiveness.

Finally, this new Congress has an opportunity to declare our independence from foreign sources of energy. With this great challenge comes opportunity. Creating a new domestic energy economy will not only stem the flow of U.S. capital to unfriendly regimes, it will stimulate our economy, strengthen our homeland and lower prices at the pump. In Congress, I introduced the Energy VISION Act, a piece of legislation the Chicago Tribune said "promises to all-but end America's foreign energy addiction in 15 years." This new Congress must address this issue with clarity, utilizing and "all of the above" energy strategy that sets our nation on a path to energy independence.

All these issues, including many yet to be addressed, are opportunities that we must not let pass. Despite who leads Congress, or who sits in the White House, our nation's problems are the same. We must work together to find solutions that are best for the country. I look forward to addressing many of these challenges, working towards solutions that leave our nation better than we found it.

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