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This Week in Washington


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Over the past two decades, our state has experienced several damaging blows to the manufacturing sector of our economy. Throughout North Carolina, and especially in our district, NAFTA and CAFTA and their devastating impact have become all too familiar to us. We all know someone who has suffered the unfortunate consequences of bad trade deals that hurt so many of our manufacturing industries--from textiles to furniture.

Far too often, misguided policies are crafted and adopted in Washington by many who seem to have little understanding of how things are made, the importance of manufacturing jobs or their impact on local economies. Instead of forcing our industries to scramble in the wake of bad legislation, we need to eliminate these problems before they ever take effect and hurt the very people we're tasked with serving.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed legislation that will repeal a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. This unnecessary excise tax was a provision included in the health care bill. Here, in North Carolina, our state is home to more than 20 medical device manufacturing companies. Together, they employ close to 10,000 people and another 15,000 indirectly, contributing nearly $5 billion to our economy. This 2.3 percent tax would fall on medical device manufacturing companies' gross revenue from U.S. sales starting in 2013, which many estimate will deal a $20 billion setback to the industry, nationwide.

This is an industry that employs more than 400,000 Americans, and makes up 2.7 percent of our nation's GDP. Millions of other jobs and business help to supply and support it. Our nation has become the global leader in medical technology innovation, and this is one of the few industries that has a net trade surplus. People across the world are buying and relying on American-made medical devices, and this should serve as a perfect example of the prestige of American manufacturing and entrepreneurialism--not another avenue for government to interrupt success and further set our economy back. If the Senate does not act quickly to join the House in repeal of this unnecessary tax, many companies will be forced to make up the loss and shift those costs directly to consumers. Without action, many will explore possible cuts to funding for research and development, laying off employees or even closing down some U.S. operations to pursue opportunities overseas.

These medical devices are not always made up of high-tech electronics or moving parts. There are also many bandages and braces, some made right here in our district, that help control the pain and suffering of illnesses such as Lymphedema or Diabetes. I've introduced legislation to help recognize the importance of such devices specific to Lymphedema, and ensure coverage from Medicare and insurers for these bandages that protect quality of life and help treat those who suffer from the debilitating illness. On behalf of the more than 5 million people nationwide who suffer from this illness, I was proud to introduce the Lymphedema Diagnosis and Treatment Cost-Saving Act to help right this wrong.

Medicare and many insurers will cover the catastrophic care of complications from Lymphedema, but have yet to cover the cost-effective, Made in America bandages and textile garments that manage pain, protect quality of life, and lower costs of care. We can help our people and our industries by making even more necessary changes to the way these important devices are affected by government. Many of the same textile companies and employees who helped build our area years ago have now moved on to new phases in medical garments and high-tech fabrics. The more we let innovation in this industry flourish, the better care we can provide for our patients, our workers, our factories and local economies. It's just common sense.

The idea that our government continues to make policies that tempt yet another part of our manufacturing sector to move overseas to remain competitive on the global market is further proof Washington doesn't get it. I've said before that Congress must focus its efforts on nurturing an economic climate that is friendly to manufacturing and small businesses--promoting innovation and opportunities to ignite the spirit of the American worker--and then get out of the way and let our people and free markets do what they do best. The United States was once the global leader in manufacturing, and the rise of this sector led to America's rise as the world's leading economy. In order to return to that position of prominence, we must return to focusing on making things here again.

As we move forward in the 21st century, we need to look for new ideas to strengthen America's competitive edge. We must never forget the industries that made us great, and look for new ways to sustain that effort and continue to find every single avenue of success for our future. Manufacturing helped build our area, with the hard work of our parents and grandparents before us, and those in Washington need to realize that we can continue along that path to prosperity if we're truly serious about getting our economy back on track. One thing remains certain: we must act now. I hope my colleagues will support this common sense approach that so many folks here at home know will work.

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