The national economy is bleak. Four years after a deep recession, unemployment remains stubbornly high at 7.8 percent, and economic growth has slowed to 1.3 percent. Families and small businesses are struggling to make ends meet. As wages and benefits have been cut, prices of electricity, gas, food, and health care continue to rise. Clearly, we are not headed in the right direction.
Nebraska is a different story. During the recession, our unemployment rate peaked at 4.9 percent, and is now down to 4 percent -- about half the national rate. Our state has been recognized as one of the best places to do business in the country because of our competitive tax structure, commonsense regulatory policies, sound infrastructure, quality education, and responsible fiscal policies.
While Nebraska is doing well, there are many families struggling, and the national economy limits the growth of our businesses and the domestic market for our crops, goods, products and services. Nevertheless, our success can serve as a model for other states and the nation.
For example, Nebraska has benefitted from reduced taxes, encouraging companies and families to invest in our state. They can feel confident our rates will not rise because our state budget consistently has remained balanced without tax increases. On the other hand, the federal tax code is complicated and uncompetitive. We face the largest tax increase in American history on January 1, 2013 unless Congress acts to extend the current rates. The national debt has spiked to more than $16 trillion, and there is no plan in place to reduce our deficits, much less balance the budget or pay off our debt.
The federal government should follow Nebraska's lead to instill confidence and generate economic growth by enacting comprehensive tax reform to simplify the code. We must find a way to solve our long-term budget problems by cutting spending, focusing on our national needs and priorities, and addressing the true cost drivers of our deficits and debt. While the House-passed budget goes a long way toward answering these questions, it has yet to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Nebraska also enjoys electricity rates about 30 percent lower than the national average, which reduces overhead for energy-intense manufacturing and agriculture and makes it easier for families to pay their bills. To lower energy rates nationwide we need a national energy strategy which takes advantage of our nation's abundant natural resources, such as coal, oil, natural gas, ethanol, hydro, and wind.
We have such low utility rates in part because our state has a regulatory climate which provides environmental and consumer protection without hurting energy generation, manufacturing, or small business. The same cannot be said for federal agencies, like the EPA, which frequently overreach their authority to impose new regulations which unnecessarily increase the cost of energy.
To address this problem Congress needs to streamline the regulatory code and reassert its authority for the regulatory process. A good place to start would be the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. This commonsense policy, which passed the House of Representatives last year, would require all new major regulations to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed by the President before being enforced on the American people.
These examples are just a few of the ways Nebraska has achieved relative success compared to the nation as a whole. Washington could go a long way toward putting America back on track, reducing the burden of government, and restoring our promise and potential as a nation if it were to adopt some of our commonsense principles and policies.