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Latin Post Op-Ed: The Work of Congress this Fall

September 21, 2015
In The News

Many items on the agenda this fall are perennial issues because Congress has not been able to find enough common ground on long-term solutions. From the Highway Trust Fund to the Debt Ceiling, Congress has dodged many of the tough decisions with short-term patches.

Highway Trust Fund

The Highway Trust Fund is on the verge of insolvency. Before we left for the August break, Congress passed its 34th short-term patch. If we don't figure out a long-term solution soon, there won't be a road to kick the can down.

Reliable transportation is an economic necessity. It is as important in today's economy as access to broadband internet. Latinos -- like all Americans -- want efficient transportation that will reduce their time stuck on the road.

Rather than come up with more temporary and inadequate patches, we need to focus on a permanent solution. A long-term fix will create millions of jobs and will provide state and local governments with the certainty they desperately need to plan and budget for future construction projects.

If our infrastructure fails, so does our economy. We need to get serious about a sustainable, long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund.

Government Funding

Government funding expires at the beginning of October -- setting up the possibility of another government shutdown. Some Republicans in Congress have openly discussed their willingness to shut down the federal government over funding for women's health care.

There is also disagreement among different groups in Congress about the level of government funding. The deficit-hawks want to fund the government at or below the draconian levels imposed by the Budget Control Act, also known as sequester. And many Democrats, including myself, want to end these across-the-board cuts and invest in important programs such as health and science research, Head Start, NASA, education, and infrastructure. I believe it's important to fund the things we know help American families succeed.

Debt Ceiling

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew informed Congress right before we left town that the United States will reach the debt ceiling -- the legal limit on borrowing -- around mid-November. As we saw in October 2013 and August 2011, just the threat of a government default can have serious negative implications for the global economy -- potentially sending the economy back into recession and costing millions of jobs. According to a study by Macroeconomic Advisers, the uncertainty created by Congress around our nation's fiscal policy between 2010 and 2013 hurt economic growth and job creation -- equal to 900,000 jobs.

Export-Import Bank

At the end of June, Congress allowed the charter for the Export-Import Bank to expire. The Ex-Im Bank supports small businesses looking to export their products overseas through direct loans, loan guarantees, insurance, capital and financing programs.

In 2014, a quarter of the Ex-Im's spending in support of U.S. exports went directly to small businesses. The Ex-Im Bank directly supports millions of jobs across the country -- including thousands in my district. Without the Ex-Im Bank, American manufacturing jobs could be moved abroad. Even Speaker John Boehner has said failing to renew Ex-Im's charter could cost the country "thousands of jobs."

I am disappointed to see what was once a bipartisan job creating program that was renewed without much fanfare has come under attack from right-wing Republicans. It's sad to see an ideological debate put the livelihoods of hard-working men and women at risk.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Priorities

With so much on our plate, Congress has plenty to get done before the holidays. As the Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), there are a number of priorities I'd like to see achieved.

First, we need to ensure that Congress is implementing laws that uplift Latinos and all working Americans. This means passing economic policies that give everyone a fair chance. It's time we raise the minimum wage and offer paid sick leave. Pay equity for women -- especially Latinas -- is fundamental. Latinas earn 56 cents for every dollar that white, non-Hispanic men earn, making them the lowest-paid workers in the country.

Secondly, comprehensive immigration reform continues to be a priority. Even as Republican attacks on our community have gotten more extreme, our Caucus continues to push and advocate for a permanent immigration solution.

Lastly, the Hispanic Caucus believes that a diverse workforce makes our country stronger. Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., and by 2050, we will make up 30 percent of the population. Our country needs to reflect those changing demographics in every sector. Diversity is a key priority and our CHC Diversity Task Force is leading the way on this issue.

With so much real work to get done before the end of the year, I hope Congress can roll up our sleeves, put partisanship aside, and tackle the big issues together.

Linda Sánchez is the U.S. Representative for California's 38th Congressional District and Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus