People sometimes ask whether elections matter. They do. The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections took our country away from a path of budget surpluses to deficits and two costly wars.
Looking for an example that hits closer to home? The 2010 election gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives.
They pushed forward the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill that would have nearly ended a free and open Internet—one of our strongest engines for innovation, expression, and economic growth. SOPA was only thwarted by a massive outcry from the American public.
We’ve been better served at other times, like the 2006 election which swept in a Democratic Congress led by Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, and in 2008 when voters elected to send Barack Obama to the White House. In the past four years, we have come a long way from the dark days when our financial system was brought to its knees.
President Obama and the Democrats then in the majority in Congress made some hard choices—not always perfect ones—but we stopped another Great Depression. People were put to work rebuilding roads and bridges and expanding digital infrastructure to connect more Americans online. Startups and small businesses got tax breaks to grow and rehire, advanced clean energy research and development.
A heavy investment in education and the largest increase in scientific research and development funding in our history helped make sure that in fighting for economic recovery in the short term, we would also help our country to be globally competitive in the long run.
This helped turn economic retreat into a recovery, providing an environment where the private sector could add 4.5 million jobs and along with a path forward towards a new economy driven by innovation and ingenuity. Despite pulling our country back from the brink, we have suffered economically. We know we have further to go.
I was recently asked about the sharp divide between the two parties. Republicans by and large dismiss the recovery and instead call for deep cuts in education, science and clean energy. They want to double down on fossil fuel dependence.
In fact, a majority of Republicans reject the scientific advice of nearly every scientist that climate change is occurring and is related to emissions created by human activity. Rather than address the problem, several Republicans on the House Science Committee where I serve not only dismiss the scientific evidence of global climate change, they have expressed the view that evolution is not real.
At a time when we should be working together on growing our economy and job creation, Republicans have pursued another agenda. In fact, their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said that their number one job isn’t to put Americans back to work, but rather “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Instead they have focused on social issues, and done a poor job at that, going after women’s health and letting the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expire because the Senate wouldn’t agree to deny assistance to immigrant women who were victims of domestic violence. At a time when we need to fix our broken immigration system so it works for our economy, I’ve instead listened in dismay at the anti-immigrant rhetoric among my Republican colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee. This agenda hasn’t moved America forward.
That’s not to say we don’t face serious challenges, like taming our federal budget while spurring continued growth. But Republicans today, in the words of Oscar Wilde, seem to know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” I’d suggest they take a cue from Margaret Thatcher, who rejected the notion that she had been elected to manage the decline of a great nation. You cannot just cut your way to growth—you work hard, innovate, and make smart investments that pay off in the future.
For an innovative economy we need what former President Bill Clinton recently called “a relentless focus on the future.” That starts with a solid education that prepares young people with the skills to succeed and continuing education so our workforce has the skills needed to pursue opportunities today. That’s why President Obama and a Democratic Congress worked to increase Pell Grants, fought to keep student loan rates low, and expanded opportunities for students to earn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees.
The Obama administration understands the importance of the innovation
that is generated in Silicon Valley. The new Silicon Valley Patent Office recently announced by the Obama Administration will surely be a very valuable tool to help start up entrepreneurs create vibrant, thriving businesses. With more than a quarter of America’s patents originating here in the Valley, this will bring direct access to services that can take products from the drawing board to the marketplace faster and easier. This means more economic growth, and the ensuing job creation that comes from it.
Entrepreneurs in the Valley are pioneering new technologies that revolutionize the way we live. That includes alternative energy development. Under the policies of President Obama and Democrats, we’ve not only invested in the development of clean energy sources to power our homes and businesses, we’ve also made conditions better to foster what has become an important job generator in our Valley.
Yes, elections matter. In 2006 and 2008 voters chose to go a different direction. They chose the kind of optimism I see here in the Valley, an area which hums with the “can do” attitude of the American Dream built on hard work and ingenuity. Reigniting that spirit can lead us into a better future.