Harkin calls for economic stimulus “booster shot”

BY JOHN STAAK | AUGUST 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa lawmakers want to keep Washington, D.C., focused on restoring American jobs — and education, they feel, is a large part of that.

During a roundtable discussion and press conference in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, met with people to discuss mostly economic issues.

While they failed to propose any specific policies, they emphasized the importance of creating more well-paying manufacturing jobs in America.

Harkin began the event by noting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the stimulus bill passed in 2009 — is winding down and that a “booster shot” is needed to create middle-wage manufacturing jobs.

Such a boost might include federal investments in infrastructure to enhance U.S. competitiveness, he said.

“I hear more and more from hardworking middle-class families who feel that the American dream is just slipping away,” he said. “We will not be able to rebuild the American economy unless we rebuild the middle class.”

Those present recognized that staying competitive has been an issue in Iowa.

Jerry Wedel, 69, a Whirlpool machinist from Marion, said he believes American jobs are being lost to foreign competitors. America should have balanced trade agreements to level exports and imports and promote the growth of the U.S. jobs, he said.

Braley emphasized the importance keeping jobs from being shipped overseas has for the country.

“Americans strongly believe that keeping things in America is part of our national identity,” he said.
Much of the event focused on how education will play a huge role in economic recovery.

Wartburg College junior David Nelson expressed his concerns about the immense cost of college tuition for current students, coupled with the lack of well-paying jobs for recent graduates.

“In the past few years, we get out of school, and the opportunities aren’t there,” Nelson said. “We question whether or not it is a valuable investment.”

Harkin agreed the problem exists, but he offered no immediate solution. He said more needs to be done to create opportunities for students and ease their financial burden.

“How can you get innovation and new ideas when you have a great debt load?” Harkin said.

Also during the discussion, one speaker noted the important role community colleges play in restoring the middle class.

Steve Ovel, the executive director of government relations at Kirkwood Community College, stressed the importance of expanding trade-based education as well as specific programs offered by community colleges that offer internships and other opportunities.

“Many of the low-paying jobs in this country right now are middle skilled jobs,” he said. “These are jobs that require more than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year degree.”

Later in the discussion, Braley came back to the subject of education, reinforcing the importance of investing in American education.

“Even during tough economic times, we have to keep investing in innovation,” he said. “We don’t improve innovation without education.

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