Opinion Extra

Clyburn: Putting America back on the right path

This year began with a moment for the ages, the swearing in of the first African-American president in U.S. history, a milestone in which all Americans could take pride. But President Barack Obama took his place in history alongside some less auspicious historic milestones, most notably, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. A look back on this year has to start with the lead story, the economy. And what a difference a year has made.

Faced with eight years of failed economic policies that failed to invest in American competitiveness, created high deficits, let big business run free of regulation, favored the wealthy and Wall Street over the middle class and Main Street and led to a freefall in our economy, President Obama and the Democratic Congress had to act immediately.

We began with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included investments in America's road, rail and water infrastructure, green energy jobs and health care providers. The act also provided a tax cut for 95 percent of American workers. We enacted the cash-for-clunkers measure that led to the sale of 700,000 vehicles. We extended and expanded the first-time homebuyer tax credit and enhanced tax relief for struggling small businesses. And we expanded the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover 11 million American children.

Despite Republican claims to the contrary, the independent, non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently reported the recovery act has saved or created up to 1.6 million jobs and increased economic growth. The economy grew 2.8 percent this fall, the first economic growth in more than a year and the biggest six-month economic turnaround in 29 years. In October, sales of existing homes surged more than 10 percent to the highest level in 2 1/2 years, and new home sales grew more than 6 percent.

The recovery act made investments in energy efficiency, smart grid technology and manufacturing tax credits for renewable energy and next-generation green technology. This was a precursor to the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act, which will create millions of jobs that can't be outsourced, reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, decrease the carbon pollution causing climate change and keep costs low for Americans without increasing the deficit.

The recovery act included investments in health information technology to modernize the health care system and provide better care. It included assistance to states to maintain coverage for Medicaid patients and investments in community health centers. The Affordable Health Care for America Act will build on these steps.

We are now working to ensure that such an economic catastrophe putting taxpayers and consumers at risk never happens again. The Congress approved and the president signed the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights, which provides tough new protections for consumers.

Also, the House recently approved the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the most comprehensive financial reform since the Great Depression, to help restore commonsense rules of the road for Wall Street and the big banks. The legislation ends taxpayer-funded bailouts and "too big to fail" financial institutions. It protects consumers from predatory lending and our retirement and college savings from unnecessary risks through a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The act injects transparency and new accountability into a financial system run amok, and gives shareholders a say on executive compensation.

The best path to reducing the Bush deficit is returning our economy to sustained growth, and reforming a health care system where costs have spiraled out of control.

As we work to make both of those realities, we are working to put our fiscal house in order.

This should be no surprise since it was Democratic economic policies that led to the most recent balanced budget, turned the largest budget deficit in history into the largest surplus in history and reduced the national debt by $600 billion, putting us on a path that would have paid off the national debt entirely by this year.

Since 2007, the House has followed pay-as-you-go rules that require Congress to pay for new policies that reduce revenues or expand entitlements. We are working with President Obama to make pay-go the law of the land.

It cannot be denied that the 111th Congress is one of the most productive Congresses in history, taking bold steps to turn the economy around and put America back on a path toward prosperity. But we must not let up. We have laid a pretty solid foundation that must be built upon next year.