Make It in America: Rep. Tom Graves Becomes the Voice of Manufacturing

“Washington doesn’t understand energy generation.”—T. Boone Pickens at the National Manufacturing Summit in Dalton, Ga., May 19, 2011

Rep. Tom Graves (R.-Ga.) hit the ground running.  When Nathan Deal resigned from Congress to run for governor of Georgia last year, Graves braved three elections and two runoffs last year to be the first Tea Party member of Congress.  Graves’ district is one of the largest manufacturing bases in the nation, and he’s decided to be the voice of manufacturing in the U. S. Congress.  It’s been a long time since anyone, including union bosses, has championed manufacturing in America.  While maintaining the status quo is all most interest groups want, Graves is looking to make America the engine of manufacturing growth for the next 50 years.

There’s been a de facto acceptance of a lesser role of American manufacturing in the world, but it’s been based on bad information.  Even in our weakened economy, the United States is the largest manufacturing force in the world.  That’s not to say that we don’t have issues that impede manufacturing growth.  We need to have a national energy policy because the cost of energy affects the cost of everything else.  We need to develop the work force in a new way, and we need to get regulations out of the way of creating jobs. 

Since the beginning of the Obama administration, more pages of regulation have been foisted on energy creators than in any time in our history.  Increased energy costs increase the cost of everything else.  If you add in the additional EPA regulations and the 6000 pages, so far, in new health care regulations, manufacturing specifically, and jobs in general, are being stifled by regulation.

Graves had an idea to get great minds together to talk about energy, work force development and regulations, and invite the nation to Dalton, Ga., for a sit-down.  He called it the 2011 Manufacturing Summit.  He headlined T. Boone Pickens and the Pickens Plan, along with a panel of experts in energy creation and development.  He brought together leaders in work force development and opened the discussion on rolling back federal regulations.  Finally, he rounded out the discussion with Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal to talk about the gravity of the financial crisis we are in.

The best moment was Moore summing up the feelings of the crowd when he shared the story of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board’s meeting with the minister of economics for mainland China.  The minister noted that China has passed Japan and is the No. 2 manufacturer in the world, and plans to pass the United States in a few years and be No. 1.  He used phrases like, “We will leave the U.S. in a pile of dust.”  Moore, as a part of the editorial board, is supposed to ask questions and be nice, but he couldn’t restrain himself.  He said, “Sir, with all due respect, not in my lifetime will that happen.” 

The crowd erupted in cheers.  The American spirit of entrepreneurship is not dead.  It’s just suffocating under a federal government that is too big and intrusive.

Therein lies the disconnect between the people of America and our policy makers, Republican and Democrat.  For the last 45 years, our government, for the most part, has been appeasing everyone. 

From environmentalists in our own country to the despots in economies that would like to destroy us, our government, or some people in it, has been uncomfortable with our success.  The American people don’t support that, and in a manufacturing town like Dalton, where the scars of the recession can still be seen in the empty buildings along the main drag, they don’t support it either.

Graves has made it his mission to give voice to the manufacturing challenges and opportunities in America.  We ought to support him, and we ought to be electing many more people like Graves to the House and Senate.  It reminds me of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D.-La.), who had finally had enough of her colleagues bashing the oil industry.  She scolded her Democrat colleagues and said their policy for energy was “laughable,” and she’s right.  We have been spiraling down because of our own government and special interests, who want to suppress America and not see it grow.  They want to equalize things, but not by lifting others up to our level, but by tamping our growth down.  To them, 1.8% growth in the gross domestic product is a good thing.

While work force development and regulation limitation is important, the key to this puzzle is an energy policy.  At the core of any policy to promote business is a sensible tax structure and limited oversight by government.  However, even if we waved a magic wand and fixed taxes and regulations and had a better-educated work force tomorrow, without a sound energy policy, it won’t matter.

T. Boone Pickens woke the audience up to a couple of facts.  Facts are pesky things—they change everything.  We import 13 million barrels of oil a day.  Five million are imported from countries that don’t like us very much.  Later this year, Iran will take the chairmanship of OPEC, and that means that a country that is sworn to our destruction will be making decisions about the oil output of OPEC.  You think gas prices are high now, wait until Iran is running the show.  Pickens’ plan will convert that nation’s semi-truck fleet to natural gas and will reduce the need for those 5 million barrels in half.  It’s a good start, but we need more, and we need it now.

We can “leave China in the dust,” but we have to have an energy policy that develops our resources for our own use.  With oil, natural gas, nuclear, clean coal, biofuels, wind, solar and other renewables, we can do it in America.  At the very least, we can rid ourselves of foreign energy sources from countries that don’t like us, and it’s possible we can become completely energy-independent.  We are Americans, there is nothing we can’t do if we put our minds to it, and this should be job one.