President Obama is in Richmond today to listen to families' economic struggles, and to talk about what he's done with Congress to help our economy recover from its deepest crisis since the Great Depression.
Millions of Americans are still out of work -- and millions more are worried that their children and grandchildren will find it harder and harder to "make it in America."
Since we took our oaths of office in January 2009, our goal has been putting Americans back to work. And our country has made some progress. This Congress' investments in roads, bridges, transportation, health care, and education have been, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, responsible for up to 3 million jobs.
Taxes are lower for 98 percent of Americans than they were under President Bush, and small businesses have received extra tax cuts for every unemployed worker they hire.
We've made the biggest investment in student aid in history, without raising the deficit; made it more affordable for businesses to buy health insurance for their employees; and established tough new rules to stop the Wall Street gambling that helped lead to the loss of millions of jobs.
But for all those who continue to struggle, it's not enough. A crucial part of restoring our economy and recovering secure, middle-class jobs is rebuilding American manufacturing.
Manufacturing helped to make this the strongest economy in the world, and it has provided solid incomes for generations of middle-class families; for those reasons and more, Americans have always taken pride in our ability to make things. However, manufacturing has been in a long-term decline: From February 2001 to February 2009, for instance, America lost nearly one-third of all its manufacturing jobs.
Today, though, we're working to reverse that trend. America added manufacturing jobs for the first seven months of this year -- the longest streak of growth in 13 years. And Congress is building on that success with the "Make It In America" agenda, which has two very related objectives.
One is to restore the faith of every American that they can, in fact, make it in America -- that the American Dream is alive and well, and that each of us can succeed with hard work. We must restore that confidence, which is so necessary for the growth of our economy.
Second, we must restore America's position as one of the leading makers of things in the world: We must have a plan to rebuild American manufacturing.
"Make It In America" is a wide-ranging package of bills with these shared goals: investing in manufacturing innovation, strengthening the American work force, and helping American companies compete in the global market. Because strong manufacturing means a strong middle class and sustainable job creation, the "Make It In America" agenda has the support of both business leaders and labor unions.
Four "Make It In America" bills have already been signed into law: They include a bill to make it cheaper for American companies to obtain the materials they need to manufacture goods, a bill to speed innovation by breaking the backlog of patents waiting for approval, and a bill to reduce tax loopholes that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas.
The most recent "Make It In America" bill, which establishes a Small Business Lending Fund, provides an additional $12 billion in small-business tax cuts, and promotes the export of U.S.-made goods, was signed into law on Monday. It is projected to save or create 500,000 jobs.
Seven other "Make It In America" bills have passed the House. These bills help clean energy firms compete at home and abroad; combat the trade imbalance that harms American job creation; help rural families upgrade their homes with energy-efficiency products that are largely made in America; build training partnerships between unions, businesses, and educators; ensure that Congress and the Department of Homeland Security buy American-made goods whenever possible; and direct the president to work with business and state leaders to develop a national manufacturing strategy, just like our toughest international competitors have.
This week, the House is also voting on three additional bills. One will make sure that the government buys American-made American flags. Another helps ensure that American workers are given every opportunity to earn certifications, degrees, and qualifications for the jobs American industry needs to fill. And the third addresses China's unfair currency policy and its harms to American workers.
By deliberately keeping the value of its currency low, China is able to sell its goods in the United States at an artificially low price -- which helps put American manufacturers out of business. The bill we vote on this week will help level the playing field for American businesses and workers.
"Make It In America" isn't just about a few months of legislative work -- it is a foundation for the years to come. Rebuilding America's manufacturing strength is one of the toughest challenges our country faces, and one of the most important to meet -- because our ability to innovate rests directly on our ability to manufacture products here.
When manufacturing leaves, high-tech research soon follows it, and our country falls further behind in the industries of the future. An excellent example is the production of the advanced batteries that will one day power electric cars.
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, explained it like this: "The U.S. lost its lead in batteries 30 years ago when it stopped making consumer-electronics devices. Whoever made batteries then gained the exposure and relationships needed to learn to supply batteries for the more demanding laptop PC market, and after that, for the even more demanding automobile market.
"U.S. companies didn't participate in the first phase and consequently weren't in the running for all that followed. I doubt they will ever catch up."
I believe in the "Make It In America" agenda, because stories like that have to come to an end. President Obama and the Democrats have worked hard to help our economy recover -- but just as importantly, we have a vision for our country's future.
It's a future in which we once again think of ourselves as a country that makes things, a future in which we use the same values that built the world's most powerful economy to build a new generation of middle-class jobs.