As the new Congress convenes, I hope the president and members from both parties will keep one number in mind: 8,053,000. That is an estimate of the number of new Americans expected to be born between now and the end of this Congress and President Obama's second term two years from now.
After six years, the differences between President Obama and Congressional Republicans are well known. Republicans want to repeal the president's health-care law and oppose his efforts to regulate climate change and his unilateral moves on immigration. The president opposes the Republican plans for entitlement reform and tax reform.
It would be a disservice to the American people if the next two years are spent simply relitigating these differences.
Already you hear cries that both Republicans and Democrats need to simply use the time between now and November 2016 to define the presidential election. But with each passing day the 2016 agenda will be set more by the Republican and Democrat Presidential contenders and less by Congressional Republicans or President Obama.
How then should the new Congress and President Obama spend the next two years? By focusing on that number: 8,053,000 and what they owe these new Americans.
The first priority is a growing economy.
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As any parent can tell you, it isn't cheap to raise a child these days. In fact, studies show families spend $245,000 to raise a child up to the age of 18 — and that's before college! A real growing economy lifts wages for all Americans and can help lighten this load for working families.
While many have celebrated the report of 5-percent growth in the last quarter, annual growth is still a half-point below the 2001 to 2007 period. And we know that even then, income was at best stagnant for the majority of Americans. We need both larger and more sustained economic growth.
It is tempting to just concede that the president and Congressional Republicans simply disagree on what it takes to grow the economy, thus progress would have to wait until after the next election. It is true that the president and Republicans disagree on much. But the American people are waiting and they deserve to see results. That is why the president and Congress should focus on areas where they agree and where progress can be made.
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They can begin by moving swiftly on trade promotion authority and finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a new agreement with Europe (TTIP). Swift approval of updates to our patent laws can encourage more American innovation by deterring patent trolls. A permanent and expanded R&D tax credit (it has been temporary since 1981!) can likewise encourage new and sustained investment in the technologies that will create the next generation of jobs. Accelerating LNG exports, permitting crude oil exports, and streamlining the approval process for new domestic pipelines are all critical steps in sustaining America's recent energy renaissance and keeping prices moving lower for American consumers.
Each of these initiatives enjoys real bipartisan support, they will create both near-term and long-term economic growth, and there is no reason they can't be accomplished by this time next year.
A brighter future for those 8 million little boys and girls must include access to a quality education. The zip code of a child's birth should never be the determining factor in the type of education he or she will receive. Over the past decade the rise of charter schools — especially in our inner cities — has brought new educational opportunities to millions. Unfortunately, when the current school year began, over 1 million children were on waiting lists for the charter school of their choice.
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Last year the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation to expand proven charter schools. But like so many other bills it went nowhere in the Senate. Republicans and Democrats should come together and enact this bill before the start of the new school year. Our children shouldn't have to wait another year for Washington to get its act together.
Increasingly, American politics (much like the trend in corporate America) is too consumed by short-termism. Rather than accepting the reality of divided government and focusing on what can be accomplished today to create more long-term growth and opportunity, both sides focus on short-term tactics designed to exacerbate differences in hopes of gaining advantage for the next election — which is always less than two years away.
The future of those 8,053,000 little boys and girls deserve to have the two years of this Congress focused on them and not the next election.
Commentary by Eric Cantor, the former House majority leader, who served as the U.S. representative for Virginia's 7th congressional district from 2001 to 2014. He is currently vice chairman and managing director at Moelis and Co. Follow him on Twitter @EricCantor.