Congress passes a jobs bill. Good for it.

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From the LA Times:

The Senate today passed by a 68-29 margin a $17.6-billion measure intended to spur hiring nationwide, sending the bill to the White House for the president’s expected signature… The bill would grant employers an exemption from their 6.2% Social Security payroll contribution for every new employee hired through the rest of the year, as long as that employee had been out of work for at least 60 days. An additional $1,000 income tax credit would be allowed for every new employee kept on the payroll for 52 weeks… The measure also would make it easier for businesses to write off equipment purchases and would pump billions into federal highway and mass-transit funding programs, which Democrats hope will jump-start construction projects.

I’ve said in the past that I’m dubious about how far such efforts will actually go towards creating jobs. Plenty of other people have too. Private enterprise is the great American job-creation machine. The best thing Congress can do at this point is get out of the way—and getting out of the way includes making a decision (any decision, for crying out loud) about what health care will look like going forward.

Though that’s not to say there aren’t job-related topics I want our federal government to address.

There definitely are. It’s just that I don’t want the question to be, “How do we create jobs?” All too often that devolves into, “How do we boost short-term demand?”

What I want are questions that get at America’s long-term economic competitiveness—the sorts of questions that the federal government should be asking and actually has the ability to answer.

Here’s my list:

-What would most reduce uncertainty for small businessmen contemplating whether or not to make investments or hire more workers? Knowing what was going to happen with health care reform? Having a simpler tax code? Seeing a decision on cap-and-trade legislation?

-What might we do to encourage companies to invest more dollars in research and development? Could making the R&D tax deduction permanent (as it is in China) be a smart start?

-In a country that graduates as many lawyers as engineers, how do we encourage more people to become fluent in math and science?

-How do we make higher education—not just four-year programs, but also community college and certification courses—more affordable to more people?

-If we want to increase exports and give companies easier access to overseas markets, then why doesn’t the U.S. take a leadership role in reviving the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations?

-When do we spend serious time and money to improve the nation’s infrastructure—from roads to high-speed Internet to the electric grid—realizing that these are key building blocks for companies to grow and become more efficient? (In all fairness, Congress has jumped on the high-speed Internet issue.)

-Since a disproportionate number of new IT and biopharmaceutical firms have been started by immigrants, many of whom studied at U.S. universities, why don’t we make it easy—instead of difficult—for highly educated immigrants to stay in this country?

-In an economy where workers are expected to constantly re-invent themselves and often work as independent contractors, what sorts of social safety nets and retraining assistance could help them do that more efficiently?