Editor’s Note: U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. is one of the last old school, New Deal Democrats in Congress, according to the dean of online political forecasting, Real Clear Politics. First elected to the United States Senate in 2006 after a 17-point victory over then Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Casey was easily re-elected in 2012 over Republican Tom Smith by a 54-45 percent margin, becoming the first Democrat in the Keystone State to do so since 1962. Pennsylvania’s senior senator is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth on the Senate’s Committee on Finance, and also serves on the Joint Economic Committee. Sen. Casey also serves on the Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees. Our interview with the senator appears in its entirety.
LVEDC: You’ve mentioned job creation and economic growth as a top priority during your second term as a United States senator. What are you doing to fulfill that priority?
Senator Robert Casey, Jr.: As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I have worked with Republicans and Democrats alike to provide incentives to create and support jobs. Recently, I worked with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) on legislation to promote capital improvements for restaurants and other small businesses. I have also introduced legislation with Senator Collins (R-ME) to help incentivize businesses to expand and hire. The bill has a number of provisions to provide targeted tax relief to small businesses, including allowing businesses to deduct more quickly the costs associated with expansion and use simplified methods of accounting. These are just two commonsense measures that will help create jobs and keep the economy on track.
I have previously introduced the United States Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act. That legislation would have made businesses that move call center jobs overseas ineligible for federal funding such as grants or loans and protected call center jobs in the Lehigh Valley. I am committed to ensuring that both Pennsylvania businesses and workers face a level playing field in this era of ever-increasing globalization.
Additionally, I am a strong advocate for investments in our nation’s infrastructure. Not only does repairing and building infrastructure make sense for safety and our long term economic competitiveness, it supports the creation of jobs in the construction industry, which has been badly impacted in this economy. Since joining the Senate, I have secured over $95 million for deepening of the Delaware River. A deeper channel will support thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
LVEDC: What does the federal government need to invest in to spur economic development in communities such as the Lehigh Valley?
Sen. Casey: As our nation continues its economic recovery, it is critical for federal, state and local elected officials to work together in the effort to get all Americans back to work. The federal government should be doing all it can to help cities like Allentown and others in the Lehigh Valley create jobs.
As Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senator I am committed to growing and strengthening our commonwealth’s economy. I believe Republicans and Democrats should come together to reverse sequestration through a combination of revenues and budget cuts that will sustain the economy and protect the middle class. Indiscriminately slashing funding, including good programs that benefit Pennsylvania, is not an effective policy solution. For example, the federal government must continue to fully fund the Community Development Block Grant program. This program creates jobs, provides economic opportunity and helps keep communities safe. CDBG is a prime example of a smart investment program that gives municipalities another tool to spur economic development in a challenging climate.
Beyond CDBG, we must continue incentives that promote investment in our communities. I have long supported initiatives that are critical to economic development agencies. Programs such as the New Markets Tax Credit promote public-private partnerships that improve communities and create jobs. According to the New Markets Tax Credit Coalition, from 2003-2010, the program helped to create over 20,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I look forward to continuing to champion New Markets Tax Credits and other economy development tools.
LVEDC: In your view, what role does an economic development agency such as LVEDC play in facilitating long-term growth?
Sen. Casey: Agencies such as the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation have an important role to play in our nation’s long-term economic recovery. Their commitment to growing existing businesses and supporting the establishment of new enterprises make these agencies the cornerstone of a region’s economy. Their ability to help Pennsylvania businesses make important connections while providing them with critical guidance and resources such as low-rate funding has a tremendous impact on the success of those ventures and on our economy as a whole.
LVEDC: How does Pennsylvania recruit top-flight companies from other states besides just offering tax incentives?
Sen. Casey: Our continued economic growth depends on the ability of Pennsylvania workers to acquire the skills necessary to meet the needs of the modern workplace. We should continue to encourage the development of a well-educated, highly skilled workforce as an essential component in attracting top-flight employers to the commonwealth. As the Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, I am committed to workforce development in the Commonwealth.
LVEDC: What employment sectors do you envision growing and creating jobs for our residents during your second term in the Senate?
Sen. Casey: My top priority in the Senate continues to be job creation and throughout the 113th Congress I have introduced or co-sponsored several pieces of legislation to help put middle class Pennsylvanians back to work. I believe that small businesses will continue remain the backbone of our economy and my Small Business Tax Certainty and Growth Act, a bipartisan jobs bill I recently introduced with Senator Susan Collins, will help incentivize these important enterprises to hire. Pennsylvania’s natural gas reserves also offer great potential for jobs and economic progress and I will continue to develop market-incentivizing initiatives during my second term to help grow Pennsylvania’s economy.
Additionally, as Pennsylvania’s economy continues to grow and diversify, high-tech industries such as biomedical engineering will play an increasingly important role as a source of job growth. In 2012, medical research supported nearly 2,500 jobs and researchers in the Commonwealth received more than $1.4 billion in grants from the National Institutes of Health. As a nation, we must address our long-term deficits and reduce government spending, but not at the expense of good, beneficial programs and I will continue to champion funding for medical research in the Senate.