Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Put economy on right path

Originally printed in Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, January 25th, 2011

Dear Mr. President,

Welcome to Wisconsin.

November's election sent a clear message to Washington. Simply stated, millions of Americans believe that government is too large, too intrusive and spends too much of our hard-earned money.

The median household earns $49,777. Last year, the federal government spent $3.6 trillion, which calculates to over $31,000 per household. Of that amount, $1.3 trillion (40%) was borrowed. Our nation's debt now has surpassed $14 trillion. These are staggering figures. The people of Wisconsin realize this is not sustainable.

Running a manufacturing business for the past 31 years has taught me to look for the root cause of a problem instead of simply addressing the symptoms. Huge deficits, anemic economic activity, high unemployment and woefully inadequate job creation are symptoms. The ever-expanding size, scope and cost of government are the root causes.

Excessive taxation and overregulation drain our economy of the capital and incentives necessary for true prosperity and job creation. According to the Small Business Administration, the annual cost of government regulation in America is $1.75 trillion. Our corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. Small businesses that pay taxes using the personal tax rate tables have only received a two-year reprieve.

They have no idea what might happen after that. No one knows the cost or long-term effect of either the health care law or financial regulatory reform. The level of uncertainty is high. It's obvious why consumers aren't spending and businesses aren't investing and hiring.

Our economy is stagnant because consumers and businesses rightfully lack confidence in government policy. How secure is a person's job? What levels of taxation or inflation will we be experiencing? What government regulation or junk lawsuit is going to put my employer or my company out of business? These are legitimate concerns, and they are severely hampering our economy.

The solution is to show consumers and businesses that Washington understands the problem and has the courage to address it honestly and forthrightly. We must pursue policies that will first limit and then begin to reduce the size, scope and cost of government.

I welcomed your recent acknowledgement that regulation is a problem costing us jobs. But we must move well beyond rhetoric and begin to enact serious reforms that actually roll back and dismantle harmful bureaucracy.

Washington's agenda has put a stranglehold on our economy. The pitiful result of the stimulus package is proof that growing government does not grow our economy. We need a thriving private sector to do that. We need to encourage and incentivize entrepreneurs, not tax and regulate them to death.

What America has accomplished over its short history is truly remarkable. America is exceptional - it is precious. And we are bankrupting it. Americans hunger for leadership. They want leaders who understand that the only way to set America's economy back on the right path is to promote freedom, protect the free market system and respect our founders' vision of limited government.

I heard you say during your 2008 campaign that jobs were your No. 1 priority. You repeated that commitment in 2009, 2010 and again in 2011. I agree with you, we don't have time to ignore our economy any longer. I sincerely hope to see your administration accept the fundamental premise of limited government and work with Congress to set America's economy back on the right path.

If you do, I'll be the first in line to help.

Mr. Johnson is a Republican senator from Wisconsin.