The scion of a multi-generational political dynasty, Massachusetts' new fourth district congressman is youthful, charming, and unpretentious. He reflects an honest humility appropriate to someone who has been in Congress for just three weeks. Speaking to this morning's meeting of The New England Council, Joe Kennedy also avoided liberal generalizations, emphasized the importance of public/private partnerships and showed a tendency to be data-driven in his evaluation of programs and ideas.
He knows that choices soon to be made about budget, size of government, cutting programs will define us. But he does not enter the debate as a ramrod ideologue, eschewing opportunities for relationship-building across the partisan divide. Even while meeting new members of Congress with whom he disagrees on many if not most of the major issues, he has been encouraged to meet many interested in finding common ground, in issues from international human rights to curbing sexual assaults in the military. Kennedy says a personal core value is creating economic opportunity for everyone, but it won't be achieved unless business and government work together.
Kennedy helped activate this concept as a new college graduate, serving in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. He helped create a business plan for rural locals earning a pittance from a non-productive relationship with a large tour company. The new plan, with seed money from US AID, led to local ownership, increased income, and proceeds available for a school bus, water pipes, a police station and footbridge over a river prone to flooding.
Such partnerships are important to Massachusetts' high-knowledge economy, 40 percent of which revolves around health care, biotech, information technology, defense and advanced manufacturing. Massachusetts has attracted more investment capital in biotech, for example, than any other area of the country. Kennedy cited the yield in revenue and jobs but warned of the impact of Washington-based uncertainties on the flow of capital into these areas. He called for a balanced, bipartisan plan to remove those uncertainties, and eventully promote investments that will yield economic growth.
Government can help with roads and bridges (e.g., South Coast rail), shoring up research (e.g., NIH, NSF) and education, making the research and development tax credit permanent, strengthening state schools and community colleges, thus creating pathways to entry level jobs paying $50,000, filling the need for qualified mid level skilled workers.
The answer to the unprecedented problems facing the country, he says, does not lie in one-size-fits-all solutions or slogans like simply "more government" or "less government." He looks to data to see what works, what are the measurable outcomes, and what doesn't work well enough to merit the investment. He called for shifting from evaluating government by what we are spending to measuring the outputs in which that spending results. Accountability practices matter.
Granted, the Congressman was speaking to a business group. But his presentation portends a thoughtful, measured approach to government that can achieve good things by doing them well, possibly even raising the public's opinion of Congress to something beyond the level of cockroaches, colonoscopies and head lice, which, as he pointed out, is where it is today.
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