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Politics & Government

Casey: Tax Reform, Infrastructure Upgrades Doable in 2015

When the U.S. Senate reconvenes Jan. 6 for the start of a new Congressional session, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) will find himself in the minority party for the first time in his eight years in that office.

Through the November elections the Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time since losing the majority in January 2007. The Republicans now hold a 10-seat advantage 54-44 over the Democrats with two independents — Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

“In one sense, nothing changes,” Casey said concerning the change in control on his approach. “Legislation isn’t just about mechanics and who’s got the majority and who’s got the chairmanship of a committee.  What it’s supposed to be about, for me, is focusing on the priorities of the people of Pennsylvania.”

Those priorities include “rebuilding the middle class” after the Great Recession of 2007-09 and increasing wages.

“So even when our unemployment rate is going down and all the economic indicators are going up, the bad news in that is that wages have not been growing at the rate of so many other parts of our economy,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for November was 5.8 percent — the lowest in six years — and wages rose 2.1 percent in 2014, compared to the inflation rate of 1.7 percent. The wage increase comes after nearly no movement since the recession began in 2007.

Casey said he hopes both parties “can work together to focus on the middle class,” but he added the Republican leadership has a short window to show progress. 

“They’ve got to prove in their first six months they can govern, they can move legislation, they can work with Democrats to do that.,” Casey said. “What I hear from Republican colleagues, they want to do that, they want to make the place work better.”

According to Casey, the two sides should focus on what they agree on first because, “You can always get to the list of things you don’t agree on, that’s easy.”

He said infrastructure improvements could be on the list of bipartisan issues. 

“Infrastructure is the area where there should be a lot more consensus by way of legislation," Casey said. "There’s a lot of consensus in terms of what Democrats and Republicans talk about, but in terms of acting and voting, I hope we can move that forward.”

Casey also agreed there could be bipartisan agreement on comprehensive tax reform, but it will take several months.

“Trying to do something real and substantial to simplify the code, try to make it reflect the modern economy and also to give a level playing field to our manufacturers who have to compete in a world economy instead of keeping in place these tax provisions which directly incentivize the movement of jobs overseas,” Casey said. “So correcting that destructive anomaly should be something we can get done in a bipartisan fashion.”