The state of the union? Closing again isn’t an option

Both sides need to get back to work on real priorities

What does the state of the union look like now that the government shutdown is over?

As President Trump prepares to deliver his annual address to the nation, there are a number of public policy priorities that urgently need attention. The most important, of course, is to simply keep the government open and not allow the shutdown to resume when the current short-term funding expires February 15. If the government isn’t functioning, policymakers can’t make progress on real-life issues that have real-life consequences.

The most pressing priorities facing our nation are the reforms and legislation necessary to ensure that our economy continues to grow, and our citizens prosper. More than anything, we need to preserve, protect and enhance our economic expansion.

Here are five top issues that need to be addressed in Trump’s speech and acted on in Congress:

Tax reform

Landmark tax reform that took effect a year ago has created more jobs, put more take-home pay in workers’ pockets, helped businesses grow and is increasing our nation’s competitiveness in the global economy. But the work isn’t done. Among other steps, the Treasury Department should continue its efforts to get guidance out as quickly as possible, so taxpayers know how to implement the changes made by tax reform.

The biggest tax priority for retailers is to fix two “tax code typos” that have left billions of dollars in potential investment stranded.

The biggest tax priority for retailers is to fix two “tax code typos” that have left billions of dollars in potential investment stranded. First is a mistake that has required remodeling work at retail stores and restaurants to be depreciated over nearly four decades rather than written off in the first year as meant by Congress. The immediate write-off was intended to unleash a wave of projects worth billions of dollars, creating jobs for construction workers, boosting orders for materials, helping the real estate industry, revitalizing troubled shopping malls and struggling downtowns and creating long-term employment for countless workers. Instead, even routine remodeling done each year has stalled, and countless opportunities for expansion have been lost.

Congress also needs to fix a mistake that has blocked the ability of companies losing money to “carry back” those losses to years when they had a profit and thereby receive a significant tax refund that could keep them afloat during challenging times. This is particularly important for retail companies that have had trouble keeping up with the transformation of the industry. And unless the error is corrected soon, some of those companies could be gone.

Trade

China’s abuses of international trade law need to be addressed, but the tariffs that have been applied to a wide range of everyday products are driving up costs and reducing opportunities for American consumers, workers and businesses far more than they are punishing China. In effect, we are raising taxes on all Americans to teach the Chinese government a lesson. Sure, China will feel an impact from tariffs, but we shouldn’t overlook the fact that many Americans will feel the pain more acutely than Chinese leaders. If these tariffs remain in place for a long time, or if the products subject to tariffs are widened, we will certainly find ourselves in a painful trade war that will erode much of the prosperity created by tax reform. A less harmful approach must be found and found soon.

In addition, this will be the year to conclude action on the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which takes many important steps to modernize the trading relationships within North America. The North American Free Trade Agreement has brought billions of dollars in benefits and millions of jobs to Americans, and we must encourage Congress to approve the new agreement without resorting to extreme steps like withdrawal from the existing NAFTA before a new agreement is in place.

Immigration

A path forward on real immigration reform might allow the current economic expansion to continue.

The recent government shutdown drama has shown that Americans are bitterly divided over questions of immigration and border security. A deal on the long-term fate of Dreamers, expanding the number of visas for high-tech workers to meet demand and taking steps to allow enough low-skilled workers to come to the United States to fill important jobs in agriculture and food production are just a few of the issues that need to be tackled. While we don’t have a clear consensus on what immigration reform and border security should look like, we should be able to agree that these issues need to be solved in a bipartisan fashion. There is a good deal to be achieved for both sides if they want it. With unemployment close to a 50-year low and new jobs being created every day, no one can reasonably argue that legal immigrants would take jobs from Americans. In fact, the opposite might be true: A path forward on real immigration reform might allow the current economic expansion — and strong job creation — to continue for many months or years longer.

Infrastructure

There is no issue better suited for finding compromise in a divided government than infrastructure reform. Unlike issues that inspire partisan rancor, there is widespread bipartisan consensus that our transportation and logistics infrastructure is woefully out of date and in disrepair. Retailers are among the nation’s largest shippers and depend on highways and bridges to move merchandise, whether it’s truckloads of goods to stock store shelves or an online purchase headed to a customer’s home. Unfortunately, many are reluctant to make the tough choices on the massive funding required. Trump last year proposed using $200 billion in federal money to leverage a total $1.5 trillion when combined with state, local and private investment. Whether done through that approach or alternatives, this job will only get more expensive the longer it is delayed. We hope lawmakers from both sides of the aisle can find room to agree.

Privacy

Retailers are spending to improve shopping and deliver better customer service but the new privacy rules in California and Europe threaten to upend these investments.

Consumer privacy is one of retailers’ top priorities, and in a world of “big data” it takes on more importance each year. But last year’s General Data Protection Regulation in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act set to go into effect next year are both burdensome measures setting challenging precedents that seriously limit retailers’ ability to deliver the level of customer service consumers have come to expect. Retailers are collectively spending billions of dollars to improve shopping and deliver better customer service — both online and in stores — but the new privacy rules in California and Europe threaten to upend these investments. California and Europe got important things wrong in their approaches to privacy regulation; Congress has an opportunity to do better and create a sensible framework for protecting consumers’ information in the way they expect it to be protected, but without unintended consequences that add friction and delay to every retail customer’s shopping experience.

All of these are priorities. But none can be resolved until our biggest priority — a government that remains open to do the business of the people regardless of the partisan political squabbles in Washington — is accomplished.