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U.S. Commerce chief talks taxes, outsourcing in visit to Maryland Heights

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 24, 2012 - Rebecca Blank, acting secretary of the Department of Commerce, used part of her speech at a Maryland Heights manufacturing facility to cajole Congress into extending some of the Bush-era tax cuts.

Blank told business leaders and public officials at the Wilco Molding Inc. that failure to keep some tax rates constant for people making less than $250,000 a year would disproportionately harm the middle class. It falls in line with President Barack Obama’s proposal to keep some tax rates constant, while allowing rates on higher-income earners to rise.

“A typical middle class family of four will see its taxes rise by $2,200 unless we extend the tax cuts through 2013,” said Blank, while also pointing to the administration's efforts to bolster manufacturing and improve infrastructure.

Republicans have generally balked at such a plan, arguing that increasing taxes on the wealthy could stifle job creation. During a question and answer session with reporters, Blank countered that failing to increase tax rates for the wealthy could exacerbate the nation’s deficit.

“We clearly face a deficit reduction issue, and there’s a requirement to be balanced in our approach to that,” Blank said. “We have to do something on the revenue side as well as on the spending side. And I think anyone who looks at the economics of deficit reduction is going to come to that conclusion – that you can’t do enough on one side alone.”

Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank talked to reporters about keeping some tax cuts passed in the early 2000s. She also discussed how to reduce "outsourcing."

Blank also pointed to "the issue that’s happened over the last 10 to 20 years, which has been widening inequality that’s produced much more rapidly rising incomes for people at the upper end of the income distribution.

“When we say ‘we’re going to take off the Bush tax cuts,’ we’re talking about going back to the same tax level that people were at in the 1990s, when we had enormously effective economic growth, very high rates of investment, a very successful economy,” she said. “So I think it’s very hard to argue that going back to those tax rates for those higher income families is going to produce a problem.”

Obama and other Democrats have been hammering Republicans, including likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, on the issue of outsourcing. That’s the term commonly used to describe companies that move jobs overseas. Opposition to outsourcing was a major plank of Sen. John Kerry’s failed presidential campaign in 2004.

Stressing that she “believed in fair and open trade,” Blank said outsourcing could be reduced through making the United States’ business climate more attractive. That effort includes, she said, “investments in innovation and infrastructure, making sure we have a high-quality workforce and making sure we have a fair and equitable tax system.

“All of those things are going to matter for making this an environment that people stay in or even bring jobs back to or even foreign businesses come into,” Blank said. “I think that’s the right way to work both on reducing outsourcing and increasing insourcing. It’s those reasons that are bringing companies back into the United States.”

Blank – originally from Columbia, Mo. – finds herself as the acting secretary of the department for the second time. Her first stint as acting secretary came after Gary Locke stepped down to become the ambassador to China.

Blank, who most recently served as deputy secretary of the department, stepped in this year after Commerce Secretary John Bryson was involved in hit-and-run incidents said to have been caused by a seizure. Bryson – who won’t face criminal charges from the incidentresigned.

She said her job was “an incredibly fun role to be in.” It gives her a chance to publicize the department, which oversees agencies dealing with everything from international trade and economic development to the National Weather Service.

“This does give me a chance to do a little bit more traveling, to do a little bit more of the public speaking and outreach,” she added. “I believe deeply in what the Department of Commerce does. It’s one of the more misunderstood departments in terms of the range of programs that we do.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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