This election cycle, Republicans and Democrats alike would be wise to focus on jobs and the deficit. Poll after poll shows that those are the top two issues on the minds of all Americans from Millennials and Generation X to baby boomers and seniors. • "How can you create more jobs?" If asked, the CEO of a world-class corporation would answer in the form of a question. "Where is the market opportunity to create those new jobs?" Yet all of the presidential candidates, including President Barack Obama, ignore this market-based approach.
There is only one sector with a big enough potential to fundamentally strengthen the economy: Replacing our foreign energy purchases — oil — with domestically produced energy. No one has focused on this, or perhaps even recognized it, as central to improving our economy.
Jobs and the deficit are two distinct issues, but energy offers an opportunity to address them both. By domesticating our foreign energy purchases we reduce our deficit — we send less money overseas. By fully developing our own energy resources, we can create millions of new jobs as well as preserving current ones.
The United States spends $300 billion per year buying oil from other countries, many of which don't like us very much. This accounts for more than half of our trade deficit. If we could keep that business in-house — within America — we could use that cash here to expand domestic energy sources. That's not just oil, but natural gas, nuclear, clean coal, wind, solar — all of them.
This is a market opportunity that every presidential candidate should exploit as a central part of his agenda. And yet virtually every form of energy has come under attack. Pipelines are being thwarted, not enough offshore oil exploration is being put on the table in the government's five-year plan, not enough nuclear plants are being encouraged, clean coal is being ostracized because of CO2 emissions, and legitimate and targeted support for alternative energy in transportation is being attacked.
Politicians on the left are quick to point out the limitations of developing our fossil fuels. And those on the right do not want to support new technologies with targeted government policy and investment that could greatly reduce our dependence on oil. If they were serious about really improving the nation's energy security, they would expedite expanding all forms of domestic energy — alternative and traditional.
Failing to act means our elected officials have given up — that we will buy overseas oil and let those countries reap the rewards. Undertaking policies today to insulate the United States from an oil price spike would greatly reduce the volatility in our economy. For example, if the government enacted policies accelerating the electrification of transportation, the U.S. economy would be less reliant on oil and therefore stronger. The Electrification Coalition estimates these policies alone would preserve 1.4 million jobs were an oil price spike to occur, which seems more likely by the day.
The current account deficit is the difference in dollars between the cash leaving the country and cash coming in. For several years, the United States has been running at a deficit while countries like China have been running a strong surplus. Many economists say that the account trade deficit must stay considerably below 3 percent of our gross domestic product (the total value of goods and services produced in a year) for our financial system and economy to remain strong. It is troubling that our account trade deficit is more than 5 percent of GDP and slated to go even higher as oil prices rise.
By domesticating our foreign energy purchases we would take a giant step toward a healthier economy with more jobs, stabilize the dollar, regain our AAA credit rating, and undoubtedly bring the price of energy back down. And neither the president nor other presidential candidates are stressing this point.
My vote will go for the candidate who says on the campaign trail that his most important and immediate primary focus as president will be to replace our consumption of foreign oil with domestic energy, to urgently set in motion serious energy initiatives, policies and mandates — not rhetoric — to accomplish this over a decade, to create a countrywide imperative just as President John Kennedy did with his "man on the moon in 10 years" mission — and to be the leader to unify all interests, the entire executive branch, Congress, industry and the American people.
Al Hoffman was finance chairman for Jeb Bush for Governor, finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, national co-chair for President George W. Bush's election and re-election, chair of the John McCain for President campaign kitchen cabinet and general chair of the Marco Rubio for Senate campaign. He has not committed to a presidential candidate during this cycle.