SALEM — Partisan gridlock is holding back progress on education and immigration reform, as well as efforts to lower health care costs and fix crumbling roads, bridges and public transit, Congressman Seth Moulton told business leaders Monday, warning that the impasse will eventually hurt the nation's economy.
The Salem Democrat said the divide between Democrats and Republicans in Washington is so deep that little, if anything, is getting accomplished on major issues.
"That makes it difficult to address the elephant-in-the-room issues," he told a North Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Hawthorne Hotel. "These are politically contentious issues, but we've got to have the courage to fix these problems in a bipartisan way."
Moulton said there are signs the lack of progress on big issues will affect the country’s economic growth.
"While the economy is humming and many of you are doing well, seeing unemployment at historic lows, a lot of economists are very concerned about where things are going," he said. "There are a lot of big problems that are going to come back to haunt us quite soon, if we don't see them already."
On immigration, Moulton said the sides are dug in over President Donald Trump's divisive policies and plans to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Mary Sarris, executive director of the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, said the lack of progress on immigration is exacerbating a skills gap for trained workers.
"Companies are telling us that they desperately need more workers, and immigration reform is the the way to make that happen," she told the gathering.
Moulton agreed, saying elected officials from both parties need to come together to fix the system.
"On the left, people have to recognize that illegal immigration is a problem, that's it not a good thing to have thousands of people climbing over a fence on the southern border," he said. "On the right, people have to realize that immigration actually helps our economy and that it is essential to our competitiveness as a country."
He said lack of consensus on internet privacy is putting the country behind other countries that have enacted protections.
"We're missing the boat," he said. "But I just don't see the willingness in the current Congress to take this issue on."
Moulton, a member of the influential House Budget Committee, said even the federal budget process is overshadowed by one-party rule.
"The budget is going to get done this week by a few people sitting in a room — the speaker, vice president and majority leader of the Senate — who will work out a deal that gives us an up-or-down vote," he said. "It's an example of the partisanship that we have to do these last-minute funding deals to get through."
Moulton said he expects little to change unless the "balance of power is restored" with Democrats taking control of the House or Senate in November’s elections.
Many observers have framed the upcoming midterms as a referendum on President Trump's first term and the Republican-controlled Congress. Democrats need 24 seats to flip the House, and two to take the Senate.
Moulton, a former Marine Corps captain who served four tours in Iraq, is backing a roster of Democratic veterans who are challenging Republican lawmakers in key House districts.
"We need to send a new generation of leaders to Washington who understand how important these issues are," he said. "That's the only way it will change."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.