U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) says he is optimistic about the nation's economy, but pointed out that "housing needs to come back."
Pryor's comments came Wednesday morning during a break in a tour of Bryant High School. His visit also included stops at the Saline County Airport in Bryant, the Saint-Gobain facility currently under construction on Cyanamid Road and a meeting with the Saline County Economic Development Corp.
A recent Rasmussen Poll indicated that only 32 percent of Americans believe the U.S. economy is improving and 47 percent feel it is worsening. However, the same poll found that consumer confidence is at a five-year high.
Pryor was asked what he felt would contribute to the incongruent message these two poll findings present.
"The U.S. economy has been through the wringer," he replied. "While statistically there has been a small, but hopefully important uptick in manufacturing, people want to feel better about their home and the housing market," which, as a consequence, promotes a favorable view of the economic future.
Pryor pointed to the recent increase in energy production in the United States as an integral part of an improving economy. "Natural gas is a game changer," he said. "Companies are coming back to the United States because of our lower energy prices."
In regard to the national debt that currently exceeds $16 trillion and to which $1 trillion is projected to be added in 2013, thus leading to four consecutive years of trillion-dollar increases, Pryor contends a three-pronged approach is required to gain control.
"First, we need tax reform." Pryor stated. He noted that he agrees with the current one-year deal recently passed by Congress, but added that the tax code needs reform.
"We have to close the special deals for special interest groups," he said.
Pryor also said he believes that lowering tax rates will create increased levels of revenue. "If we lower the rates and close the loopholes in the current tax code, we will see increases in revenue. The reason we had to jack up the rates to 37 percent is because of all the special deductions in the code."
Pryor said he is an advocate of the plan submitted by the Simpson-Bowles Commission. In February of 2010, President Obama issued an executive order creating a commission to study the debt crisis and make recommendations to solve the problem. The commission submitted its recommendations in November of 2010.
The commission was comprised of 18 members including both Republicans and Democrats. On Nov. 1, 2010, the committee submitted a final report with recommendations on discretionary spending, tax reform, health care savings, Social Security and other mandatory programs.
The final report was not officially supported by its members. On Dec. 1, 2010, the plan received only 11 votes for approval from the committee.
The commission is named after the two chairmen of the group: former Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
Pryor acknowledged that his support of the Simpson-Bowles plan has put him at odds with members of the Democratic Party. "I'm a Democrat and always will be, but Republicans have good ideas, too. Any decisions that are made need to be based upon sound economics and the best ideas, wherever they come from."
Gun control also was addressed during Pryor's visit.
The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have several groups calling for increased gun control. As a result, President Obama has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force on gun violence in the U.S.
On Wednesday, Biden stated "The president is going to act. Executive order, executive action that can be taken — we haven't decided what that is yet. But we're compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and all the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action, we believe, is required."
The same Rasmussen Poll included information that 86 percent of Americans now support stricter background checks for individuals seeking to purchase a gun, 73 percent supporting a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases and 73 percent in favor of mandatory gun safety courses for gun owners.
In light of the poll findings, Pryor was asked what measures he would support. "We need to use our brains and be objective." he replied. "I think we need to wait and see what President Obama is proposing before drawing conclusions. Regardless of the proposals, I will continue to support the Second Amendment and will be consistent with my vote compared to my history."
During his tour of the county, Pryor noted that the area has experienced considerable growth during the past few years. "It's exciting to see the things happening in Saline County," he said.
The Saline County Airport was one project in which Pryor played a role. According to his office, Pryor helped obtain "$4,035,778 for the purchase and installation of an instrument landing system, installation of taxiway lighting, a new aircraft parking apron to meet standards and enhance capacity at the airport as well as overall airport improvements." His office also noted that Pryor has brought "$15,383,214 in grant dollars and appropriations" to Saline County during the previous 10 years.
Pryor has served as Arkansas' senator since 2003.