Donald Trump

Sick of Trump and Hillary? Tune In Scott and Booker

A Senate duo that bears watching.


Instead of paying attention to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton today, take a moment to listen to Senators Tim Scott and Cory Booker.

Scott is a black Republican from South Carolina. Booker is a black Democrat from New Jersey. Together, they've done something relatively unusual in Washington these days—teamed up across partisan lines to introduce two pieces of legislation aimed at increasing upward mobility and fighting poverty.

The bills hadn't been on my radar screen until last week, when Sen. Scott took to the Senate floor to offer some disturbing firsthand accounts of how he'd been treated by law enforcement officers and to offer some ideas on how to move forward. These two pieces of legislation were among them.

The first is the Leveraging and Energizing America's Apprenticeship Programs or "LEAP" Act. It would create a new $1,500 per apprentice tax credit for businesses that hire employees younger than 25 to participate in apprenticeship programs registered with the federal or state governments. The cost of the tax credits would be offset by having the government publish more documents on the Internet instead of printing them.

The LEAP Act already has support from two other Republicans, Deb Fischer and Kelly Ayotte, and from two other Democrats, Chris Coons and Amy Klobuchar.

The second bill is the Investing in Opportunity Act. It would give governors the power to create "opportunity zones" and provide a break on the capital gains tax for taxpayers who invest their gains in a qualified opportunity zone. This law, too, has bipartisan backing. Its supporters include Democrats Michael Bennet, Chris Coons, and Gary Peters, and Republicans Roy Blunt, Cory Gardner, and Lindsey Graham.

Both these laws, unfortunately, would add complexity to a tax code that needs simplification. The senators get credit for good intentions, but federal antipoverty needs to be judged on results, not intentions, as decades of counterproductive spending have testified.

Even so, perhaps they are onto something. Certainly, the problem of how people younger than 25 can gain valuable and employable skills is one worth tackling. Not all of them will go to college, and the combination of high state and local minimum wages, health insurance mandates, and payroll taxes means that, without a subsidy of some sort, entry-level employees in many cases aren't worth the cost for businesses to hire and train. My preferred solution would be to reduce the payroll tax, the minimum wage, or the healthcare mandate, or to let someone in the private sector find a way to make money by hiring and training these people better than competitors.

As for the opportunity zones, again, the problem of entire neighborhoods or even cities or regions that have been left behind from the coastal urban booms that have affected places like Silicon Valley, New York City, and Washington, D.C. is one worth thinking about. The idea of dealing with it by offering a capital gains deferral may be a little too cute, though. The concept is to get people who made lots of money on, say, Facebook stock, to reinvest the money in some rundown city or rural backwater and avoid some of the tax hit on their gains. But as Mark Zuckerberg's unsuccessful $100 million gift to the Newark, N.J. public schools shows, the problems in some of these neighborhoods go well beyond the issue of lack of financial capital willing to invest.

"It's a dark hour in race relations for America, but I bring you hope, real hope," Sen. Scott said in his remarks, speaking about how a heavily white congressional district in South Carolina elected him—the grandson of a cotton-picker—over Senator Strom Thurmond's son and over the son of the late Gov. Carroll Campbell. "Please remain optimistic."

It's not necessarily easy these days to do that. But the fact that Senators Booker and Scott can at least agree on common goals—increasing opportunity and upward mobility in demographic and geographic areas where they are lacking—may well be cause for hope. It's a Senate duo that bears watching.