Tonawanda News

November 14, 2012

DUVALL: Divided government shouldn't be a death knell to progress

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad the election is over. 

Alas, in our infinite wisdom, we sent back almost all of the people who messed things up last time. Fortunately, it was with a single mandate identical to both parties: Stop fighting and get things done.

Divided government shouldn’t be a death knell to progress. Both sides, when acting reasonably, bring important perspectives to the debate. Democrats rightly see government as a tool to help address these problems. Republicans emphasize the role the private sector needs to play in helping an ailing economy. Contrary to popular belief, these two ideas are not diametrically opposed. In fact they can be combined.

Republicans are right: The government needs to be sensitive to the inhibitions excessive government places on growth. Democrats are right: The private sector necessarily acts in its own interests (until it doesn’t, which is when regulation becomes necessary) and can’t possibly address every problem we’re facing. 

My pre-election column called for a new group of Americans to assert themselves, one with an approach to problem-solving that isn’t rooted in partisanship. I meant it when I said it. Here’s what that might look like in practice during the coming lame duck session.

First, if I were advising President Obama, I would encourage him to reach out to the business community. Bring in corporate executives from across economic sectors — health care, manufacturing, banking, media, technology — and draft their signatures on a letter to the leadership of both parties in Congress. That letter should state the obvious: We are headed to a fiscal cliff in the form of destructive tax increases and budget cuts that will plunge our economy back into recession if enacted.

Then invite the signatories to a press conference in the East Room of the White House. Allow each to tell the American people why they aren’t hiring. I’m willing to bet the first thing they’ll say is paralysis in Washington is creating uncertainty and businesses don’t act unless they’re reasonably certain it will mean making money.

Millions of jobs can be created once we get past this and only the business community can authentically articulate that message to politicians and citizens alike.

Next step: Find partners in Congress. Again if I were advising the president, I would urge him to bypass congressional leadership of both parties and work with the senators and congressmen who are willing to enter serious negotiations. There are plenty of respected senators, particularly Republicans (Utah’s Bob Bennet, Maine’s Susan Collins and Indiana’s Dick Lugar come to mind) who will be out of office come January. These are seasoned lawmakers with reputations as deal-makers.

Sit down with these Republicans and some equally responsible Democrats (Ron Wyden of Oregon, Dick Durbin of Illinois and maybe even the newly re-elected Claire McCaskill who would be particularly apt to burnish independent credentials after surviving re-election in red state Missouri).

A deal created by these heavy hitters could get 65 or 70 votes if the package is deemed serious and — thanks to our business leaders’ professions — necessary to avert another recession. It should involve tax increases on the wealthy, cuts to entitlement programs and domestic spending for the middle class and the poor and a reduction in military spending. It ensures Americans of every stripe have some skin in the game and the burden is shared between the wealthiest and the rest of us with a measure of equanimity. 

A deal like that coming out of the Senate would box in House Republicans who have been the naysayers all along. It might fail the House the first time around, but there are enough Democrats in the minority that the number of Republican pick-off votes should be attainable, especially if Speaker John Boehner realizes his majority is at stake if his caucus is viewed by a majority of Americans as trying to shove us over the cliff rather than helping us take a step back.

There will be inevitable showmanship and public barbs — it’s Washington, after all — but the wrangling over the details can be hashed out if both sides really commit to working together. 

Boehner himself said of Obama, “Republicans are ready to be led.” If the president went forward with a plan like this it would be real leadership — and it would be up to Republicans to remain true to their word.

 

 

 

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.