In Search of Bipartisanship in the New Congress
The American voters sent a message in the most recent midterm elections – that they are fed up with the conduct of the government and its endless, destructive bickering. Voters want Congress to find a way to work together and get things done that matter to ordinary people – like creating jobs, fixing what’s broken, saving money and getting the country moving again.
This is not too much to ask; in fact, it should be a bare minimum. Here are a few areas where we can get started:
First, let’s fix what’s broken. America should begin repairing, replacing and modernizing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Flying into LAX from any number of world-class airports around the globe is an embarrassment. And it doesn’t get much better when you leave the terminal – from Westchester to Los Feliz, L.A. to New York and just about everywhere in between, our roads, bridges, airports and busways are in a bad state of disrepair.
When we first began building our nation’s interstate and highway system in the 1950s – at the time the envy of the world – we set up the Highway Trust Fund, which was financed through the gas tax. But the fund is now on the verge of insolvency because of declining oil prices and a benchmark that has not been raised to cover the cost of inflation since the mid-1990s.
According to former U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, a Republican lawmaker before he joined the Obama Administration, there are 70,000 roads and bridges that need to be repaired. And while the 2009 stimulus bill injected some much-needed one-time infrastructure spending, it didn’t even scratch the surface of improvements we need to make to our roads, bridges, railways and ports. Each year we witness bridges and roads collapse, but do nothing. Democrats and Republicans need to come together to figure out how to fund these essential repairs that will not only meet the needs of the next generation but also create millions of jobs at the same time.
Second, both parties agree on the need to bring manufacturing back to America. We should put our heads together on how to incentivize the on-shoring of these jobs and how to give employers the right tools to build and win in America. The productivity of American workers, lower transportation costs for making goods at home, and greater protections for intellectual property make America fertile ground for manufacturing again. Congress should seize the opportunity to give employers both the speed and certainty they need to site new plants at home.
Third, we can reduce expenditures on prison costs by reforming our criminal justice system to make it smarter, less expensive, and more humane by investing in evidence-based reforms that reduce crime and focus our resources on violent and dangerous offenders. With the explosion in the size of our prison system over the past three decades, a smart reform strategy that focuses on sentencing reform, drug treatment and programs to reduce recidivism can help address this problem and save taxpayer money. A “Smart on Crime” agenda has found support among progressives and conservatives alike, and some of the most conservative states like Texas have led the way in adopting reforms to shrink their prison population while continuing to improve public safety. With support on both sides of the aisle and in the Administration, Congress can follow their lead in passing long overdue reforms.
Finally, we must provide economic certainty by avoiding another government shutdown or fiscal cliff. If there’s one thing that has categorized the past session in Congress, it was brinksmanship. Republicans used the budget process to attack the Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions of Americans access quality healthcare, while Democrats put up messaging bills in the Senate in an effort to score campaign points. And instead of acting on tax reform or long-term fiscal bills, we have kicked the can down the road.
But businesses – both large and small – families, and local governments don’t care about these political parlor games. What people want to know is that Congress is going to act responsibly – a surprisingly tall order as of late – and not put their life savings, their jobs and economic activity at risk.
While these issues might seem like low-hanging fruit, this Congress – which is setting records for being the most unproductive in history – needs to look for areas we can make progress. These few would be a good start.