Third Way Perspectives
October 3rd, 2012
This piece was originally posted on the Huffington Post.
Paul Krugman is one of America’s intellectual treasures, but he is stunningly off when it comes to the deficit. He argues that if re-elected, Obama should “just say no” to all efforts to seek a major budget deal. In so doing, he belittles Bowles, Simpson and others who warn about a looming and potentially crippling fiscal crisis. He’s not the only deficit denier, but Mr. Krugman is so respected by the left wing of the Democratic Party that his arguments could prove quite problematic.
His recent column opens with perhaps the most dangerous and short-sighted argument, namely that our historically low U.S. treasury rates prove that “we are not facing any kind of fiscal crisis.” But our rates are not at historic lows because of our chronic deficits, rather in spite of them. We are (in the eyes of those seeking to purchase the safest debt possible) the cleanest port-o-potty at the county fair thanks to the awful state of much of the rest of the world’s beleaguered economies. Read the rest of this entry »
July 30th, 2012
This piece was originally posted on The Washington Post.
Dozens of college students murdered in their classrooms; a member of Congress shot at point-blank range; innocents gunned down in a movie theater. Then, in the aftermath of a mass gun crime, the same ritual: national shock and anger, traumatized communities asking how this could happen, followed by … nothing. At least, no progress on gun safety.
In a speech to the Urban League on Wednesday, President Obama called for a conversation on youth violence and more steps to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill. But everyone, including Obama, has been pretty frank about it: No major new gun laws will result. Read the rest of this entry »
January 19th, 2012
This piece originally appeared in Politico.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have 28 years of Capitol Hill experience between them. Yet when these two supercommittee co-chairmen sat down for the panel’s opening meeting, it was the first time they ever met. Is it any wonder that the committee failed?
Third Way last week proposed three modest ideas based on a simple premise: Strangers make terrible legislators. We sent a letter to House and Senate congressional leaders, calling for concrete steps to improve civility, familiarity and discourse between members of opposing — and often warring — political parties. It’s an attempt to find an elixir to the poisonous atmosphere that has made Congress a non-functioning laughingstock.
The first idea is a repeat of a proposal we made last year, on the heels of the senseless shooting of Rep. Gabriel Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the deaths of six of her constituents. We again ask that Congress members sit together rather than in partisan enclaves during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address on Jan. 24.
Why do it again? For one, the spectacle of half the room leaping to its feet while the other sits glumly on its hands is just that – a spectacle. This one day, when the entire nation sits and listens to their president, Congress should appear as one body — not two sides.
This was a success last year. With the help of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), more than 100 years of tradition was broken as members sat together during Obama’s address. There were surprising pairings, like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) kibitzing with the ultra-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Several legislators – including Coburn – began relationships and partnerships with members of the opposing party whom they had routinely ignored.
For the public, the State of the Union became a more civil and adult affair, absent the “you lie” shouts and the whack-a-mole quality, where members popped up and down on cue to register approval or disapproval of the president’s remarks.
Second, we ask for a smack talk ceasefire. For 24 hours leading up to the State of the Union, we ask that members of Congress, the president, candidates, and super-PACs speak only about the merits of their ideas — not the demerits of the opposing party’s ideas.
We’re not saying that parties and politicians shouldn’t disagree. We merely ask that for one day out of 366, this disagreement be voiced solely by making the positive case for one’s own ideas.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on the best ideas. For a day, instead of concentrating on the best attack line – let’s listen to the other side’s case. It may make for fewer fireworks on cable broadcasts, but it will likely ensure a more informed electorate.
Third, we suggest that the House and Senate each reserve one weekend every year where members of Congress and their families spend time together and get to know one another. In 1787, Americans with great regional differences and viewpoints gathered for four months and created a blueprint for the nation. Congress ought to emulate this common love of nation to come together as fellow citizens and form the personal bonds necessary to cooperate with those of other viewpoints.
A retreat won’t make disagreements melt away, but it’s harder to vilify and objectify those you know. Our legislative process could only become better as we learn more, and listen more attentively, to those we have chosen to spar.
The United States faces immense challenges. Our budget deficit is huge. Our economy is sputtering. Our competitors are gaining on us. Our middle class is shrinking. Our entitlements are growing. Our tax code is failing. It is hard to imagine a group of bickering strangers solving America’s most pressing problems.
For the past several decades, the rancor and partisanship in Washington seems to get worse as the need for our government to function better increases. In the meantime, Americans ‘views of Congress hit new lows.
Our modest proposal: Sit together, not apart. Talk to each other, don’t yell. Know each other, don’t be strangers.
Jon Cowan is president and Jim Kessler is senior vice president of Third Way. other, don’t be strangers.