There is no way to miss the point of yesterday’s midterm elections. The American people are deeply frustrated with how they are being governed. The political debate is at an all-time partisan low and the public over the last three election cycles are calling for something, almost anything, to change that. They want to see progress on the economy, on job creation, on taxes, and on the federal budget deficit. No matter how voters cast their ballots these are the issues that voters want their representatives in Congress to address. Now.
This overarching voter mandate to “fix it” delivers with it a set of responsibilities to the incoming Republican leadership of the House of Representatives and their strengthened minority counterparts in the Senate as well as to Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Barack Obama and his administration. For the Republicans this means they need to become partners in governing our nation. They can no longer be the “party of no” after yesterday’s vote. Republican leaders must craft serious legislative proposals to match the serious problems our country faces today and in the future.
For their part, Democratic leaders in the Senate and the Obama administration must be prepared to work with Republicans in search of meaningful compromises. Economists from the right, left, and center may agree that the Obama administration and a Democratic-led Congress rescued our economy from a second Great Depression but the voters made clear that is yesterday’s news in their eyes. Now they want Republicans and Democrats together to get our economy moving smartly toward sustained recovery and a job-creating expansion.
To reach the compromises that must be made, our president and commander-in-chief will need to be open to new ideas. But he also will have to set some clear bright lines beyond which political debate cannot stray. This may ring counter to the call to compromise but leadership in a divided government requires not only openness to the means of moving the country forward but also clarity of principle and purpose. With his Executive Branch powers, his Democratic colleagues in the Senate and the House, and his veto pen, President Obama will still set the policy direction of our country. We at the Center for American Progress Action Fund believe there are three bright lines to be drawn.
First, the immediate debate to come this month and next over tax policy must be guided by twin goals: Reform must produce strong growth and put the country on the path to fiscal discipline; and reform must be fair for the majority of Americans and their families. Meaningful tax reform must meet both tests. President Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy failed both.
Second, the debate about our long-term federal budget deficits simply cannot include the privatization of Social Security. Yesterday’s elections in no way constitute a mandate to gut this bedrock intergenerational American commitment to the common good. The goal of reform must be to strengthen and secure Social Security, not privatize it.
Finally, the president and Democrats must stand firm against the Republican pledge to repeal their singular achievement of the past two years—providing quality, affordable health care to every American. Implementation must proceed not just for the fiscal gains to be had over the next several decades but also for the critical health and social benefits it will deliver to the vast majority of Americans as different aspects of the law come into force. The new law deserves the time needed to make it work.
No doubt the emerging leaders of the Republican Party will have their own bright lines to present to the Obama administration and their colleagues across the aisle in Congress. But they should understand that with their new majority in the House comes responsibility to determine those bright lines in such a way that enables our government in Washington to get on with what the voters made clear they want to see happen. The voters want to grow our economy, create jobs, and bring our fiscal house in order. That means looking after the future of our country, not trying to tear down the president.
I’m optimistic this will happen because I know the American people want it to—and are clearly prepared to cast their votes to make Washington listen.
John D. Podesta is Chairman of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.