With the national debt talks entering the home stretch, my advice to President Obama is to ask the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kaine and Lee Hamilton, a Republican and a Democrat respectively, to serve as envoys between the various political factions (because there are more than two). There is far too much political posturing going on at the expense of serious dialogue. Kaine and Hamilton have a proven track record of effective, non-partisan, responsible leadership that the country so desperately needs. Again.
I had the tremendous privilege to serve on the 9/11 Commission as a member of the team investigating how terrorists move around the world and how they penetrate U.S. borders (with ease). I have often said that beyond the failure of the government to implement many of our recommendations, my greatest disappointment has been the failure to replicate the way we did business across government.
Specifically, Kaine and Hamilton's message to the staff was, Regardless of your personal political beliefs, the one thing we all have in common is that we are all Americans. Our task is to uncover the facts. And once we know the facts, the recommendations will become obvious.
That's exactly what happened. We got our facts straight and the recommendations became self-evident.
For example, when it came time for my team to submit our recommendations to the commissioners, we huddled around my desk (I was the fastest typist). One after another, colleagues shouted out suggested recommendations: One Stop, One Stamp. Yes! Termination of multiple-year, multiple-entry visas. Yes! National identity cards. Yes! And so it went for 19 (single-spaced) pages. Complete agreement on a wide-ranging list of critical recommendations by a group of individuals with divergent political beliefs. It was possible only because the men at the top led by example, putting country above all else. Where it belongs.
Rarely, it seems, does Congress operate in the same fashion. Indeed, it seems that our public discourse has degenerated into an ideological slugfest. Which might be fun to watch if it was a school play. In reality, it does nothing for our great country except diminish it.
And so it goes with the deficit-reduction talks. Most of the debate in Washington, D.C. is centered on ideology, rather than the facts of our fiscal crisis. Indeed, a faction of the Congressional Republican caucus led by Eric Cantor (R-VA) refuses to discuss any deal that raises a penny of additional revenue. Some, including presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), refuse to vote for any measure that raises the debt ceiling at all, which would mean default on national debt obligations and certain economic calamity.
Never mind that many of these same people are responsible for creating the $14.3 trillion national debt in the first place. Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power of the purse. It is beyond unacceptable that they would jeopardize the economic plight of an entire nation because they have failed to act responsibly in the past -- by spending more money than we have -- while continuing to play politics with our jobs, homes, health care and retirement.
If the parties fail to reach an agreement, every single member of Congress should resign immediately or be recalled. It happens all the time in parliamentary systems. We can simply elect a new Congress in the fall. This one has done virtually no work anyway (read No Work, All Play). Their failure to reach a deal on the debt will only be the latest example of their inability or unwillingness to perform the tasks for which they were elected.
We need a deficit deal that not only makes fiscal sense, but that is in accordance with our common American values of responsibility, entrepreneurship, equal opportunity and fairness. In order to do that, we have to engage in serious, fact-based discussion and elevate our country's needs above partisan interests or personal political gain.
Kaine and Hamilton know how to do that. It's time for everyone else to sit up and take notes.