Our leaders -- and our nation -- are in a precarious position.
Post-election 2012, Democrats and Republicans are claiming competing mandates and political capital. President Obama is emboldened to raise taxes on the wealthy in an attempt to avoid the fiscal cliff. Former Tea Party freshmen who are now more influential Tea Party sophomores -- and their Republican colleagues -- challenge the president to propose solutions that "actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House." Partisan obstinacy indicates that progress on any major issues will be challenging for at least the next two years.
This is unacceptable. The narrowness of President Obama's reelection and the near split down the aisle in Congress reflect not a mandate but our nation's nearly 50-50 partisan divide. What our leaders need to focus on is what Americans truly voted for: bipartisan action to make democracy work. The surest path to losing the next election is to claim a nonexistent mandate from the most recent one.
As I wrote on Nov. 5, "It is essential that all of our elected leaders move beyond the finger-pointing and the name-calling to demonstrate the leadership our nation so desperately craves to bridge the divide." Holding to the party line on issues where there is a partisan divide will get us nowhere. Indeed, a hold-the-line message is a vote for
- no deal,
- continued uncertainty, and
- a depressed economy.
Identifying a win-win approach preserves our nation's legacy and those of our leaders, too.
Any deal on the fiscal cliff that can attract the support of both the president and the House will include components that each side will not like. But as President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." Indeed, the worst thing for all Americans is no action addressing our fiscal imbalances. Our leaders do not need calls from constituents who urge them to hold to their party lines. What our nation desperately needs is those who press leaders to find a path to the win-win.
Pressing leaders not to bend is certainly understandable, but it is counterproductive for our nation, our Main Street neighbors, and our children who will inherit our decisions. Without a doubt, the segment of society with the most at stake is young people -- they will be the ones left holding the bag and paying for the debts resulting from today's deficits. It is time for young people to actively engage with one voice, urging leaders to make a deal that positions us on the path to fiscal balance. Without such a deal, America will drift toward the long struggle with unsustainable debt that engulfs Europe. With a deal, a new era of hope will dawn in America.
There are many things about America that make this country great. Our ongoing edge in innovation, our recent energy boom that gives us real hope of energy independence, and our position as the only industrialized country with a growing population give us great hope for a bright future. But all is for naught if our leaders do not act.
It's time to make a deal.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).