If I learned one thing over the past five weeks on our campaign bus, it is this: Voters are tired of Washington gridlock and they want elected officials to start earning their pay.
We held 34 events, ranging from midsize groups to rallies with more than 500 people. My friends at Rebellious Truths documented the journey, along with interviews with young people we met along the way. The video they created, "Debate This," is completely unique -- it captures voter sentiment in real-time. It is not propaganda for any party or platform. It is, instead, a conversation with young people from diverse political and ideological backgrounds.
These young people, and the other voters we met during the $10 Million a Minute Tour, say they want spending cuts. They are also prepared to pay more taxes and accept changes to social insurance programs as part of a "grand bargain" to avoid the fiscal cliff. They are worried about the current employment and housing markets, and they asked about spiraling health care costs and college tuition. In particular, college students from across America are very concerned about their job opportunities after graduation and paying off their escalating student loans. They all hoped to see these and other important issues frankly discussed in a meaningful way in the presidential debates.
And then they watched the first two debates, hoping for answers. But instead they got too many slogans and not enough substance from both sides. The campaigns are so caught up in messaging that they aren't seeing that this moment requires real leadership and specific solutions, not spin and mud-slinging.
The candidates have another opportunity tomorrow night. Here are five ways they can demonstrate they are prepared to lead us toward restoring fiscal sanity:
1. Name three things they would do to reduce the deficit that would upset people in their own party.
2. Rescind and reject any special interest pledges. Politicians who sign such pledges to score political points with the base of their party virtually guarantee that reasoned and reasonable compromise will not be possible.
3. Describe how they would gain control of the nation's health care costs. We have over-promised the treatments, tests and outcomes that we can provide. Yet at the same time, the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation that does not have a budget for government-funded health care.
4. Offer a tax reform plan that closes loopholes and generates additional revenue without further squeezing the middle class or increasing the poverty rate. In doing so, give at least three examples of loopholes you would limit or eliminate.
We found overwhelming support for these five reforms. During 34 events, in 16 states and D.C., thousands of American voters said they are prepared to support serious reforms to avoid a debt crisis. Voters, young and old, want more specific solutions from the candidates and less political pandering. They are hungry for truth and leadership and will accept no less. Let us hope that tomorrow, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will show real leadership on these and other issues of importance to our nation.