February 23, 2013

As we approach the sequester, I re-visit a thought piece I wrote almost six months ago expressing the hope that following the election our two parties and the Administration would come together to hammer out and agree on a sustaining plan to address the nation's challenges and opportunities. 

Sadly, it is not happening. This nation deserves and needs better. It appears that we need more pain before we take the medicine we know we need. 

I believe our leaders, starting at the top, need to sequester themselves, non-stop, to hammer out a plan and make it happen. "Easy to say, hard to do".  "We have already tried".  We will hear all of this. And more. Still, that is what has to happen. 

“Needed:  A Made For Adult, Comprehensive Plan To Address Our Nation’s Challenges and Opportunities”
With the candidates in the upcoming Presidential election in place, the polarized debate and too-often hyperbolic and sound bite attacks surround us non-stop. 
I don’t mean to minimize the differences that exist between the Democrats and the Republicans.  But I am certain, as I believe most Americans are, that the debate we will hear will not be what will take the nation to the plans and solutions needed to address our opportunities and challenges.  No matter who wins, we will desperately need such a plan following this year’s election.
The challenges are easy to identify:
  • The deficit has to be brought under control in a manner that respects fiscal discipline yet invests appropriately for our future.  In that regard, virtually every respected economist agrees we will need to both increase revenue and significantly reduce costs.  Doing the latter will require reining in the cost of health care.  We have to deal with Social Security, recognizing the increasing average age of the population.  These are economic realities; and they cannot be swept under the rug or dealt with in sound bites which, at best, are partial solutions.  Nothing can be held sacrosanct from this, including the Defense budget.  I have never seen a budget that can’t be made more efficient, but it takes hard work and tough choices.
  • We need more jobs. And to that end, we must decisively address the inadequate educational preparedness of our children, starting with early childhood, particularly among families of lesser means. 
  • Our taxation system is absurdly complicated, filled with loopholes and a corporate rate that is uncompetitive compared to the rest of the world
In order to achieve the plan we need, we must abandon the either/or mentality when it comes to the role of the private sector and government.  As it always has, the private sector must drive growth in this country -- job growth, economic growth and innovation.  But it never has, nor will it ever be able to do this, without the wise, targeted support of government investment.  Remember -- without government investment, we would never have had the highways in this country, the railroads, or the development of the internet.  We would not have had the G.I. Bill of Rights, Pell Grants, or Land Grant Colleges, or much else that has underpinned the educational development of our citizens.  We won’t get anywhere by denying this, nor if we fail to approach government investment with great care to see where it will leverage the long-term improvements our nation most needs. 
Our nation has had great tensions between its political parties throughout our history.  If not always healthy, they have been inevitable.  We forget the vitriolic debates that occurred between Jefferson and Hamilton, Lincoln and Douglass, and FDR and the Republican Party.  But in times of crisis, we have come together, particularly at times of war or threats of war, like 9/11.  The fact is we have battles today which, in terms of their impact on our country’s future, are almost comparable to war:  battles to control our deficit; to provide education that addresses the needs of all our children; and to secure affordable energy without propping up unfriendly regimes.
We have to come together after the upcoming election to fight these battles.  We have done it before.  Few presidents have spawned more animosity during much of their tenure than FDR.  Yet, in 1940, with the United States’ involvement in World War II at hand, we came together.  Not without great debate, even as Germany was running rampant over Europe (the reauthorization of Selective Service passed by only one vote).  But we did it. 
How?  Key leaders on both sides of the aisle realized we had to come together or we risked the nation’s very existence.  President Roosevelt asked two Republican leaders, Henry Stimson, Hoover’s former Secretary of State and Frank Knox, who had run as the vice-presidential candidate against Roosevelt in 1936, to join his Cabinet, as Secretaries of War and the Navy.  Some Republicans bristled at Stimson’s and Knox’s agreeing to do that.  But they did it, and it was a good thing they did because it enabled our nation to prepare for war with a speed hardly imaginable. 
I hope that even before the election is settled, the leaders of both parties will be mentally preparing to join together after the election, to deliver a “made for adult” program which comprehensively addresses the critical issues in front of our nation today.  They cannot be put off.  We cannot keep kicking the can down the road.    
I am confident that presented well and honestly, most Americans will rally behind such a program, recognizing that at this critical juncture of our history it is what our future demands.
                                                                        John E. Pepper

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