The presidential campaign has been long on conflict and short on serious policy proposals. But a candidate who got behind a thoughtful, bipartisan policy agenda could get a lot done in the White House.
In just six months America will elect a new President, and our nation isn’t even close to having a debate that meets the gravity of this moment. Of the many serious questions going unanswered by our candidates, the most important one is, How?
How would you, as President, bring our country together around a common vision for where we need to go and how we get there?
Without a good answer to this question—and we have yet to hear one—candidates are selling little more than a fantasy, a wish list of things they would do if they were king or queen for a day. But America doesn’t do monarchy, and we can’t afford any more wishful thinking. What we need from our aspiring political leaders is recognition of two stark realities.
The first is that neither party is likely to have enough power to get everything it wants anytime soon. For the foreseeable future, Democrats and Republicans in Washington will have to find a way to work together.
If they don’t, they and the country will fail together, because the second reality is that America is running out of time. For the past few years we have benefited from an unearned dividend. Global investors poured money into our currency and companies, not because the U.S. looked so great, but because the rest of the world looked so bad. This won’t last forever. America’s problems—ranging from growing debt to incomprehensible tax and regulatory systems—are deadly serious.
Though America navigated the post-2008 global financial crisis era better than many nations, our stagnant employment market is a sign of our enduring problems. There are still millions of people who are out of work, working part-time when they’d rather be full-time, taking low-paying jobs for which they’re overqualified, or giving up looking for work altogether.
At the root of our problems is the refusal of our political leaders to seek common ground. Our next President’s most important task is to bridge this divide, with a real plan to bring the parties and the nation together.
No Labels—the growing movement of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that we lead—has such a plan. On April 21 we released the No Labels Policy Playbook for America’s Next President, an ambitious blueprint for bipartisan problem solving.
Over the past two years No Labels has developed an agenda that represents both good politics and good policy. Through nationwide polling and workshops with policy experts from across the political spectrum, we sought to identify America’s most pressing challenges and develop policies that make sense, that our country can afford, and that the American people can support.
The result is a playbook of 60 concrete ideas designed to progress toward the four goals of our National Strategic Agenda. We aim to create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years, secure Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years, balance the federal budget by 2030, and make America energy-secure by 2024. The vast majority of ideas in the playbook—covering areas including taxes, the federal budget, entitlements, infrastructure, immigration, energy, regulation, and education—garnered between 60% and 80% support in our polls.
Few of America’s problems are simple, so we attacked them from multiple angles. Take, for example, America’s startup crisis. Entrepreneurship is America’s economic engine, with startup companies responsible for nearly all net job growth. But for the first time in modern history, more startups are dying than being born.
So we tried to figure out why. We found that small businesses are hit particularly hard by regulatory compliance, with regulations costing them over $10,000 per employee, 36% higher than the cost to larger businesses. We learned that most small businesses spend 40 hours or more annually preparing their federal taxes. And we found that access to capital remains a huge challenge, especially for minority-owned businesses, which have loan denial rates three times as high as those of non-minority-owned firms.
In our playbook, we offer real, workable solutions. We propose a sunset and reconsideration of all federal regulations after 15 years and the creation of a regulatory “road map” that enables entrepreneurs to view in one place all the federal, state, and local regulations that may affect their business. We recommend a radical simplification of both the corporate and individual tax codes. We also suggest reimagining the Community Reinvestment Act—which provides incentives for banks to lend to people in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods—to allow more funding to be funneled to startups.
Of course, just because a policy agenda polls well doesn’t mean that the toughest fights—about how much or whom to tax or about the proper role of government—will suddenly be resolved. But our research shows that America is not as hopelessly divided as cynics and ideologues might have us believe. In fact, there are many credible ideas that address voters’ most significant concerns and appeal to a broad swath of Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
The ideas in our playbook are designed to jump-start a long-overdue debate on the issues that really matter. It’s on us, the American people, to demand that debate. No Labels will do its part, growing our million-plus-member citizen army and empowering a “problem-solver caucus” in Congress that now numbers almost 80 members.
We have no doubt about America’s ability to thrive in the 21st century. Americans are just as entrepreneurial, hardworking, and resourceful as we’ve always been. We can outcompete and outwork our global competitors every day of the week.
The problem is a government that can’t seem to get to yes on even the simplest issues. And make no mistake: Washington’s dysfunction is directly harming the health, wealth, and well-being of American families.
It is time for America’s leaders to fix, not fight. We hope Fortune’s readers will join this effort to usher in a new politics of problem solving.
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