Make the Presidency Work!
By Jonathan Miller
President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are certainly making plenty of them.
Recent experience, however, suggests they will have a hard time keeping many of their promises.
It's not because either is intentionally lying (all the time); but rather, it's because gridlock, obstructionism and hyper-partisanship have become the rule in Washington.
Chances are very good that whoever sits in the Oval Office for the next four years will have to deal with a Congress that is closely divided between the two parties. One party may control the House and the other the Senate. And, even if one party were to have a majority in both bodies, progress will be confined by Senate rules that make it almost impossible to pass anything unless 60 of its 100 members agree.
Historically, divided government can work. President Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican, and House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a liberal Democrat, famously joined forces in the 1980s to shore up Social Security and pass comprehensive tax reform.
More than 50 years ago, President Eisenhower won support from a Democratic Congress to build the Interstate Highway System.
The Civil Rights laws of the 1960s passed only because a significant number of Republicans joined with Democrats in a common front against discrimination.
The common thread in every instance: Presidents and legislators who crossed party lines to put their country first.
In recent years, unfortunately, hyper-partisanship and political point-scoring have emerged as dominant themes. Over the last two decades, no matter which party held the White House, the opposition's consistent, knee-jerk response was to "just say no" to almost anything the president proposed.
To be fair, some of the resistance reflected honest differences in policy. And, also to be fair, presidents also have often failed to reach out meaningfully to the other side.
But too often, the legislative paralysis has been simply a function of politics.
With a fiscal cliff threatening to derail the economy; a record budget deficit that threatens long-term prosperity; health care costs rising with no end in sight; challenges of immigration, energy, and global warming continuing to mount and fester; and an ever-present concern about potential terrorism on the homeland; it's high time to change the environment in Washington so that the president and Congress we choose on November 6 can work together to solve problems.
No Labels, a grassroots movement of more than half a million Republicans, Democrats and independents, has introduced a set of proposals that would make it easier to get things done in Washington. Our Make the Presidency Work! action plan consists of 11 common-sense proposals that would help break the gridlock, by changing outdated rules and traditions that get in the way. These include:
- Regular News Conferences for the President
- Fast-track legislation authority for the president
- Make the parties pay for presidential fundraising
- A line-item veto with a twist
- Reduce the Number of Appointees Subject to Senate Confirmation
- Identify a "Slate that Can't Wait" of Critical Nominees for Expedited Confirmation
- Up or Down Vote on Presidential Appointments
- Question Time for the President
- Expanded Presidential Power to Reorganize
- Different opinions but the same facts
- Regular meetings between the president and congressional leadership
Click here to read the full text of these comprehensive policy proposals.
You will notice that a central theme of our plan is communication. It's been reported that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner haven't spoken about the impending fiscal cliff since July. How can we solve this country's biggest problems if our leaders don't even talk about them? The No Labels plan requires regular meetings between the president and Congress, and would even have the president take questions from members of Congress in a public forum.
The plan also would eliminate congressional roadblocks to effective government by requiring up or down votes on presidential nominees within 90 days, instead of the 10 months it typically takes the Senate to act today. It's hard to govern when key positions are left vacant, and it's hard to attract good people for critical jobs if hyper-partisan games lock them out of their new office.
Of course, Make the Presidency Work won't enact itself. The only way to turn these ideas into a reality is to mobilize sufficient popular support — to demand to our elected representatives that they pass meaningful reform to change the way they do business in Washington. All citizens who want to see a working America should sign on to our Make the Presidency Work! action plan to tell our leaders to stop fighting and start fixing.
The parties will always remain divided by principles and will have different ideas on policy. That's the nature of a healthy two-party system.
But history shows that when leaders talk to one another and put the country ahead of partisan gain, they can move beyond the differences so that the country's most significant problems get fixed. Updating rules and procedures to clear away barriers, along with an attitude change away from obstruction, can help the President deliver on more of his promises.
More importantly, it can help make America work again.