Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, are the authors of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which comes out as an expanded paperback Tuesday.
A little more than a year ago, we published a book about American politics — and particularly Congress — titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” In our book and in these pages, we lamented the ideological divides in Washington, which had become almost tribal in nature, and the skewed nature of political polarization, emphasizing a Republican Party gone off the rails.
Unfortunately, little has happened in the time since to lift our spirits. But we can always fantasize, right? For a moment, we want to rise above the pessimism about politics that permeates the capital and the nation and imagine a best-case scenario for what might happen when Congress returns from its August recess.
(AP) - Clockwise, from top left: Republican Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Tom Cole (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) have spoken out against shutting down the government over Obamacare.
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The challenges are daunting: economic growth too slow to counter high unemployment and stagnant wages, inadequate investment in job training and infrastructure that could boost prospects for the working and middle classes, and long-term fiscal imbalances flowing from an aging society and rising health-care costs.
And then there are the self-inflicted wounds: A federal sequester that is wreaking havoc on public goods such as scientific research, the administration of justice and preschool education. An inability to agree on spending targets for the budget year beginning in a month, threatening a government shutdown at worst and underfunded “continuing resolutions” at best. And more debt-ceiling brinkmanship that destabilizes the U.S. and global economy.
Our fantasy begins with the handful of Republican lawmakers who are speaking openly about the folly of pursuing blackmail. Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) won the bluntness award when he labeled his colleagues’ proposal to shut down the government unless Obamacare funding is eliminated as “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” Other Republicans in the Senate, including John McCain of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, have begun to chafe under the strictures of their party and have been joined by respected House Republicans such as Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
Now imagine if some influential outsiders joined them. What if the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbied lawmakers to stop their threats and pushed them toward an agenda for economic growth? What if the resources and energy of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, an elite business group spearheaded by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, were dedicated to mobilizing public opinion behind a platform of “First do no harm: No sequester, no government shutdown, no debt-ceiling hostage-taking”? That could do more than years of ineffectual calls for bipartisan grand compromises and tax reform.
The legislative action would start in the Senate, where a bipartisan group would craft an omnibus package to fund the government and replace the sequester — all nine remaining years of it — with reasonable caps on defense and domestic discretionary spending. The rest of the budget savings from the sequester would instead come from modest, means-tested changes in Medicare and Social Security benefits, expansion and strengthening of some of the cost-control measures in the Affordable Care Act, and tax increases and fees to finance the costs of our aging society.