Leaders need to provide solutions to your challenges

Published 11:06 am Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two bills to name post offices. Two bills to name courthouses. A bill to create congressional clerkships. A bill to allow electronic pay stubs for congressional employees. And a study of two rivers in Vermont.

After a five week recess, these bills were on the short list of items the House of Representatives voted on this week. These bills aren’t without value. But with less than three weeks before Congress recesses again before the November elections, they hardly represent the urgency or the agenda to address the challenges facing most Americans.

This week, I began laying out a three-week plan for economic growth and financial stability for our families. My goal is to present solutions in the form of bills that Congress could pass in the next three weeks — bills that are already written and, in some cases, have been for years. If Congress focused the next three weeks on addressing the most critical issues to our economy, we could take real steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, balance the federal budget, and create jobs through tax cuts.

I chuckled, though, that just a day after releasing this idea a columnist at a major newspaper issued a sarcastic missive trivializing the amount of work that Congress could accomplish in three weeks. Sadly, too many of us look at Congress and think, “What’s broken will always be broken.” That’s not the American people’s fault. Government is large, it is slow, and at times it has dramatically failed them.

So, do I really believe that my calls make a difference? Do I think my ideas can be heard in the mammoth sea of 535 powerful leaders charged with America’s collective decision-making? Emphatically, yes. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

In the weeks to come, I will talk about what we can do to tackle energy issues and grow the job market and small businesses. But Congress can start strengthening our economy by getting its house in order first. I believe we could take substantive steps by voting on these three pieces of legislation:

H.R. 2416: — Cut taxes by eliminating waste in the federal government. In 2001, the Senate Committee on Government Affairs found multiple overlapping government programs. Testimony before the Committee found that if we eliminate duplicative or unnecessary programs we would save billions in federal spending and improve the quality of service in federal government programs. The Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies (CARFA) Act would establish a bipartisan commission to review federal programs, and make recommendations to eliminate wasteful spending on duplicative or outdated programs. These changes would maximize the efficiency of taxpayer dollars, and savings could be directly returned to families.

H.R. 3654 — Address entitlement spending. The Concord Coalition, The Brookings Institution, and The Heritage Foundation have all reported in their Fiscal Wake Up Tour that if we do not get entitlement spending under control we will have no choice but to eliminate vital public needs or raise taxes, both of which would have serious implications on our economy. The Securing America’s Future Economy Commission Act (SAFE Act) would establish a commission to investigate entitlement spending, and address long-term problems such as Social Security and Medicare solvency and entitlement reform to serve the neediest Americans.

H.J. RES. 1 — Balance the Federal Budget. The Congressional Budget Office has consistently said that an unbalanced budget causes severe disruptions in the economy. A Balanced Budget Amendment would force Congress to make the decisions necessary to balance the budget and eliminate the federal deficit. The bill requires that Congress not spend more than it receives in revenues, requires the President to submit a balanced budget to Congress, and requires a majority vote to increase the debt limit.

The American people really have two choices this fall. The first and most obvious choice is party. But there is another choice that the American people have, and that is solutions. We need leaders who have the resolve not just to make the right choices when decisions present themselves, but to offer solutions in the face of challenges.

With less than three weeks before Congress recesses again, the American people should be watching closely for solutions from their leaders that address cracks in our economy’s foundation and start our families back on a path to economic stability.

“Laughable!” say some in the media. “Impossible!” say the pessimists. “Unrealistic!” say the Washington insiders. It doesn’t matter what they say; the American people need leaders who use every opportunity — down to the last minute — to meet our challenges. I wish Washington worked this way. And, I’m trying to change it.