October 1, 2012

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Moment of Truth

The 2012 Elections are Finally Here

Natalie Gochnour

October 1, 2012

The moment of truth is here. On Nov. 6 Americans will elect a president, vice president and 468 members of Congress. For many, it will be the election of a lifetime as we choose how to eliminate chronic unemployment, national malaise and a trillion dollar deficit. It’s our chance, indeed our duty, to vote for a better future. As we do so, I offer a post-partisan and admittedly imperfect, five-step plan for the new Congress and president that I hope will inform your vote and your public advocacy in the weeks ahead.

Step 1: Unify
Once the votes are counted it’s time to unite as Americans. Our ideologies guide us, but our patriotism defines us. The new president’s first call should be to leaders of the opposing party to invite collaboration. The tone should be one of game-changing humility and of sharing power with the minority party. This election is about a strong America, not a strong political party. Our greatest vulnerability in the world is the toxic environment in Washington, and it’s the president’s job to change that. In turn, the opposing party should recognize the other side won and commit to be supportive partners. Call it unrealistic. Call it drinking the Kool-Aid. But also call it American. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get the job done regardless of party affiliation.

Step 2: Fix the Budget
The budget is a short fuse and burning fast. The president and Congress will have 56 days to address the fiscal cliff. The first move should be to send a positive signal to the rating agencies and Wall Street by raising the debt limit without fanfare. Playing politics with the limit aggravates our problems and lowers our credit rating along the way.

Next, we should make the Bush tax cuts permanent, but close loopholes like mortgage interest deductions for second homes and other loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans. We can get a triple play here by simplifying the tax code, broadening the base and lowering the rates.

Congress should also pass a long-term fiscal plan in the first three months of the new Congress. Discretionary spending should be set at pre-recessionary levels. Future spending growth should be capped to half the projected inflation rate through 2020. I also support reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition.

Step 3: Refine Obamacare
I know the mantra has been “repeal and replace” for some and “thank God we finally have universal coverage” for others. The correct path is somewhere in between. Let’s keep the good parts of the law—like market-based health insurance exchanges and coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. And let’s drop the bad parts—like the medical device tax and overriding state authority to regulate insurance.

Step 4: Reform Immigration
Like so many of our challenges, Congress nibbles at the edges without addressing the root cause, which is hourly and high-skilled labor shortages (yes it is possible to have a labor shortage at a time of high unemployment). I suggest three fairly simple solutions: continue to invest in border control, reform our visa system so that the best and the brightest can come and stay here, and pass the DREAM Act. Law-abiding people who were brought here as children deserve to participate in the American dream.

Step 5: Improve the Public Square
In a 2011 address to the nation President Obama said, “The American people may have voted for divided government but they didn’t vote for dysfunctional government.” I agree. Something has to give and it’s time to take purposeful steps to improve the public square. Let’s fix super PACS so we never have to endure an election like this again. Let’s make incivility a shameful thing. And let’s have a healthy public debate about the problems caused by the filibuster and poor voter turnout.

This is a specific agenda that would be hard to pass, but even harder to pass up. If Congress took these steps in the next year the stock market would rally. Consumer confidence would climb. Consumer spending would increase. Businesses would start hiring and investing again. The fog of uncertainty would lift. America would get back to being America again.

A prominent business leader told me, “We don’t need Congress to pass an A plan. We don’t even need to have a B plan. We just need a plan. What we can’t have is continued uncertainty and risk.”

This is a historic election. Get out and vote and then demand action. This is our government’s moment of truth. 

Natalie Gochnour is the chief economist at the Salt Lake Chamber

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