Last week more than eighty corporate CEOs signed and published a manifesto, agreeing that our nation needs both spending cuts and revenue increases to move forward. It was a simple, clear statement, meant to advise Congress and our soon to be elected President that it is time to break the stalemate. Here is the text that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2012, reprinted for convenience:
“Policy makers should acknowledge that our growing debt is a serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States.
It is urgent and essential that we put in place a plan to fix America’s debt. An effective plan must stabilize the debt as a share of the economy, and put it on a downward path.
This plan should be enacted now, but implemented gradually to protect the fragile economic recovery and to give Americans time to prepare for the changes in the federal budget.
In order to develop a fiscal plan that can succeed both financially and politically, it must be bipartisan and reforms to all areas of the budget should be included.
The plan should:
Reform Medicare and Medicaid, improve efficiency in the overall health care system and limit future cost growth;
Strengthen Social Security, so that it is solvent and will be there for future beneficiaries; and
Include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit.
The recommendations of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, which saved $4 trillion and addressed all parts of the budget, provide an effective framework for such a plan.
The plan should be conducive to long-term economic growth, protect the vulnerable, include credible enforcement mechanisms to ensure that debt reduction is achieved and leave the next generation better.”
Strangely the formation of this consensus among competitors from a sample of highly influential business leaders on multiple sides of the political divide did not receive more attention. No, it’s not a perfect proclamation or unusually eloquent, but it could be a spark to ignite meaningful pressure on those in our government who need it most.
Perhaps there is too much noise out there to hear the unified voice of corporate direction demanding an end to party stalemate. Agree or disagree with the particulars, but it is time for the entire population to embrace the same demand. No action by Congress is not a reasonable response to the Fiscal Cliff we face together. No deal in Congress means all Bush-era tax relief will be eliminated at the end of 2012, while across the board federal budget cuts will be mechanically enacted in virtually all areas of non-entitlement or interest expense as a result of sequestration in our failure to address the debt ceiling. Both parties agreed late last year to sequestration in the event that well-considered budget policy could not be deployed on a line by line basis, with expected care and diligence applied to the hard decisions that have to be made rather than whacking the morass with a machete. You would think dedicated, elected officials would have long ago embraced the gravitas of their charge. Sadly, the time for surgical precision is quickly running out.
Any common ground has to agree that the Fiscal Cliff is not worth any ideological mandate. The nation cannot afford a repeat of last fall’s debt ceiling fiasco, which in my opinion was one of the worst failures of democracy and representative government in a generation. We need to get back to business.
As I have written before with respect to innovation, building a consensus is not the same as caving to compromise. There is cop-out compromise and there is collaborative compromise. Cop-out compromise means walking away from one’s core values, abandoning that which is fundamental to being constructive, the undermining of sound judgment. Collaborative compromise arises from acknowledgment of the real prize — progress that likely cannot include every single designated component serving an agenda. Collaborative compromise is guided by consensus, a combining of good ideas around an agreed set of goals articulated and guided by sound leadership. The eighty-plus CEOs who delivered their move-ahead manifesto understand how to build a consensus because they have to do it everyday to hold teams together, get stuff done, and create economic value.
When compromise means abandoning one’s truest values to survive then I agree that is not a good definition to support, but I don’t see that in our economic dialogue in Washington. If compromise means reasonable give and take to support a well-advised consensus as illustrated in the CEO Manifesto, then it is time for our government to compromise. More than time. It is the essence of representative democracy. It is what they were elected and hired to do.
We must get back to business. People need to work. Government services have to be provided so we don’t bump into each other. Taxes need to be fair and they need to be paid. Credit markets need to flow. The economy needs to function. All of this underlies the free markets we cherish.
No candidate should ever take your vote for granted, you award it as your precious right. Reasonable action by Congress is overdue. Contact your representatives now. Tell them that walking us over they Fiscal Cliff will cost them their authority. Sequestration means they didn’t do their jobs. Demand leadership, demand shared vision. We need to overcome the impasse immediately following the Presidential Election.
Let’s get on with it. Back to business.