A lot of history will be made in this lame-duck session of Congress. We are the history-makers. Campaigns are over; it’s time to act.
Urgency: Every day that we wait to craft a 10-year deficit reduction plan costs America an additional $11 billion. That’s right, every week of delay results in a fiscal gap that is $77 billion larger. Waiting until January makes our problems $660 billion worse. Our annual deficits don’t tell the whole story; the fiscal gap is much larger.
Lame Duck Must Fly: The faster we act, the easier our fiscal problems are to solve. Waiting until January — the next session of Congress — will only make our jobs more difficult and our chance of success lower.
Think Big: Our entitlement programs need reform, just like our tax code. These are huge issues that Congress is not used to dealing with. As a great architect once wrote: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical [plan] will never die.”
Put America First: Don’t make any pledges other than the oath of office. If you have already pledged, realize that America is facing an economic emergency that voids other pledges. The Congressional Budget Office has already said that gridlock means another recession. We don’t need higher unemployment or another downgrade of our Treasury bonds. Voters will never forgive us if we keep bickering. Our retiring and defeated colleagues are obviously free to put their country first. But all of us should know that the best way to help our voters back home is to strengthen America. We must all show courage.
We Are the Leaders: Understand your power as a backbencher. You elect your party leaders in Congress, and they are afraid of you. When you duck, they duck. Cut them some slack. Give them a chance to negotiate. Give them the leeway to cut deals that we, individually, might not like. If your leaders are not willing to lead, get new leaders. The time for small-ball, tactical politics is finished.
Campaigns Are Over: Delete your talking points. Stop thinking in sound bites. Putting America back on track will be much more popular with voters two years from now than any grandstanding is today. It is hard to get out of the campaign mindset, especially when we House members run permanent campaigns. But you will never be further from the next election than you are today, and voters want results.
Time to Govern: How do you start cooperating? It is hard to respect colleagues in the other party whom we have spent so much time and money bashing, but now we must. Voters are demanding that we work together. You don’t have to like your colleagues to negotiate with them. You do have to realize that we are all in the same boat, and that our boat is taking on water — and that millions of Americans think that Congress is the problem.
Compromise Is Not a Dirty Word: Compromise is not surrender. Finding an acceptable, principled answer to our national problems is our job description. Playing the blame game is not.
Elected to Congress, Not Parliament: Members of Congress vote with their political party 80 percent of the time. Members of Parliament vote with their party 95-plus percent of the time. During the past decade or two, more and more members have been voting the party line too much. When you do that, you don’t need a brain; you need a leash.
The final days of the 112th Congress must deal with the economic emergency that we face. A balanced, bipartisan, 10-year deficit reduction plan must pass Congress, not just the House or Senate, very soon in order to save America.
If not now, when? If not us, who?
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., is a member of the Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees.