Have you ever wondered why, when politicians are campaigning for our votes, they promise to represent the people’s interests? And, then, when they step over the threshold that is Congress, they represent political parties and not the people?
That’s what we see in Congress now, and have seen for years, resulting in a divisive split that has strangled compromise and killed common sense.
This strident allegiance to party and not to the people has also stalled any real hope that Congress can settle on how to fix the national debt.
Enter: Fix the Debt, a bipartisan, private, grassroots, business-supported, multi-state campaign to wake up Congress and jangle a repayment plan.
The campaign is chaired by Maya MacGuineas, who is president of the nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and its members include a range of business, academic, community and political leaders whose motto is “inaction is not an option.”
The campaign, which has raised $40 million to staff coalitions and organize public meetings across the country, is supported by leaders who are, quite simply, scared of the consequences of doing nothing to fix the debt.
Two of those leaders, co-chairing the Maine contingent, are former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and former Republican Senate President Rick Bennett.
These men say that members of the campaign are, collectively, grasping an opportunity to “bring some maturity and leadership to Congress” in the style of Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan.
Baldacci and Bennett, who both say they still bear political scars from their shared battle for Congress in 1994, have come together, they say, to join what they believe is a sincere cause to address the inaction of the United States government. That the Fix the Debt campaign can bring conversation and ideas where there is not and are none in Congress.
They also both say that this campaign will give ordinary people a chance to speak up about why fixing the debt is important to them.
To do that, Fix the Debt will host a series of public meetings over the next several months, including one scheduled at Thomas College in Waterville and additional meetings to be held in Lewiston, Portland and Bangor. The very best ideas and suggestions from these meetings, and similar meetings to be held in other states, will be compiled into some kind of final recommendation to Congress.
Given the expertise that is being poured into the endeavor, our guess is that the final recommendation will be chock-full of good stuff. It will, certainly, follow the prongs of the existing and worthy Simpson-Bowles proposal since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles launched Fix the Debt and organized its financing.
Even if this is a not-so-transparent campaign to gain public support for legislation that has not yet gained traction in Congress, the broad theory of Simpson-Bowles makes sense: Rein in spending, raise revenue and eliminate entitlements to pay down $4 trillion to $6 trillion debt over the next decade.
It’ll be the details that must be hammered out.
The campaign has been called a “corporate charade” and an exercise in back-scratching because it is composed so heavily of business interests, and there is serious suspicion that any solution reached by this group will favor tax breaks over revenue building, and will favor private over public interests.
But, who knows. Maybe, without political division and party cronyism, Fix the Debt can do what Congress won’t: fight for the people and actually fix the debt.
We hope this campaign can do that, but there is a major stumbling block facing it.
Even if the Fix the Debt campaign hammers out absolutely every minuscule detail with perfection, the campaign has no authority to force Congress to implement its recommendations. Congress can, should it wish, accept the recommendations and put them on a shelf, which is just slightly better than ignoring them altogether.
Bennett and Baldacci don’t think that will happen.
They sincerely believe that Congress, once it hears the grassroots cry to reduce the debt, will act. That cry has not yet been heard loudly enough, they said, to get any real attention.
We’ve heard the cry, so it’s hard to believe Congress has not, but elected leaders aren’t exactly leading the charge to fix the debt, so any advice that motivated people outside Congress feel they can offer should be welcomed.
We welcome it and look forward to the insight, compromise and solutions a group of people not burdened by partisanship can accomplish.
Congress has certainly made it clear it is not up to the task.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.