This country gets excited about change every other year during the election cycle. In between, not so much. It’s mostly business as usual in the halls of Congress, no matter who’s in power. We’ve just seen the third “change” election in a row, with the pendulum once again swinging back the other way. Sometimes the change is seen as a larger mandate for the winning side, sometimes it’s seen as a smaller mandate. But there’s one common thread that defines elections in the 2000s – the minority party is always promising change during campaign season.
Many of those in the incoming freshman class will go to Washington idealistically hoping they can make a difference. And I sincerely hope they can. The problem is the system is averse to change. The U.S. Congress is a giant sausage maker and the gears are constantly grinding. Thousands of staffers, lobbyists, party loyalists, special interests, pundits and other hangers on are working the levers. As a result, the 535 members of Congress are caught in an intricate web of rules, procedures and processes that have mutated into a system that corrupts, stalls and ultimately defeats even the best-intentioned politicians.
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two parties anymore when you look at the end result. The Democrats tax us beyond our means and spend beyond their means. The Republicans of late are prone to cutting taxes and then spending beyond their means. It’s like a guy who goes through the McDonald’s drive-through line and orders four double quarter pounders with cheese, two Super-Sized fries, a Super-Sized soda and an apple pie. When he gets to the window, he grabs his bag of grub and says, “Oh, by the way, I’m not paying. That guy two cars back is going to pay.”
Well folks, something’s got to change. We need to figure out how to get things done in this country AND pay our way. You want lower taxes? Great. I’m all for that. But if we’re talking about reducing taxes and reducing the deficit, let’s admit that we have to put entitlement programs and defense spending on the table. The left gives up a little on entitlements; the right is open to compromise on defense cuts. See how it works?
While the new Republican majority may want to focus on lowering taxes and repealing the health care bill, there are other issues that make an important difference to the economy – particularly the construction economy that has been reeling since 2007. So let’s get this new Congress started with two priorities that can get us on the path to smaller government, create jobs and rebuild our country.
Step one. Pass the budget. Somewhere, somehow, our elected officials need to sit down together and have the courage to fund programs that make a difference and NOT fund programs that don’t make a difference. If there’s a message from this election, it’s that the country wants Congress to work together and wants smaller, more responsive, fiscally responsible government.
Step two. Pass the transportation bill. Instead of fighting about funding levels for the next two years and not getting anything done, both sides can start by acknowledging that the current $450 billion bill will not pass at that level and agree to settle for less – say 70%. It’s not the perfect solution for those of us who believe our infrastructure is vitally important, but it would create the certainty that states and localities need to proceed with major projects. Everybody wins. We rebuild the crumbling infrastructure, put the construction industry back to work in every region of the country, and our elected officials have meaningful infrastructure projects in their home districts that they can point to when it’s time to run for reelection.
I know, I know. The devil is in the details, and meaningful legislation is infinitely more complicated to pass than it is to talk about. But in the afterglow of yet another change election, a guy can dream, can’t he?
President, National Precast Concrete Association