Alice Rivlin’s "Divided We Fall" Offers Way Forward for the Country

We at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget continue to mourn the loss of Alice Rivlin, a former board member of the Committee and the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, among other prestigious accolades, who passed away in May 2019. Throughout her distinguished career, Rivlin authored many books and policy proposals, and in October 2022, her final work, which she was in the process of completing at the time of her passing, was completed and published by her son Allan and daughter-in-law Sheri. The book – Divided We Fall: Why Consensus Matters – reflects her half-century of learning and experience as a leading economic and social policymaker.

The book constitutes an indispensable guide for all Americans who are exhausted and alarmed by increasingly hostile and uncivil national politics, longstanding policy gridlock, and the difficulty of confronting collective challenges such as our mounting national debt, growing inequality, and the impacts of climate change. However, Rivlin still maintains the hope and belief that these trends can be reversed, and these challenges, overcome.

Rivlin’s final work epitomizes everything those who worked with her came to idolize and respect about her: an earnest, well-thought account of how we got where we are and what we must do to reverse course.

As board members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget commented on the book’s release:

“Alice Rivlin was the most devoted public servant I had the honor to know and work with during my public service career in Washington. She was totally committed to challenging both politicians and the public to do whatever was necessary to make our democracy work. This final book by Alice is not just her prescription for fixing our democracy, it is her fervent last prayer that we cannot afford to ignore the dangers . . . it is we the people who must in the final words of her book ‘defend our constitutional system, seek truth and justice, and see America succeed.’” – Leon Panetta, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Co-Chair

“Alice Rivlin was one of the true great leaders of a lifetime. Her practical, optimistic, and inspirational voice shines through in this book, and its message is needed more than ever. Every single project, commission, and institution was better for having Alice involved, and the nation would be better if we followed her words of wisdom.” – Maya MacGuineas, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget President

“They broke the mold with Alice M. Rivlin. No single person in recent history engaged in the public arena set a better example of true public service than she. Her final book is a testament to her years of public service which were designed with the one goal of making government work for all of us. The final chapter, addressing the corrosive effects of political polarization in achieving that goal, should be required reading for all elected officials at the federal, state, and local level. Even more so, it should be required reading for all citizens.” – G. William Hoagland, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Board Member

“Alice was truly an inspiration. Her passion to bridge the divide within our nation, especially around complicated issues like our economy and healthcare, was only surpassed by her humility. Her ability to clarify was unmatched. Having worked with Alice throughout the years, I am forever indebted to her for her clarity and brilliance. What a legacy she has left!” – Marjorie Margolies, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Board Member

“Alice Rivlin's final book is not only a fascinating insider's memoir but a brilliant analysis of current threats to our democracy. It calls on all of us, both inside and outside of government, to act—including specific advice on what we can do. Buy 10 copies and give them to friends. That is the legacy she wanted and deserves.” – Isabel Sawhill, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Board Member

“In these pages are the core symbols of Alice Rivlin’s life and legacy: Courage, Integrity, Determination. This diminutive, iconic, powerful presence was revered in Washington, D.C. In my first Senate term, I worked with her in several venues. Added to those above traits, there was a palpable blend of kindness, fairness, and balance. In this book she even describes herself sometimes as maybe naive. No one else would ever confirm that observation!

I’ll slip into the western vernacular and just say this: She had a plenty tough job when I first met her, and she was eager and able to speak truth to power. We have a phrase in this part of the country, ‘If you have a bear of a job, hire a grizzly.’ She was all that. And she loved the code, ‘If you have integrity, nothing else matters—and if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.’ She was a pure joy to work with and her presence gave birth and nurture to so many remarkable ideas and honest counsel as found in these pages.” – Alan Simpson, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Board Member

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and its FixUS Initiative is inspired by the final remarks of our groundbreaking former colleague and echo her appeals to individually and collectively work to better understand and resolve the division, distrust, and dysfunction plaguing our society and decision-making institutions.