MY VIEW: Tim Penny October 2013

On Day 7 of the government shutdown, it is not surprising that we are talking about a "leadership deficit" as much as the federal deficit. While there are many options on the table that will help reduce our debt and deficits, lawmakers in Congress must first embrace these proposals, especially ones with bipartisan support.

CRFB board member and former Congressman Tim Penny (D-MN) and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner write in this weekend's Star Tribune that the bitterness in Washington right now is disappointing for those who care about fiscal responsibility, as too often we only hear about the partisan issues. However, there is some hope given the work of third party advocates that just want to see the country move forward. They write:

One of the great strengths of our country is the balance of power shared by families, government, businesses and nonprofits, including the faith community. When one of these institutions is failing, we should look for leadership elsewhere. Business organizations can start by no longer echoing the Republicans’ no-new-taxes mantra. Instead, they can lead on comprehensive tax reform. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has proposed a tax overhaul that would promote investment and reward people for working. Among other features, Lee offers a $2,500-per-child tax credit against either income or payroll taxes (Medicare and Social Security) owed by a working family. The proposal recognizes that those in Mitt Romney’s 47 percent still pay significant federal taxes even if they owe no income taxes. More than that, it recognizes that we can no longer pay lip service to the importance of strong families. We need to invest in the ability of families to succeed.

Lee’s proposal is far from perfect, but it’s a good start. The revenue calculations still are being done, but it’s likely that some taxes will be increased in order to reduce others. Some business leaders (particularly those active in the Fix the Debt campaign) have embraced tax reform principles similar to those embodied in the Lee plan. We need their strong voices and the voices of other business­people to lead the discussion. Otherwise, we are left to the context created by Grover Norquist and other antitax crusaders.

Similarly, let’s ask organized labor to step forward to propose new ways to address the spending side of the federal budget, starting with health care. Obamacare on its own doesn’t solve the health care crisis. It promotes broader access but offers little cost control. However, throwing it out without an alternative — as Republicans have tried to do — is the wrong approach. And, asking for an exemption, as unions have done, is also wrongheaded.

The groundwork for a labor-inspired health care solution might be in a statement four years ago issued jointly by the leaders of the Service Employees International Union and Wal-Mart, Inc. Their 2009 letter to President Obama made the case for expanding access, including an employer mandate that doesn’t act as a barrier to hiring entry-level workers. Significantly, the letter also argues for the importance of controlling health costs, rightly asserting that “health care reform without controlling costs is no reform at all.

Penny and Horner assign most of the credit for ideas like the ones above to outside organizations, though they believe Congress will eventually find its way on this matter. But who deserves recognition is a secondary matter; we need a comprehensive deal to put the federal budget on a sustainable path and it will ultimately take sacrifices from everyone to get there.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.