In short, let’s start a pledge for our leaders to act like grown-ups.
Why, if 80 percent of Americans (including 76 percent of Republicans) favor reducing the deficit with at least some tax increases, can’t Congress pass a debt reduction package that includes new tax revenues?
And why, in the face of undeniable evidence that entitlement spending is on an unsustainable trajectory, can’t Congress act to preserve Medicare and Social Security?
The answer is that members are incentivized to answer only to the most vocal and powerful interest groups. Attempts by Congress to force itself to act collectively — like the ill-fated supercommittee — are destined to fail, so long as this holds true.
So if a pledge to act like grown-ups is what it will take to get Washington to act responsibly, let’s do it. I’m 31 years old, and you know what? I’ve made the form.
Some have proposed a third party, but political scientists have long observed that plurality rule, winner-take-all electoral systems (like our own) always tend to support two parties. Voters will always be reluctant to waste their votes on a third-party candidate who has no chance of being elected.
Others have proposed “throwing them all out.” That seems to be a familiar refrain every election cycle, and the last three elections we have indeed thrown out a lot of members of Congress. Yet the surviving members have only strengthened their hold on power with carefully designed, gerrymandered districts.
Resolution to this standoff in Washington can only come through a change in the institution — and that can only come from us, the voters. Congress won’t change itself.
I propose something that could change Washington, not from the ideological margins, but from the inside out: Signatories will pledge to act in the interests of the majority of their constituents, rather than the most vocal minority or a moneyed minority that fills their campaign coffers. Simple.
And they will act collectively to accomplish a set of defined goals: Reducing the deficit, reducing income inequality, making our entitlements efficient and sustainable, rebuilding America’s infrastructure, cleaning our environment, and keeping America safe while maintaining our good name.
When their constituencies are at odds with majority, signatories of the pledge will remain open to compromise and willing to let the majority move forward in the face of special-interest opposition.
This pledge will render null-and-void any pledge on taxes and spending that our leaders in Congress have signed before.
Voters can sign the pledge too. And when more and more do, our members of Congress will notice. If they can count, they’ll plainly see that it is to their benefit to talk about addressing problems through cooperation, not through shrill “red meat” politics — even during the primary campaigns.