Ryan Alexander is the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
As we look ahead to the sequestration set to take effect at the end of the month, we are already hearing the voices from all sides offering widely differing views on how to address our fiscal challenges—both the long-term challenge of our unsustainably large debt and the immediate challenge of enacting legislation that substitutes more thoughtful solutions for the across-the-board cuts that come with sequestration. At the root of these differing views—from reducing the federal workforce through attrition to increasing public investments and eliminating tax loopholes—are very different opinions and priorities for moving the country forward.
So with such big differences, how can we move forward on fiscal policy? As a budget watchdog, we have partners on all points of the political spectrum and we've learned a thing or two about working in a bipartisan way on issues as diverse as defense spending and agriculture policy to earmarks and tax extenders. Here's some of the principles we keep in mind while trying to forge unusual partnerships:
- Start with the ideologues. This may seem counterintuitive, since ideologically-driven politicians are often known for what seem like extreme views. But what is easy to forget is that people driven by ideas and values know what they believe in and where they are trying to go. As a result, many of these folks are willing to work across party lines and take steps that seemingly veer from their own political party because they see how it brings them closer to their own goals.
- Figure out what motivates the "other side." All too often interest groups and politicians assume that people who disagree with them simply don't care about the same things. Sometimes that may be true, but just as often the disagreement is narrower than people initially believe.
- Look at the evidence and then use it. It is easy in Washington to be overwhelmed by the information and misinformation that surrounds us. For advocates and politicians who truly want to reach across party lines, it is important to look at all of the facts, acknowledge what is unknown, and respond to misinformation that may be ruling the day rhetorically.
- Focus on the goal. While it is important to understand motivations when trying to persuade folks who start in different places to end up at the same goal, many advocates make the fatal mistake of wanting to win over every party, every step of the way.
- Start with the agreement you can find, and build from there. Given the very significant differences even within both political parties, starting from the grandest vision and working down is much less likely to work than starting from individual points of agreement and moving up.
So how can these principles help us tame the fiscal challenges we face? As I have written before in these pages and we at Taxpayers for Common Sense have said repeatedly, longer term budgeting, planning, and commitments are usually better for our long-term fiscal health. So by all means, we hope the president and Congress will continue to pursue these long term goals. But in the meantime, please keep reaching across party lines, finding agreement where you can, and moving forward.
- Read Ryan Alexander: Common Sense Ways to Reduce Wasteful Federal Spending
- Read Eileen Appelbaum: Expand National Paid Family Leave
- Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.