Debate should strengthen our government, not paralyze it

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The sequestration fiasco is just the latest example of Washington’s dysfunction. Both parties support targeted spending cuts; and neither party believes mindless, meat cleaver, across the board cuts make sense. Yet that’s exactly what we’re getting.
 
The sequester and other manufactured crises have pushed our economy back to the brink of recession, harming millions of hard-working Americans.  These events have also led us to conclude that basic reform is needed to tackle this problem. That’s why we, along with our fellow co-chairs Dan Glickman, Dirk Kempthorne and Olympia Snowe, have come together with other American leaders from a diversity of backgrounds to form the Commission on Political Reform (CPR), under the Bipartisan Policy Center.
 
We will launch this effort with a series of “National Conversations on American Unity,” beginning Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation here in the Los Angeles area. Our goal is to gain insight from a diverse group of experienced leaders, but also to establish real dialogue with average Americans of differing political and cultural views. That’s why we are inviting people to participate in our events in real time online, from throughout the country.
 
Debate over policy and political views should strengthen our government, not paralyze it. So we need to find a way to promote bipartisan cooperation on crucial issues, even while continuing to nurture healthy debate and disagreement. Therefore, CPR will make recommendations to the American people, Congress and the president, in three areas – electoral reform, congressional reform and engagement in public service.
 
Our electoral system promotes extremism on both sides of the aisle, producing inflexibly ideological candidates. Gerrymandered redistricting efforts have allowed both parties to carve safe districts, where candidates are predictably partisan and most elections are devoid of competition or substantive policy dialogue. Furthermore, recent questions about access to voting have shaken national confidence in the electoral process itself. We must find a way to reestablish this confidence, and reinsert informed discussion of the issues into our campaigns and elections.
 
Congressional power has been consolidated in the hands of a few party leaders on each side of the aisle in recent years. Rather than a large, diverse group of committee members influencing crucial policy with a broad array of perspectives in mind, the legislative process is owned by a few leaders with party advancement top of mind. We must change this environment so that Congress is prioritizing smart, balanced policy solutions over partisan advancement.
 
Finally, we know many bright young people want to engage in public service and be a part of building a better future for our country. Too many of them have become disenchanted by partisan warfare and jaded by gridlock in Washington. We are committed to reaching out, and encouraging their involvement in new ways, beginning with their on-line participation at the national town hall meeting at Reagan Library today. As President Reagan so wisely observed, “the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
 
Reaching across the aisle and finding common ground has never been easy in Washington.  But when the strength of our nation is at stake, we have always found a way to come to the table, compromise and move forward as one.  Let’s start again today.

Former Senate Majority Leaders Daschle (D-S.D.), a senior policy advisor at DLA Piper, and Lott (R-Miss.) co-chair the new Commission on Political Reform at the Bipartisan Policy Center.