There is a group called Fix the Debt (of which, under full disclosure, I am supportive) that is working in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, using tried-and-true political tools: Their slogan is "What will your first budget look like?" and their T-shirts say "First Budget?"
All of the candidates for president, in both parties, are constantly being asked this simple question by an electorate that must educate itself in piecemeal fashion (i.e., we learn as we go which answers we like and which responses leave us questioning the capability of a candidate to solve very real challenges for our country). Perhaps highest on the list of challenges is our exploding long-term debt and what it will mean for the future of America. We need a new group of leaders committed to being serious about resolving our budget imbalance.
My suggestion is a pledge — a simple pledge — that requires candidates and incumbents to detail what they will do about the budget in the first nine months of 2017. This tool would force members of Congress to consider whether they are up to the task by willingly joining in a bipartisan insistence to the leadership that they be allowed to go to work after being sworn in; that they work not only longer, smarter hours at what they were elected to do, but actually work (i.e., no fundraising in the first nine months). Here are the basics of the pledge I propose:
1. Agree to stay in Washington, working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and overtime, including weekends, getting your committees organized. Then, go home for a few days and thank your constituents for giving you the chance to be part of a solution! Tell them that for the next nine months, you will work in D.C. — where the job they have elected you to do resides — and they will not see much of you during this time.
2. Challenge congressional leadership to immediately begin hearings by subcommittee on all spending and taxes that come under one's committee jurisdiction. Use the theory of sunset legislation: Every federal program should be terminated every 10 years and only be allowed to continue if Congress specifically authorizes it to do so, with any changes deemed to be necessary for fiscal sustainability and workability. Obviously, prioritize to meet the regular order demands of the budget requirements for 2017.
3. No exceptions to pledge No. 2!
4. Challenge leadership to follow regular order: Conduct hearings held by subcommittees, debate in subcommittees and vote in subcommittees. Send on matters to full committees, then on to House and Senate, where full debate and all minority opinions shall be allowed to be heard and recorded votes taken.
5. The slogan for the T-shirt? "Work, then cash." No fundraising is allowed by any member of Congress in the first nine months of the 115th Congress.
And finally, the result? Elected officials get serious and something gets done!
Stenholm is a former U.S. representative from Texas, serving from 1979 to 2005. He is currently a senior policy adviser at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC.