Americans agree on key issues more often than not
© Greg Nash

As this nasty election drags on, it is becoming harder to imagine any room for compromise when a new president takes office next January.

But the American people — and even our political leaders — are a lot closer to agreement on key issues than you and they might think.

There is common ground out there, if only our next president and Congress are willing to look for it.

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Let’s start with the presidential candidates themselves, both of whom say that increasing infrastructure investment is one of their top priorities, even if they have different views on the magnitude. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE has proposed an ambitious five-year $275 billion infrastructure investment plan, while Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE has said America needs “at least double” that level of investment.

Considering the dire state of American infrastructure — the latest American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card gives us a D+ grade — Trump and Clinton’s mutual commitment to revitalizing our roads, bridges and waterways should at least offer a starting point for bipartisan cooperation.

But the cooperation needn’t end there. This summer, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE released “A Better Way,” which is essentially the Republican congressional policy blueprint for 2017 and beyond.  Though Democrats can (and did) find much to disagree with in the plan, “A Better Way” makes nods to a number of mainstream Democratic priorities like: renewed focus on career and technical education in high schools and community colleges; modernization of the Pell Grant program for low-income college students; and more creative financing for startup businesses.

Speaker Ryan has also been more focused on poverty alleviation than previous Republican leaders and not just rhetorically. Earlier this year, he joined President Obama in calling for an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which subsidizes wages for low-income workers.

Much has been written recently about the impossible job Paul Ryan—if he is able to hold the Speakership—will have after the election. Well, if a Speaker Ryan wants to get any of this done next year, he’ll likely have to work closely with the 52-member New Democrat Coalition—a group of legislators who embrace the old Democratic Leadership Council values like Opportunity and Responsibility and describes itself as a “fiscally-responsible, moderate bloc of lawmakers dedicated to policies that foster American success.” If they managed to team up with the “Tuesday Group,” a collection of 40 moderate Republican House lawmakers, one could start to think the unthinkable.

A government that actually works and a Congress that actually governs.  

This past year also saw a growing bipartisan consensus to reform America’s criminal justice system, which imprisons more people than any country in the world, often for non-violent offenses. Both the House and Senate have introduced bipartisan legislation that would cut mandatory minimum prison sentences, boost prisoner workforce re-entry programs and eliminate the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.

The criminal justice overhaul has unfortunately stalled amid election year-politicking, but the issue isn’t going away and supporters remain confident this issue can be addressed in the lame duck sessions or when a new president takes office in 2017.

These emerging areas of agreement provide a foundation for real action early in the next president’s term.

But that action won’t happen unless our leaders do some post-election soul searching and actually lead. They know what needs to be done. Now they need to do it.

Through my work with the political reform group No Labels, I have witnessed many private meetings where members of Congress were able to achieve something Capitol Hill veterans call the “cloakroom consensus.” This refers to the surprising amount of agreement you find when reasonable people from both parties meet to discuss issues away from the glare of the cameras and the pull of politics.

Now we need that same courage when the cameras are on. If members were willing to step outside the echo chamber of activists and ideologues who dominate TV and the town halls, they’d find a much larger share of voters who would reward candidates willing to put the interests of country over party.

Recent research has shown the American people aren’t nearly as polarized as their representatives in Congress. And in poll after poll, the American people place more importance on leaders who can work across the aisle to get things done as opposed to those who just rigidly adhere to the party line.

At No Labels, we have seen similar sentiment from citizens. Earlier this year, we released an ambitious Policy Playbook for America’s Next President focused on moving America closer to four key national goals. Most ideas in the playbook— covering areas including taxes, entitlements, infrastructure, energy, regulation, and education — generated between 60 percent and 80 percent support in our nationwide polls.

Of course, favorable polling doesn’t suddenly mean forging agreement on some of America’s most intractable problems will be easy. But it does mean that if our next president and Congress spend more time appealing to Americans’ can-do spirit and sense of optimism as opposed to fanning our fears, that we might soon achieve breakthroughs that seem impossible today.

This election has tested the patience and the faith of most every American. But now is not the time to tune out or turn away from the political process. This election will soon be over and it will be time for real leaders to bring us together. It’s possible. We’re closer than you think. 

Andrew Tisch is the Co-Chairman of Loews Corporation and a cofounder of the political reform group No Labels.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.