With political gridlock emerging as the order of the day for 2019 at the state and national levels, and the resulting prospect that not much gets done on either level in solving major issues, is there any hope for Americans to see progress in the New Year?
It’s hard to be optimistic. An increasingly isolated and embattled President Trump will soon be at war with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her newly won majority in the House. She will veto his initiatives, and he will welcome the opportunity to set her up as a scapegoat for non-action during his two-year campaign for a second term. It’s already started; he loves the showmanship of campaigns.
Pelosi will catch an unending stream of Twitter insults and will have to figure out how to respond. There’s no good answer.
The nation’s capitol is already in chaos, and it’s going to get worse, a lot worse. Impeachment is not out of the cards. Smart people are headed for the doors, having come to the conclusion that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.
Meanwhile, issues that affect American households go unsolved. That includes raging health costs and the resulting high levels of strapped and uninsured families; threats to our potable waters, topped by the invasive attacks on the Great Lakes; screaming deficits and national debt per household; soaring costs of higher education; and the uncertainty surrounding unclear immigration policy.
The remaining positive in the New Year is the low unemployment rate.
At the Wisconsin level, however, there is hope for collaborative solutions – if our leaders will do what they are supposed to do, namely lead.
If Gov. Evers and his Democrats really do want to collaborate, and if Republican legislative leaders, Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, really do want to work with him to get some signature measures accomplished, Wisconsin could show the way toward pragmatic problem solving.
That, not so incidentally, is what the voters whom I talk with really want.
There are some areas where collaboration and compromise will not work. Redistricting after the 2020 census taking is one. The GOP likes it just like it is, with Democratic voters packed into densely Democratic urban districts. Evers would like to see non-partisan re-mapping. Not going to happen, unless it comes through court decisions.
Big subsidies to recruit businesses to the state are another non-starter. Gov. Evers won’t sign off on Foxconn kinds of incentives. He might even dial back on existing deals.
But there are arenas where the two parties might work together and thereby convince the voters that they are not just partisan warriors.
K-12 education is an example. Evers could back off on opposition to voucher schools, and Republicans could complete their end of a bargain by providing more K-12 dollars from state coffers.
Health care costs and coverage are another. Gov. Walker missed an opportunity to lead on this number one economic issue in the state and country. The GOP does not have a “blue print” for health care, and the Democrats don’t have an affordable “red print.” Evers, Vos and Fitzgerald could fashion a “purple print” to add coverage while reducing costs and improving quality of care.
They could accept the federal money to expand Medicaid, but ask for a reform waiver of Medicaid by converting it to Medicare Advantage for All, a much better program for recipients and taxpayers.
Almost 40% of Medicare recipients are already there.
By the by, that’s a Wisconsin Idea, one that pragmatically preserves employer coverage and adds choice and competition to government plans.
Transparent and fixed prices at high-quality centers of value could be worked into the mix.
The Evers, Vos, Fitzgerald trio could stand up for the Great Lakes. They could take a national lead on closing the Chicago Canal, the super-highway for Asian Carp, and for closing the St. Lawrence Seaway, an open door for other alien species. To coin a phrase, build the walls. Economists will corroborate that the transportation savings of the two open channels are minimal.
There are other areas of potential common cause, such as:
• Challenging the University of Wisconsin System to help more entrepreneurs start high growth companies. That’s the best source of new jobs. The UWS track record on startups is tepid at best.
• A Blue Ribbon Commission to reorganize the university for the Internet world and the innovation economy.
• A reversal of the state’s negative trends on public health metrics, such as immunizations, unwanted pregnancies to single mothers and opiod addiction.
In short, there are plenty of policy matters and a menu of fresh ideas on which Evers, Vos and Fitzgerald could find common ground.
Most Americans want forward movement, so voters in 2020 may reward party leaders who get things done and punish those who persist in putting partisan politics first.