Last week’s announcement by 80 CEOs, followed by a welcome chorus of other business leaders, that they are willing to support a mix of revenue generating tax reforms and spending cuts is good news indeed.
It suggests that maybe, once the election is behind us, it will be possible to make a deal that both avoids the fiscal cliff and gets the economy moving in the right direction. But we should take the CEOs’ announcement as only an opening offer in a negotiation over how to get the economy growing, moving toward full employment and a more broadly shared prosperity.
What is missing from their offer is a jobs’ program. Whoever is elected president on Nov. 6 should sit down and respond to this offer with a proposition: “I will support this or some other sensible mix of tax reforms and spending cuts if you, leaders of American business, also support a job growth policy and commit to making the investments needed to close the jobs deficit and get wages moving in a positive direction.”
There are both good political and substantive reasons why the president should work directly with business and other non-governmental leaders before starting to negotiate with Congress on these issues.
The political reason is simple: A compact forged with private industry, perhaps joined by labor and education leaders, would be a force to be reckoned with. The best chance we have of generating “bipartisan” support for a new plan is to have these constituent groups behind it and ready to do their part to address our economic challenges.
The substantive reason is that more than anything else, what is holding back job growth is the reluctance of business leaders to invest their cash reserves in ways that will produce good jobs here at home. They say there is too much uncertainty about the future of the economy. So let’s provide the certainty with a sensible deficit reduction plan and hold them accountable for expanding their domestic businesses.
Labor also has to get behind a comprehensive plan by pledging to work with business groups to expand and accelerate the pace of joint training programs, negotiate long term job pacts that bring manufacturing work back to the U.S. and experiment with new models of health care delivery. Labor and management partnerships are working together on these issues around the country, but they need to expand to become the normal way business and labor work together. Without this partnership there is little hope for getting wages and living standards moving forward again.
Education leaders are also potential powerful allies, particularly if partnered closely with business and labor. Community colleges are a national resource for filling the growing need for “middle skills” jobs; universities around the country are tooling up for a new generation of on-line learning that, working in partnership with industry, could provide underemployed college graduates with the math, computer and technical skills firms say are in high demand.
Working together business, education, labor, and yes, government can address our deficit and our jobs crisis. Let the negotiations begin — hopefully on Nov. 7.
The list of executives and their companies can be found here.