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‘The Politics of Problem Solving’: Four big topics Americans need to discuss

Here’s hoping that a group convened by No Labels can help lead the way through an open, reasoned bottoms-up gathering to discuss the important stuff.

Less than one American in five trusts the federal government. While the numbers are more favorable for state and local government, each of those entities generates respect from fewer than half of those surveyed.

Chuck Slocum

Additionally, nine in 10 Americans place “a safe country” as by far the top priority — followed by “responding to natural disasters,” clean air and water, safe food and medicine, and careful management of the immigration system, each measuring over 80 percent public support.

So, how is the U.S. Congress measuring up in the public’s mind?

For a number of years, public approval ratings of our U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have regularly fallen into the single digits, which means Congress is less popular than the Internal Revenue Service, banks, lawyers, the plague and Communism.

And things today are not much better at the executive level of our federal government. President Donald Trump — when compared to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — has consistently registered lower numbers, though recent surveys have shown an uptick to above 40 percent approval for the current president.

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Within my personal circle of people who are interested in such matters, I find a kind of growing apathy and frustration, with more cynicism and less confidence in our government to deal with the important things.

Yet few of us are doing much about this.

That is why I was delighted to learn about a forthcoming “The Politics of Problem Solving” session being planned by No Labels Minnesota for Minneapolis next week. The idea of people interested in working together to make the right things happen strikes me as most timely.

Below are four of the big topics affecting America that should be considered by an expected diverse group of 200 thoughtful Minnesotans attending the problem-solving discussion on May 29.

More and better jobs in the future. Job creation and our future workforce is a complex issue that includes work readiness of those now perceived as difficult to place, including providing early education assistance with a focus on literacy by third grade and adult one-on-one mentoring. Too many current workers have been both underemployed and unemployed, dating to the Great Recession of 2008. Joblessness is a national crisis short-changing people who want to invent, innovate, create and contribute. Simply decreasing taxes and regulations or increasing current taxpayer spending is only part of the answer.

Deficits and debt. America’s debt-to-GDP ratio is around 74 percent; that is higher than at any time in U.S. history, except for a short period after World War II, and more than double what it was a decade ago. The annual federal deficits that regularly top $1 trillion (that’s with twelve zeroes) and the $21 trillion  collective federal debt demonstrates that our nation’s spending has consistently outpaced the money we generate. The burden of our increasing debt — including the interest we pay on it — will eventually crash the system unless we can phase in responsible and growing budgets while preserving the safety net to those most in need. We must do this while dealing with an aging, longer-living population, with falling birthrates and rising short- and long-term health-care costs.

Long-term Social Security and Medicare solvency. Americans need assurances that the solvency of Social Security and Medicare will help provide necessary lifelines for recipients for decades into the future. Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable on their current trajectories. There are no easy answers to this very important challenge, and the discussion must not deteriorate  into an annual political football.

Energy security is a global challenge. America and the world need a lot more energy in the future; and that energy must be increasingly clean to mitigate the effects of climate change. That’s why American energy independence is no longer sufficient. What we and the rest of our interdependent world need is energy security. When the U.S. and other nations are energy-secure, it becomes far more likely that nations can manage unexpected but inevitable surprises in prices, an environmental crisis or an outbreak of war. America must strive for more energy supply from domestic sources; more efficient uses; modern, reliable and resilient electrical generation and transmission; and a more sustainable and cleaner fuel mix.

Here is hoping that this group of interested Minnesotans can help lead the way through an open, reasoned bottoms-up gathering to discuss the important stuff.

Chuck Slocum (Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com) is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. Pew Research Center, MPR/APM Research Lab and SurveyUSA were among the sources for this essay.

“The Politics of Problem Solving” will be held on Tuesday, May 29. No Labels Chief Strategist Ryan Clancy will discuss “The Making of the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus,” and will be joined by former Minnesota Party Chairs Mike Erlandson (DFL) and Chuck Slocum (GOP). 


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