Fort Report: The Next Hundred Days

Dec 2, 2016
Fort Report

In a recent meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, he concluded his remarks to us by saying, “Buckle up.” Beginning in January, we will have a new President and Congress. The next hundred days will be intense. The next hundred days will create possibilities. The next hundred days will set the stage for a new architecture of government and a repurposed relationship between the people and the state.

For far too long, partisan paralysis has plagued Congress, leading to stagnation in Washington. With this historic and transformative election, the playbooks both political parties used for decades were rightfully shredded. The transition of presidential administrations has unleashed the potential for a genuine re-imagining of policy, with four relevant areas leading the way.

First, right out of the gate, Congress will launch a significant healthcare reform initiative. Current skyrocketing healthcare premiums are unsustainable. At the same time, we cannot default back to the previous arrangement, which left too many persons behind. While there might be a fierce fight on the specifics of reform proposals, broad agreement will likely coalesce around protecting persons from inhuman market forces while at the same time incentivizing the best of market innovation to spur change. Nebraskans with spiraling healthcare costs know that a new healthcare construct is needed. To address these concerns, the next approach must reinvigorate health insurance with the goals of lowering prices, protecting the sick, and improving options. The next generation health savings account will be the cornerstone of this effort, restoring relationship, responsibility, and respect as the drivers of healthcare policy.

Second, broad bipartisan agreement exists around rebuilding our nation’s aging infrastructure. From airports to roads to bridges to information technology, new projects are on the horizon. I add sustainable energy to that list.  As a public good, properly selected infrastructure improvements are a benefit to society at large. Infrastructure can also be virtual, setting up the systems for better interconnectivity. It can also have implications for healthcare, as we build out, for instance, innovative healthcare models. The challenge will be in financing and ensuring the proper division between federal, state, and local governments, as well as with the private sector.

Third, on spending, in an unprecedented legislative development, our government is moving forward on two budgets simultaneously. Those of us serving on the House Appropriations Committee have a heavy lift. In a parallel process, we will fix up the current budget while creating a budget for the following year. While it is easy to speak about new ideas, a plan to pay for them is the real test of smart government. We must remain sober about spending. Deficit spending is a form of taxation, especially on the poor and seniors. The good news is that this peculiar set of circumstances gives lawmakers much more flexibility to generate creative policy outcomes.

Fourth, regarding taxes—a broad issue that, like healthcare, has many thorny and complex considerations—I anticipate that Congress will move to solve tax anomalies that harm America’s competitive standing in the world, including giveaways to multinational corporations. The tax code should reposition funds captured overseas to be brought back to America, and any reform should prioritize small business, the source of most new jobs and local economy.  The process should be guided by a threefold goal: fairness, simplification, and economic growth, to produce revenue gains.  

It is time to create the architecture for a 21st century government. One that is innovative and effective, restoring the trust and confidence of the people. There’s a great old movie starring Bette Davis called All About Eve. In a classic Hollywood moment, she looks around with a smoldering gaze and says, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Real change is always bumpy—but when done with purpose, clarity, and the intention of doing good for others, we allow ourselves to dream big again.