To generate a preliminary grand bargain that sparks conversations nationwide, we will convene 15 former policymakers who have earned wide respect; have broad experience with the most critical national issues; are diverse by politics, gender and ethnicity; and are alarmed by America’s failure to address its major ills — enough so that they will commit to bridging their differences.
The 15 will include former directors of the Congressional Budget Office, cabinet secretaries, agency leaders, governors, congressional committee chairs, heads of think tanks and so on.
We will ask the 15 to work out an agreement resolving six chronic problems in ways that will benefit all sectors of society. Those problems are:
We chose these six issues for the following reasons:
Nonetheless, if the 15 former policymakers discover in their deliberations that they can reach consensus more readily by adding or removing issues, that will be their decision to make.
To help the 15 reach agreement, we will partner with one or more think tanks that would provide 18 experienced researchers, three for each issue, who will collate existing proposals in their subject area and narrow that list down to the three most widely beneficial, cost-effective solutions for each issue.
The 15 former policymakers will then explore various combinations of these alternative solutions until finding a combination that they see as benefiting each sector of society far more than it would cost them.
Given that a hyperpolarized Congress is very unlikely to make significant progress on any of the six issues, we expect the 15 will find a combination of reforms they all see as far superior to any politically feasible alternative. But if a few negotiators withhold approval, the process will still move forward.
In parallel with Phase 1, we will identify the 50 public figures outside government whom voters would most trust to speak for them on the six issues. To that end, we have hired Ipsos to conduct a series of nationwide surveys. By the end of March, 2023, we expect to have a statistically valid list of the 50.
We will also identify the 50 organizations most politically active on the above issues and that have the largest public followings: such as the AFL-CIO, National Federation of Independent Business, AARP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, National Wildlife Federation and so on.
Once the 15 high-profile former policymakers are committed to the project, we expect that their prominence and diversity will enable the members of the project steering’s committee and Advisory Board to enlist the heads of the 50 organizations to participate in the project.
Once these organizations are on board, we will turn to the 50 people whom voters most want to be their advocates. We will work with a large public relations firm to show each one that the Grand Bargain Project is the best chance to generate broad, sustainable prosperity and renewed confidence in our country’s future. We expect that nearly all of the 50 will prefer to participate rather than sit on the sidelines of this potentially historic endeavor.
We will then convene the 100 public and organizational advocates. We will identify and publicize them as the Forum for Nationwide Prosperity and Opportunity.
To start, we will interview each advocate about the issues that most concern them and ask what they see as feasible in the regular political process. We will explain that our purpose is to far exceed that benchmark, in words such as:
Our objective is to help you come up with an agreement that all of you can wholeheartedly support. To produce it in time for it to become the main issue in the next election, we propose that you start with the preliminary grand bargain that the 15 former policymakers all see as far superior to the status quo. You are free to modify any part of it. And the rest of the structure is entirely yours to design.
We will then ask each public and organizational advocate to evaluate the preliminary grand bargain.
Given that 67 percent of Americans fear that our democracy is in danger of collapse — and more than 75 percent see the country as headed in the wrong direction — we expect most of the advocates to prefer this initial package over the country’s current trajectory. We will also ask each advocate what changes they would most want.
Once all these proposed changes are in hand, the advocates will form a separate working group for each issue, to consider ways to modify the original proposal so as to increase the number of advocates who are satisfied. Each will get help in that effort from the researchers who supported the policymakers in Phase 1.
Once those modifications are ready, each working group will choose two co-chairs who will meet as a Group of 12 to integrate the changes into a complete package encompassing all six issues. We will again ask each of the 100 advocates to evaluate whether he/she prefers the total package over the status quo and, if not, what further changes they seek.
With those changes in hand, the above process will be repeated one more time. We are confident that by then more than 80 percent will prefer the result over what they could possibly get on Capitol Hill.
By November 2023, we will work with any holdouts to satisfy reservations they have about the deal being formulated. Part of our message: By supporting this grand bargain, you can keep pursuing your other objectives while your constituents would reap the benefits of this deal.
We expect most holdouts will be discontent with the country’s current trajectory, will not want to end up empty-handed, and will therefore try their best to reach an agreement with the rest.
At yearend 2023, with the above phase still in progress, we will help each advocate tailor a message to his/her constituents, showing them how the key elements of the grand bargain would improve the quality of their lives — much more so than measures our two-party system has produced. This will include helping each advocate produce a brief video and written material making his/her case.
We will then conduct deliberative polls nationwide to assess and show the level of public support for the grand bargain. We will convene groups of citizens who cover the socio-economic-political spectrum. We will ask each to rate various proposals for the six issues and, based on their responses, show each the relevant pitch for the grand bargain. They will then discuss their experiences with one another. We expect these events to draw significant media coverage.
To mobilize nationwide support for the grand bargain, we envision forming a separate 501 (c) 4 organization.
As things stand, polls identify more than 60 percent of voters as an “exhausted majority,” who care mostly about economic problems, and feel powerless in the current political process. They are indeed powerless because: 1) they disagree among themselves about how to resolve each major issue; and 2) in 90 percent of congressional districts and 85 percent of states, one party is so dominant that candidates can win just by catering to the most partisan voters.
However, just 20 percent of registered voters now take part in congressional primaries.
So, to motivate the exhausted majority to turn out in record numbers, each Prosperity Forum advocate could explain to his/her constituents that they can at last get politicians to act in their families’ best interests — just by signing online pledges to vote in primaries exclusively for candidates who support the grand bargain.
If 15 percent of voters in a state or district signed those pledges, candidates would have overwhelming incentives to support the pact. And 15 percent of voters would be enough for those candidates to win. Once in office they would know that failing to enact the grand bargain would cost them their seats in the next election.
We will also enlist support for the grand bargain from political commentators, media figures, national good government organizations and local civic groups.
Among the 50 advocates whom the public supports, several will prefer divisive slogans and grandstanding rather than negotiating with ideological adversaries.
For that reason, Forum meetings will be held in private, so that the members will have no audience or cameras to grandstand to. And members who decline to negotiate are likely to be ignored by those who want to reach an agreement.
Some voters will object to private meetings.
Every constructive agreement among political adversaries that we know of, including the U.S. Constitution, was hammered out behind closed doors, so that the participants could talk candidly with one another. Forum members cannot possibly resolve the most divisive issues of these times unless they too can talk candidly and in private. At the same time, we will provide periodic public briefings using language agreed on with the participating advocates.
Some Forum members will lack negotiation skills, including some who will be too aggressive.
Forum meetings will be led by facilitators experienced in helping diverse people to reach agreement.
Various media will spread conspiracy theories about the Forum and distort its recommendations.
Media spreading disinformation will keep undermining our society unless voters get the opportunity to name whom they trust to speak for them. Those trusted individuals, and they alone, could persuade most voters to ignore the lies and distortions.
The Forum may not change the minds of Americans who have turned to tribalism, nihilism or extremism.
Our objective is to unite as many Americans as possible around a positive agenda and motivate them to vote for that agenda. If that is not sufficient to save our democracy, we do not see anything else that will.
Enemies of our democracy have been gaining ground for decades by dividing right against left, heartland against coastal, poor against well-off, and so on. Our current two-party, winner-take-all elections have intensified this polarization sufficiently to push our democracy to the brink of breaking down.
By contrast, we propose to:
Ambitious, yes. But when we have asked political activists or heads of think tanks to suggest simpler ways to bridge our nation’s differences on the most critical issues, none have offered a practical alternative.
At this point, we are just seeking support to launch Phases 1 and 2, which we expect to show that a grand bargain advancing the long-term interests of all sectors of society is within reach.
If that proves to be so, we expect that will galvanize the support necessary to complete the other phases.