Purpose: To generate a preliminary grand bargain that spokespeople for America's diverse socio-economic groups will see as benefiting their respective constituencies far more than any politically feasible alternative. That would, we believe, motivate these spokespeople to use that preliminary pact as a starting point for negotiations and then bridge their differences as expeditiously as possible.
To produce that initial package of reforms, we will convene 12 widely respected former policymakers and 15 prominent researchers who have experience with the most critical 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 policymakers will include former cabinet secretaries, directors of the Congressional Budget Office, governors, agency leaders, congressional committee chairs, heads of think tanks and so on.
We will ask the policymakers and researchers to work out an agreement resolving the six problems listed on the Home Page, each of which threatens to hobble our economy and/or destabilize our society. To recap, those problems are:
We chose these six issues for the following reasons:
Nonetheless, if the policymakers and researchers discover in their deliberations that they can reach consensus more readily by adding or removing issues, that will be their decision to make.
To start, Isabel Sawhill (senior fellow and former director of economic studies at Brookings) and Michael Strain (director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute) will lead a team of experienced researchers (names available on request) from leading think tanks on the right and left. The researchers will review existing proposals and identify the two or three solutions for each issue that they see as the most widely beneficial and cost-effective.
The policymakers and researchers will then meet three times over six weeks, to explore various combinations of the alternative solutions, seeking a preliminary grand bargain that they see as far better for each sector of society than America’s current trajectory. Between meetings, the researchers will attempt to reconcile any remaining differences.
By the third meeting, we expect that the group will agree on a combination of reforms that they all see as far superior to any result that a hyperpolarized Congress can produce. But if a few negotiators withhold approval, the project will still move forward.
In parallel with Phase 1, we will conduct a series of national surveys to 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 and expect to get a statistically valid list of the 50 by June.
We will then work with DCI Group, an independent public affairs consulting firm, to organize a campaign designed to show each of the 50 that the project is the best chance to generate broad prosperity and renewed confidence in America’s future. We expect that nearly all 50 would rather participate than sit on the sidelines of this potentially historic endeavor.
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.
We expect that the former policymakers who commit to negotiating the preliminary grand bargain, the project steering’s committee and Advisory Board will be able to enlist the heads of the 50 organizations to participate in the project as well.
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 convey our purpose, in words such as:
Our goal is to help you reach an agreement that all of you see as far superior to what you can get if you continue clashing on Capitol Hill. To produce the pact in time to prevent our society from further breaking down, we ask you to start with the preliminary grand bargain that the former policymakers all far prefer over 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 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 working group will get help from the researchers who took part 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. By then, we expect that more than 80 percent will prefer the result over what they could possibly get on Capitol Hill.
By the end of 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.
In early 2024, with the above phase still in progress, we will help each advocate tailor a message to his/her constituents, showing them how the grand bargain would improve the quality of their lives — much more than our two-party system has been doing. This will include helping each advocate produce a brief video and website making his/her case.
We will then conduct deliberative polls nationwide to assess and show the level of public support for the grand bargain. Each poll will consist of convening a group of citizens who cover the socio-economic-political spectrum; asking each person to rate various proposals for the six issues; and, based on their responses, showing 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.
We will also seek support for the grand bargain from political commentators, media figures, good government organizations, local civic groups and, where appropriate, on social media.
As things stand, polls identify 60 percent of voters as an “exhausted majority” who are mainly focused on economic issues and who 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.
American politics is therefore likely to keep growing more polarized — until the exhausted majority turn out to vote in primaries in greater numbers than extreme partisans.
We see nothing on the national radarscope now that could spur such a dramatic change.
But the grand bargain could change the political discourse.
As the project unfolds, we expect a growing number of individuals and organizations to see the grand bargain as necessary for the American people and our democracy to thrive. These organizations could convey to currently disempowered citizens that voting for candidates who support the grand bargain could motivate politicians from both parties to endorse it as well.
In Phase 2, many Americans may not have weighed the issues enough to know who would best represent them.
But most citizens can name individuals they would trust to speak for them. And those spokes-people will be in the best possible position to win their voters’ support for the agreement. Whereas if we do not enlist such advocates, most voters will likely ignore the Forum’s recommendations.
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 members will have no audience or cameras to grandstand to. Also, Forum meetings will be led by facilitators experienced in helping diverse people to bridge their differences. And any who decline to negotiate are likely to be ignored by those who want to reach agreement.
Some voters will object to private meetings.
We know of hundreds of constructive agreements among political adversaries. All were hammered out behind closed doors, so that the participants could talk candidly with one another. Prosperity Forum members cannot possibly resolve the most divisive issues of these times unless they too can talk candidly and in private. We will however provide periodic public briefings using language agreed on with the participating advocates. And the eventual agreement will be made public in its entirety, enabling each voter to decide how much it advances their interests.
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 is unlikely to change the minds of Americans who embrace tribalism, nihilism or extremism.
Our objective is to unite as many Americans as possible around an agenda they see as being in their best interests. We see that as the most practical way to make nihilism, tribalism and extremism very unappealing to most citizens.
In our current elections, politicians who attack opponents can win far more easily than those who try to bridge differences. Various media have learned that they too can draw the largest audiences by stoking divisiveness. Our democracy has therefore been eroding to the point of breakdown.
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 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 to galvanize the support necessary to complete the other phases.