Terry Holt, HDMK Partner
Julie Cram, HDMK Partner
For everything that Republicans in Cleveland and Democrats in Philadelphia did to differentiate themselves from each other, for all of the rhetoric and posturing, in many ways, they’re actually striking similar tones. They’re demanding action and responding to an America that is divided and two parties that are going through a fundamental transformation.
We don’t have a crystal ball, but our instincts tell us that the 2016 election may be the culminating force that moves Washington to act on a host of big issues. For sure, the path both parties outlined at their conventions is very different, but there are some hard truths to consider as we all get back to business in Washington and the dust settles in November.
Whether it’s expensive projects like building a wall along the Mexican boarder or giant new tax cuts, or it is giving a free college education or a public health option, one thing is very clear: the public coffer is empty. $19 trillion in debt and a rising budget deficit is a tough hill to climb for either candidate to accomplish much of anything when they assume office. The next president will have to find substantial savings in government programs or substantial new revenues.
For the past six years everything has boiled down to one simple question: how are we going to pay for it? And perhaps this is why the Beltway crowd has been so obsessed with and tirelessly holding out hope for a full overhaul of the tax code and large scale entitlement reforms that free up money to address critical initiatives for voters in both parties.
We aren’t pointing fingers, or placing any blame (there’s plenty to go around), but it’s a simple observation. The tit-for-tat pay-fors by politicians of both parties have held up everything from transportation spending – generally a bipartisan endeavor – to Zika funding – a public health concern for millions of Americans – and it’s prevented Congress from going big on just about anything.
All of this has led to more polarization between the parties, but it would be impossible to ignore the intra-party differences, too.
Now, there are certainly arguments to be made for which party is facing larger divisions at the moment, but we all know that neither is marching in lockstep. The Democrats’ loss of the House and Senate and the President’s lame duck status created a leadership vacuum and opening for the insurgent wing of the Bernie Sanders left. Likewise, disgruntled conservatives that spent the last seven and a half years out of the White House and have grown increasingly frustrated of having their agenda held hostage to Washington bureaucracy.
A White House victory, however, tends to have a healing effect on a party. And we are confident the winning candidate will assume office with a mandate, regardless of how nasty and negative the general election gets. After all, voters want action, and the Beltway forces have a laundry list of items that have been hanging in limbo as a result of perpetual government gridlock.
These two forces – the frustrated and anxious American electorate and the sidelined Beltway interests – converging could provide the catalyst Washington needs act.
We still have a long way to go. The candidates are hitting the trail across the country, and This Town is empty as everyone it seems has left to avoid the heat. As the weather cools, American voters will shift their attention to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both of whom made impassioned pitches to unite their parties and chart a path forward for the American people over the past two weeks. We’ll see who ends up on top, but we expect plenty of action in the next year regardless.