The American People Deserve the Facts

The American People Deserve the Facts

By Bill Galston & Mark McKinnon - October 18, 2012

"What you're saying is just not true," Barack Obama told his opponent in Tuesday night's presidential debate. "It's absolutely true," Mitt Romney replied.

If the two candidates -- and the parties they lead -- can't agree on the facts, then how can they have a productive debate about solutions?

Neither party is being upfront with the American people about the choices we face.

Take fiscal policy. The parties can't even agree on the realities of our balance sheet. When leaders in Washington debate the federal budget, they routinely use different baselines, projections and assumptions. This makes deciphering the facts very difficult, if not impossible, for the American people.

To quote an old Scottish writer, many Washington leaders “use statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts -- for support rather than for illumination.”

To hear some on the right tell it, you’d think our deficit is driven primarily by moochers, government waste, and shiftless bureaucrats. On the left, many seem to think rich tax dodgers are the ones busting our books.

But these culprits -- however egregious they may be -- are relatively small potatoes. The real causes of our deficit aren’t those “other people” gaming the system. It’s all of us. It’s tax cuts that we can no longer afford and spending programs that are growing far faster than our ability to pay for them.

The American people deserve to know what’s really happening with our nation’s finances, and Congress should be able to work off the same set of numbers. That’s where No Labels comes in. No Labels is a movement of Democrats, Republicans and independents united behind a simple proposition: We want our government to stop fighting and start fixing. The group’s “Different Opinions, but the Same Facts” proposal would be a big step in that direction. Here's how it works:

Every year, a nonpartisan leader, such as the comptroller general, would deliver a televised fiscal update in person to a joint session of Congress. The president, vice president, all Cabinet members, and members of Congress would attend. Our leaders would be asked to affirm -- in writing -- that they accept the same set of facts. These facts would not be Democratic, Republican, or independent. Just correct.

This is one No Labels proposal to make Congress and the presidency work. We also have two action plans to do just that also, our “Make Congress Work!” action plan and our “Make the Presidency Work!” action plan. Central to each is the simple idea that if elected officials are going to work across the aisle, they need to agree on some basic realities.

A generation ago, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared that while every man is entitled to his own opinions, he isn't entitled to his own facts. He was right then. He's still right today. And unless we act accordingly, we can't hope to solve our country's problems. 

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