How to fix Washington? Here's our holiday wish list

Santa Claus, also known as Sam McCrea, makes his way along 1st St., en route to the Capitol to deliver coal as a Christmas gift to Congress for their inability to reach a solution on the 'fiscal cliff.'
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

The bad news for business leaders is that it is probably too late to get on Santa's good side for 2016. The good news is that there are many opportunities for 2017.

Unfortunately, there are so many opportunities because our nation's elected policymakers have allowed so many problems to fester in partisan discord and inaction. Business leaders need to encourage our political leaders to make the current change of administration a new beginning of bipartisan cooperation, putting the good of the nation first.

Here is a checklist of imperatives for Washington:

  1. Repair our health care system. Even Obamacare's most devoted supporters know that it needs repair. Even the current system's fiercest adversaries know that the nation will not tolerate throwing millions of modest-income families off of insurance coverage. So the boundaries of the playing field should be clear. And while we are at it, we must fix Medicare, too. Medicare will drain its own trust fund dry in no more time than it will take the best new plan enacted today to turn the program around. We need a more-efficient health care system to deliver quality care to our elderly without telling typical retired workers that they have to foot the entire bill.
  2. Remember that Medicare reform alone will not fix our federal budget deficit and debt problem. We also need to review the rest of federal spending programs (including Social Security, even though it is a much smaller problem than Medicare) and reform our tax system, too. Business leaders know numbers, and they know the time value of money; they can see that we have no time to waste. Business leaders also know that the economy won't grow without a skilled labor force, sound infrastructure, and technological research – of which the federal government must be a part, although it cannot be the whole. Those prerequisites of growth must be built into a sound and fiscally responsible budget.
  3. Business leaders know that the economy won't grow without robust trade. We need to stand up for exporters who cannot maintain their job creation if the nation is not willing to import. We need to show that the economy will work for all of us if we stand up to global competition, and maintain and use our strength as the world's biggest market with the world's best-prepared workforce.
  4. Business leaders need to explain that our aging population needs smart, dedicated immigrants to produce the goods and services that our retirees need. We need to design and sell a revised immigration system that gives priorities to workers with skills that are in short supply in our economy.
  5. We need to improve the nation's regulatory system. We need regulations to deter a behavioral "race to the bottom," among foreign producers as well as our own. But we need regulations that focus on real problems, without drowning business in red tape. One key element is systematic review of existing regulations to ensure that they remain relevant and efficient. We should learn from our global competitors.
  6. Fix our system of political campaign finance. Do this first because before long, the candidates for 2018 and even 2020 will have begun soliciting contributions, and we will be locked into the old corrupting and scandalizing system for another full go-round. Remember that public money would be well spent if it ended the aura of suspicion around our elections.

The cost will seem high, but we need a system that our candidates will choose voluntarily instead of trying to outgun their opponents with questionable big-dollar private contributions. We can find honorable compromise on the details. Tell any elected policymakers you know that business will not accept an eternal, degrading money chase in our election campaigns any longer.

The holidays remind us that we and all of our neighbors outside of business management are in this together. That is a message that has been too long forgotten. And too often our elected policymakers seem to see advantage in storing problems rather than solving them.

Business leaders have analytical skills, and they can communicate and lead. The nation wants growth, and progress, and a new spirit. Let's give it to our countrymen in 2017. Beyond all of the immediate rewards, Santa will remember a year from now.

Commentary by Steve Odland, CEO of the Committee for Economic Development and former CEO of Office Depot and AutoZone; and Joe Minarik, Senior Vice President and Director of Research of the Committee for Economic Development. Both are co-authors of the February 2017 book, Sustaining Capitalism: Bipartisan Solutions to Restore Trust & Prosperity. Follow Steve Odland on Twitter @CEDUpdate and @SteveOdland.

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