Facing the Facts on Washington Gridlock

With the election over, interactive event invites political experts, journalists and an economist to discuss the timeline of a fiscal resolution.

Face the Facts
Frank Sesno, Jane Harman, Mark Kennedy and Mara Liasson participate in "The People Have Spoken: Time to Face the Facts.”
November 14, 2012

By Jay Conley

It’s been a week since the presidential election, and now Americans want action. That was the premise of “The People Have Spoken: Time to Face the Facts,” an interactive television event Monday night in GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium. Former elected officials, a leading economist and two journalists with extensive experience covering politics argued that a bipartisan effort is the only solution to avoiding the fiscal cliff and other woes facing the country.

“The election’s behind us, fortunately, but the wild ride isn’t over yet,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Bureau Chief and director of GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs. He moderated a panel discussion that will be aired on RLTV as part of a collaboration between the cable network and Face the Facts USA. The nonpartisan, multiplatform content hub and civic engagement initiative was created at GW by Mr. Sesno and his students earlier this year. Its goal is to help voters become more informed on today’s most important topics using pop culture-themed digital videos, lively infographics and extensive social media.

Setting up the discussion Monday night, Mr. Sesno argued the country remains on a collision course with fiscal reality.

“Can the new Congress and the re-elected president face the facts and do what the public has asked: Tame the deficit, tackle Social Security and Medicare, and do something to produce more jobs, while providing all the services we need? Can they strike a grand bargain to put America’s fiscal house in order for the long haul?”

Also on tap Monday was the unveiling of a national movement called The Can Kicks Back. It’s an organization of Millenials age 18 to 32 aimed at motivating young voters to urge lawmakers to reach bipartisan agreement on fiscal issues by July 4, 2013.

“Congress continually kicks the can down the road. That can represents our generation,” Ryan Schoenike, the organization’s executive director, told Mr. Sesno. “And so what we’re saying is enough is enough, and we’re kicking back.”

A giant mascot in the shape of a can was at Monday night’s event. Similar mascots will tour other college campuses, encouraging students to make weekly phone calls to Congress urging for a deficit-reduction deal.

Monday’s panel included Mark Kennedy, director of GW’s Graduate School of Political Management and a former U.S. representative from Minnesota; Jane Harman, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former U.S. representative from California; Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio and a distinguished fellow at GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs; and Nia-Malika Henderson, a national political reporter for The Washington Post.

“To have people under 32 get engaged this way is how things will change,” said Ms. Harman. “Congress is a pretty young body, and hearing from young people that this continual kicking the can down the road is unacceptable is going to move a lot of people in Congress.”

Mr. Kennedy agreed. “No generation is going to get more of an impact from what happens with this budget deficit than the young people,” he said.

As part of an interactive session during the program, the majority of the audience, most of whom were students, seemed to agree that the president and Congress would come to some sort of agreement on fiscal issues within six months.

Mr. Zandi said he’s optimistic that a resolution will be made.

“The only thing that is between us and a much better economy is a piece of legislation, and that’s the grand bargain that we’re talking about,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s that difficult. I think the political stars are aligned. The leverage points are in place that we’re going to get a deal.”

Ms. Liasson noted that if no agreement is made, automatic repercussions from going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year would result in immediate tax increases, cuts in government spending and a likely recession. Compared to that, a bipartisan agreement that raises tax revenues and cuts spending over a long period of time would lessen the effect on the economy.

“I think you should look for the Republicans to follow through on the hints that John Boehner [speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, R-Ohio] has made, that they are willing to raise more revenue. And you look for some evidence that the president is really willing to get Democrats to agree to reforms and cut entitlements,” she said.

Ms. Henderson, like Mr. Zandi and the audience, said an agreement may take some time.

“I do think there is a realization that it’s going to happen over a period of time, six months,” she said, “rather than happening during this lame duck session before the end of the year.”