Ten things on which Americans can probably agree

Republicans can declare the results of the midterm elections a complete repudiation of President Obama and every last Democrat from here to Anchorage, but they shouldn't get too excited. Obama's approval rating might have sagged to 44 percent, but the rating for Congress is less than half that.

And the latest Gallup survey also showed no popular preference — Republican or Democrat — for control of Congress, with 40 percent of Americans shrugging; they think life would be the same regardless of which party is in charge.


If you were an outsider looking at voting results from the past five federal elections, you'd probably conclude that we are a fickle nation, unsure of what we want. And, with all the super-partisanship in Washington — two ridiculous debt-ceiling standoffs, a partial government shutdown — you'd think the country was almost completely dysfunctional.

Well, we might be unhappy with Congress and disappointed in Obama. But we know what we want. I made a list of 10 things, for starters. It wasn't that hard.


I don't waste time with people who think the government is a monster that must be subdued, or that taxation equals confiscation. This isn't for you.

This is for reasonable Americans who take the broad view of things and who want to see the country they love moving forward.

So here goes. Check out my list, then draw up your own.

1. Congress should do some serious self-regulation and change campaign finance laws. Candidates spent almost $4 billion on the midterm campaigns. No wonder people are cynical. If you want to win the public's confidence, then find some way to limit campaign spending or consider the proposal of Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes — the Government By The People Act — to provide matching funds for candidates who go after small donors. Do something about this.

2. Keep the Affordable Care Act. Stop trying to kill it. Call off the dogs who keep biting at it in Congress and in the courts. The law is in place and millions of people already are benefiting, and that includes the 85 percent of Americans who had health insurance before President Obama signed the law; even we enjoy some of its provisions. The continued assaults on the ACA are not only mean, they're shortsighted. More people have health insurance now; they're not walking into emergency rooms when they get sick, something that adds to insurance costs for the rest of us. Millions more are expected to sign up between now and next spring. States with insurance exchanges are competitive and premiums are generally lower than expected. The costs of health are starting to stabilize. Leave this alone. Or, if there are elements of the ACA that need fixing, then fix them. Stop trying to blow it up.

3. Let's deal with wasteful spending once and for all, so we can put the issue to rest for a while. Order a nonpartisan, comprehensive audit of the federal budget — every department, including the Pentagon — to root out any spending that's suspect. Have a bipartisan commission of level-headed people make recommendations to Congress, and make those recommendations binding.

4. Make sure the Social Security system is sound for decades to come so we don't have a retirement apocalypse. Please get that done.

5. Pave the highways, of course, but let's get moving on better public transportation, once and for all. More trains and buses, please, and buses powered by compressed natural gas and electricity. Expand mass transit to serve the growing numbers of people moving to cities and metropolitan areas. Create jobs, reduce carbon emissions.

6. Let's stop arguing about whether climate change is caused by human activity and get busy on reducing greenhouse gases. We're a big, smart, exceptional country. We can do this. We have to push wind and solar power. We must stop encouraging the extraction of fossil fuels from the earth. We should be a model to the rest of the world when it comes to changing our wasteful habits and living in a more sustainable way.

7. Stop arguing about immigration and do something about it. We're not going to deport 12 million people, many of whom are contributing to the economy and even paying taxes. So grant those who are here some sort of legal status and be done with it. Guarding the U.S.-Mexico border is also important, but …

8. … if we don't deal with the problems that create refugees, from Central America particularly, they'll keep coming. Let's stop the war on drugs; it contributes to the violence that sends people to our borders, and it keeps our prisons full.

9. Find a better way for young people to afford their college education without going deeply into debt.


10. Push innovation, seed more research and development into the technologies that are going to make life better here — electric vehicles (including buses), cleaner farming methods and pollution controls, treatments for cancer and other diseases.

I could go on, but inventing stuff is someone else's job, and, besides, I've reached the end of the column.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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