With so much effort focused on fighting partisan battles, lawmakers in Washington are shortchanging important debates necessary to shore up American competitiveness.
Such are the stakes right now that Congress needs to put politics aside so that policy dialogue can take precedence, Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said in an interview.
“If we don’t do that there’s really nothing that will work for us over the long term,” she said. “We’re going to have short-term solutions … that’s going to hurt us and our competitiveness internationally.”
Gov. Whitman, an American Security Project board member and president of the Whitman Strategy Group, said the U.S. is presenting a puzzling picture to the rest of the world.
“They’ve never seen America where it doesn’t have its act together fiscally,” she said.
The sequester is not helping. The $85 billion in budget cuts, however, actually blur understanding of the U.S. fiscal picture and also risk doing long-term damage.
“There are going to be cuts to those aspects of the federal government that actually deal with smart growth and planning,” she said.
This poses a challenge at the state level, particularly in light of the costly damage of serious weather events recently seen in the case of Hurricane Sandy. Rebuilding quickly is a priority for economic reasons, she said, but it has to be done with the right approach or there is the risk of setting conditions for a repeat disaster.
“If we don’t rebuild smart and we don’t do it in a different way … all we are doing is setting ourselves up for the potential of the next big storm wiping everything out and the taxpayers being saddled with an enormous debt that they are going to have to pay in order to rebuild,” she said.
In the near term, more visible signs of sequester’s toll such as closing airport control towers or reducing the ranks of the TSA may force the public to come to grips with the current state of affairs in Washington.
“It will certainly get the American people to put a whole lot of pressure on Congress to end this,” she said. “That might make it come to a conclusion sooner than later.”
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