If there is enough temerity, confidence and the freedom to think outside the box, the debt ceiling impasse can be resolved by Republicans in Congress with a one sentence proposal to President Obama:
Congressional Republicans will agree to a 13-week clean extension of the debt ceiling, provided President Obama agrees to participate in a September debate at the U.S. Capitol about the size and nature of government.
The process for this debate involves four simple elements:
1. The question is: Should the size of government be cut drastically? If so, how so? If not, why not?
2. Mr. Obama will prepare an 800- word statement, published ahead of time, where he addresses the question however he pleases. He will select two fellow advocates to do likewise.
3. Three members chosen by the Republican Caucus will do likewise.
4. With a chosen moderator in place, the six statements will begin with Mr. Obama, and be followed with free flowing questions and dialogue between the participants; and then the rest of Congress will be invited to pose questions of any and all of the participants.
If the President agrees, then follow-through debates will occur at 13-week intervals until the 2012 election, with the debt ceiling being increased after each debate proportionate to the immediate need.
If the President does not agree, Congress is free to pass an initial 13-week clean extension, noting in the bill how the President has refused to participate in such a debate.
If the President does not agree, the debate should happen nonetheless, with scheduled debt ceiling increases. Democrat leaders can be invited to step into the roles offered the President, with a standing offer for Mr.Obama to join in at any juncture.
These are honest politics which address the most compelling question in our federal life. If Mr. Obama or the Republican leadership has any confidence in their own philosophies of government, then such a debate will be eagerly embraced. To turn the ship around on our political and economic crisis is a large task. And yes, the eighteen months of debt ceiling extensions (indexed increases per 13-week season) does deepen the hole we are in for this time period.
But in the present divided government, we cannot otherwise get out of the hole as acrimony only deepens. With such a roadmap toward the 2012 election, the voters will then have a well informed choice, and in the meantime the nation and her business climate may see some light at the end of the tunnel.
I say this as one who believes government should be cut drastically, so as return to the simplicity of its constitutional purposes, and thus let the marketplace regain its true freedoms. Then, and only then, can religious, political and economic liberty be fully maximized for all people equally.
James Madison rightly feared that if laws become too “voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood,” then constitutional government is in danger. We are well past that tipping point.
John Rankin is president of the Theological Education Institute in West Simsbury, Connecticut, and his website is www.johnrankin.org.