The preparation for such legislation can proceed quickly. There is no lack of ideas for upgrading the workforce, backed by thoughtful, credible studies. Examples include the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, where research has focused on public investment, income inequality, social mobility, and education; or work done at the American Enterprise Institute that focuses on the earned income tax credit, relocation assistance, and work sharing. In addition, there may be programs at the state or municipal level that could be examined for effectiveness and scalability and should be ingredients in this new legislation.
One way to proceed is to create a bipartisan commission headed by leaders with credentials from both sides of the aisle to put together the principles and ideas on which the legislation would be based. The model could be the 9/11 Commission, which was chaired by former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean of New Jersey, with former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) as vice chair. Congress could agree beforehand to take or reject the commission’s recommendations, but not to amend them, along the lines of the National Commission on Social Security Reform, which was created in 1981 to deal with a crisis in Social Security funding at the time and was chaired by Alan Greenspan (before he was the Federal Reserve chairman.)
Critics of my approach will say that it will be a herculean task just to pass the TPP, with all the interest groups that need to be appeased, let alone two pieces of legislation that cut across the entire economy. But in an era of small-bore politics, it just might be that something grander — something more sweeping — could capture the public’s imagination. And we would, after all, have just two up-or-down votes.