By Jon Huntsman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is a former Republican governor of Utah and former U.S. ambassador to China and Singapore. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The February jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offered a sliver of good news: an estimated 175,000 jobs were created last month, substantially exceeding the forecast of 149,000. And for the first time in nearly four years – in 46 months, to be exact – more unemployed Americans found jobs than got discouraged, stopped looking, and left the labor market, according to economists.
Encouraging as that news is, we still have a long way to go to reach the level of job growth that will return our economy and workforce to full health and we can’t afford to sit by, keep our fingers crossed that such progress continues, and wait. Instead, we need to come together as a nation, as we’ve done before during times of crisis, and rally around the critical goal of accelerating job growth. The problem is that while Americans broadly agree on what our priorities as a nation should be, Washington is as divided as ever.
At No Labels, an organization devoted to the politics of problem solving and consensus building that I co-chair with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, we’re examining bipartisan-backed policies to promote job growth. It’s the first step in our campaign to forge a new governing process in America – a national strategic agenda based on goals that both sides of the political divide develop together.
You’d never know from the highly polarized political discourse today that on the big goals and priorities for this country, the American people, if not their elected officials, are fairly united. In a poll No Labels conducted late last year, we asked registered voters what our government should be focused on right now. Majorities from both parties pointed to priorities such as creating 25 million jobs in the next 10 years and securing Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years. Goals such as a balanced budget and energy self-sufficiency were also important to both sides.
We’re starting with the most urgent need – jobs – and bringing together the best minds in economics and business, policy and politics, to seek common-sense policy prescriptions that both parties can embrace.
This campaign for a national strategic agenda, a shared vision for this country built around common goals such as job growth and entitlement reform, is not only doable, but absolutely necessary if we want to break the cycle of fighting and gridlock that has stifled our progress for too long.
During my career, I’ve lived overseas four times and traveled to numerous foreign countries. Most of them have had national strategies, clear ideas about where they need to go as a country and how they want to get there. Today, they are taking steps to strengthen their economies and their nations as a whole.
The United States is competing with these nations. But instead of pursuing clear goals to strengthen our future, we move from political crisis to political showdown with no overall game plan for our future prosperity.
On issue after issue, too many of our leaders retreat to their partisan corners before there’s any clear sense of where we’re headed. If members of both parties first came together to agree on overall goals and destinations, then the road to getting there – the hard work of developing policy to promote job growth and meet other challenges – would be smoother.
I know this is a process that works – and not just from my years abroad.
When I ran for governor of Utah, I brought together experts and stakeholders from across our state, listened to citizens and small business leaders, and ultimately put together a 10-point plan for the state. Once in office, I enlisted both Democrats and Republicans to help implement the plan, and eventually every goal was achieved.
We reformed Utah’s tax code. We improved primary education and the colleges in our state, as well as our infrastructure. We had the lowest unemployment and the highest rates of economic growth in the nation. The Pew Foundation named Utah the best managed state in the nation.
It all starts with a plan. More than 75 members of Congress have already endorsed this campaign for a national strategic agenda. The No Labels poll suggests the public is on board – 80 percent of those surveyed said there should be a single unified agenda for the country that reflects the goals of both parties by the time the next president takes office.
Throughout the last century, we’ve seen the nation rally around big, bold agendas such as universal public education, the interstate highway system, sending a man to the moon. These goals mobilized the political will of all our leaders and led to landmark achievements.
It’s time to harness that same political will and national energy, so February’s sunny jobs report is a harbinger of brighter days ahead for the labor market and economy, and not just a ray of false hope.