The next president must facilitate bipartisan compromise and cooperation to solve major issues facing the country, advocated three business and former government officials at the second annual Hariri Symposium in Lohrfink Auditorium on Tuesday.
The symposium, hosted by the Business, Society and Public Policy Initiative of the McDonough School of Business, sought to find solutions to the problems Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will face after inauguration Jan. 20.
The speakers, former Ambassador to Iceland Charles Cobb, former Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D-Maine, LAW ’61) and former District of Columbia mayor Anthony Williams identified the biggest issues the nation faces and proposed solutions for the winner of the 2016 race, while urging elected officials to try to cooperate on issues even if not every problem is solved.
Cobb, who served as CEO of the Arvida Corporation and Disney Development before serving as an ambassador under former President George W. Bush’s administration, identified five major issues facing the United States today: excessive deficit spending, growing resistance to free trade, a decaying military and fading international presence, a lack of immigration reform and a failing health care system.
Cobb said immigration policy should be focused on improving the economy rather than resettling families already in the United States, including providing longterm work permits for immigrants currently residing in the United States illegally who pay a fine, learn English and have no criminal record.
Mitchell said the country should not be closing its borders but selectively taking in immigrants.
“Common sense makes it clear that we need fair and realistic limits on how many people can enter. But we should not limit the discussion to who we want to keep out and who we want to throw out,” Mitchell said. “We must also discuss who we want to enter and how we can continue to replenish our society with new people to their benefit and to ours.”
Mitchell, whose father was an Irish orphan who worked as a janitor in a local school and whose mother was an illiterate Lebanese refugee who worked the night shift in textile mills, said ensuring access to education is key to making a fairer society.
“Because of the openness of this country I was able to get an education … and become the majority leader of the United States Senate,” Mitchell said.
Cobb said there must be a bipartisan commission to regulate government spending.
“There should be a commitment to listen and implement their suggestions,” Cobb said.
According to Cobb, the tax code should be rewritten to provide greater clarity. Cobb said the government should reduce corporate tax rates, eliminate loopholes and reform entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.
“We have entitlements for Social Security and Medicare that just don’t work anymore,” Cobb said. “It cannot survive.”
According to Mitchell, environmental policy and climate change are some of the most immediate issues facing America.
Mitchell said a significant portion of the problems facing America are the result of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which enabled corporations and nonprofits to make unlimited donations to political campaigns.
“The Supreme Court did not create the problem. Money and political power have always mixed, but the court has made a bad situation much worse,” Mitchell said. “The Citizens United case will go down in history as one of the worst decisions ever made by any Supreme Court in our history.”
Williams said the next president needs to focus resources on major metropolitan areas and use these areas as a base and a drawing board for ideas that can then be implemented throughout the nation.
William Sleiman (COL ’18), an attendee, said making the country more open is important in ensuring progress.
“How Mr. Mitchell talked about immigration was very moving,” Sleiman said. “How we have to continue to let people in, in order to continue the innovation in America.”
Meghan Bodette (SFS ’20) said it is important that the United States make efforts to unite following this year’s election.
“His appeal to the common story that somewhere in the history of most American families we have relatives who risked a lot to come here and who were not treated with the dignity that they might have had in their home country was very powerful,” Bodette said. “After such a contentious election we need to start reclaiming a narrative that both sides can see themselves in.”
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