U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, a Democrat from New York, and Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, were the keynote speakers at a conference this week unveiling a number of radical ideas meant to inspire change in U.S. policy on areas such as health care, climate change, and energy efficiency. Both senators, who say they are good friends despite political differences, said they believe the country needs courage and compromise to make the radical changes they say are needed to solve some long-standing problems. VOA's Marissa Melton reports from Washington.
The theme of the Ten Big Ideas for a New America conference, hosted by the nonpartisan New America research group this week was, well, the Ten Big Ideas in the title, proposals by scholars on election systems, economics, health care, retirement, and higher education to improve long-standing problems in U.S. policy. But the big-name speakers, Clinton, Graham, and New America founder Ted Halstead, focused on a broader idea. Each said the results of November's congressional elections, in which Democrats gained control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, signals a new feeling in the nation that this is the time for a new approach to old problems.
Halstead said there is support now for aggressive change in U.S. policy, after more than a decade of Republican control in Congress. "The political moment in America now is so ripe for big ideas. No question, the recent election was as significant turning point in American political history. As we all know, it was the end of conservative political domination of Congress that began in 1994. But what was so interesting about this recent election and this new era in American politics is that the pendulum has not swung back to traditional liberalism. Rather, this new era belongs to those who are willing to step outside of the partisan fray and offer the American people what they most want, which is bipartisan cooperation on bold reforms to solve our national problems."
One scholar presented a proposal for instant-runoff voting, which would allow voters to pick a first, second, and third-choice candidate, eliminating the need for primary elections and the expense that comes with them. Another proposed a national work-study plan to allow low-income students to pay for college without going into debt. A third offered a plan for universal health care, an important priority of Senator Clinton's.
Clinton undertook health care reform as First Lady, during the first term of her husband Bill Clinton's presidency in 1993. Though her effort failed, Clinton said it was a learning experience. She said she plans to continue her work on health care reform in her campaign for the presidency in 2008.
Clinton said during her campaign travels people have been telling her they are frustrated and discouraged. She says they really want a new path for the nation. But she said that requires flexibility, something she has not seen in Congress in recent years. "You know there is also a sort of troubling strain of fatalism in a lot of our debate, particularly over the last six years. Why can't we deal with the energy crisis? It would wreck our economy, end of debate. Well, no, in fact it would help us create new jobs. Why can't we deal with health care? Well, look what happened to Hillary Clinton when she tried," she said.
Graham, from the southern U.S. state of South Carolina, said he encountered similar opposition when he proposed changes to Social Security, the federal retirement plan. But he said persistence is worth it. "If we can push through the demagoguery, stand up against the attack ads for just a little while, on the other side is a large group of Americans desiring to be led and to embrace big ideas," he said.
Both senators emphasized that bipartisan cooperation is vital to the process of solving America's problems. Graham quipped that his relationship with Clinton is a good example of that. "We have become, actually, good friends. And that was a surprise to both of us," he said.
But joking aside, he said failing to cooperate would have dire consequences. He told the audience that if the Hillary Clintons and Lindsey Grahams of the world can't work together, America's best days are over.