Hard Decisions, Easy Life; Easy Decisions, Hard Life.

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Hard Decisions, Easy Life; Easy Decisions, Hard Life.

A friend sent me a quote a few months back. “Hard decisions, easy life; easy decisions, hard life.”

A good example of a hard decision made by our country’s leaders is President Biden’s directive to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by August 31. The president looked at the facts and came to the conclusion that we have spent $2 trillion dollars, we have lost 2,400 American lives, there have been 238,000 additional lives lost in the Afghan war, and most importantly, Biden recognized there was NO way to win the war. The president made the difficult decision and is ending the war despite fierce opposition.

Unfortunately, the courageous move to pull out of Afghanistan is an exception to the rule. Too often, both Republicans and Democrats reject the hard decisions that will benefit our nation over the long run. Instead, they choose the easy decisions that benefit campaign contributors or a block of voters that they need to get reelected, passing along massive problems to our children and grandchildren.

The latest example of this is the transportation bill. The good news is that Congress – after more than 10 years of inaction while the nation’s infrastructure crumbled – looks like it will finally pass a bill to shore up the transportation system. The bad news, though, is that our country is $28.5 trillion in debt, and the nation’s Highway Trust Fund is almost broke. 

The gas tax is the major source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund and it has been stuck at the same rate –18.3 cents per gallon — since 1993.  In the meantime, inflation has risen 85%, infrastructure has expanded and we are not keeping pace. The American Society of Civil Engineers says 43% of the public roads across our nation are in poor or mediocre shape, more than 46,000 bridges are “structurally deficient,” and there’s a water main break every two minutes somewhere in the U.S.

The hard decision for our government’s leaders would be to level with the American people and let them know that it would be in the country’s best long-term interest to raise the gas tax by $1 per gallon now and build a world-class transportation system for the future along with creating millions of high-paying jobs today. 

President Biden is opposing an increase in the gas tax, and when a reporter asked why, the explanation from White House spokesman Andrew Bates can only be characterized as classic “easy decision, hard life.” He said, “After the extraordinarily hard times that ordinary Americans endured in 2020 — job losses, shrinking incomes, squeezed budgets — he is simply not going to allow Congress to raise taxes on those who suffered the most.” 

To which I say: What if by suffering and making a hard choice today, we would be much better off as a country in the future? 

As a nation, we face many problems that need bold leadership. We need our leaders to tell us the truth and present us with solutions based on the facts not  based on what makes us feel good or scores political points.  Here are five examples of issues that need bold solutions based on facts:

  1.  Global warming: The temperature on the only planet we have has increased by 2 degrees over the last 100 years and the scientific community estimates it could increase by another 6 degrees over the next 100 years. All across North America, we are seeing impacts of climate change. Just look at the Pacific Northwest. Portland shattered all previous records with temperatures hitting 116 degrees in late June. The heat wave is blamed for more than 100 deaths in Oregon. Climate change threatens our very existence, and we need our leaders to step up and propose solutions that will address the problem.
  2. Health care: We spend 2x more than any other country in the world on health care and we get some of the worst results. Over 40% of Americans are obese — we are eating ourselves to death! — and yet our leaders have failed to address the issue. What has our government done to increase the health of the American people? In the 1970s, the government took on the tobacco industry in order to benefit the health of the American people. Why can’t our current generation of leaders take on the fast-food industry or the health care industrial complex with the goal of significantly improving the health of the American people so we can spend less on health care and improve our quality of life? 
  3. Education: We have more than 10 million kids in poverty. Our society is not equal. Children in poor neighborhoods get poorly funded public schools while children in rich zip codes get great public schools.  Brown vs. the Board of Education mandated that ALL of our children should receive an equal education. They do not. Please ask our leaders to make the tough decisions and fix our worst public schools so that we can wage a war against poverty and provide every child in this nation a fair chance at the American dream.
  4. Prison reform: There are more than 2.1 million Americans locked up in prison today. This is a BIG number. It amounts to 639 people per 100,000 population, which is more than any other industrialized country, including Russia. The United Kingdom has 114, Germany has 69 and Japan has 39 per 100,000. We are losing a generation of Americans by locking them up and we are spending a fortune to do so.  Congress and President Biden need to show some leadership and address the absurd number of Americans locked up in prison. 
  5. Taxes:  We have a tax code that is more than 2,500 pages long and it continues to get worse every year, because our leaders accept campaign donations and the donors want something in return — usually tax breaks. Government leaders should be talking about a simple, fair tax code? Less than ten pages — that would be easy for everyone to figure out and would be … FAIR. 

I could go on and on and on, but I will stop at 5. We need real leadership in this country on both sides of the aisle to address the significant challenges that we face. We have a very simple choice:  Make the hard decisions today and have a prosperous country in the future or continue to make the easy “kick-the-can-down-the-road” decisions and  leave an absolute mess for our children.

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Saving our democracy starts with an educated citizenry that isn't afraid to break from party lines. In this Playbook, Trek Bicycle President John Burke proposes 16 detailed solutions to our country's biggest challenges that are rooted in fact not ideology.