Political courage in our nation's capital has most often been symbolized by the man or woman who dares to stand alone, as in the classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." But political courage can also mean something different -- the willingness to stand with those you normally disagree with for the betterment of our country.
With both a polarized citizenry and a divided Congress, America will move forward only if we have leaders who show true bipartisan courage. The public wants action -- sensible action -- to respond to the key challenges we face.
Our most urgent challenge is job creation and economic growth. With the economy stabilized but still lackluster, we must encourage private-sector job growth while still providing a safety net for those out of work through no fault of their own. We must move ahead with an agenda for economic competitiveness with a focus on exports and tax incentives for private-sector job growth. Small businesses and entrepreneurs, not government, are the real engines of job creation.
There are several other key areas where bipartisan leadership is possible and necessary:
First, even before the new Congress convenes in January, something must be done about the tax cuts that expire on Dec. 31. Given the fragile state of the economy, allowing all of these tax cuts to simply expire would not be right or fair to our still struggling middle class. We must look for common ground with decisions that protect the middle class while also being fiscally sound for the country. We must also find bipartisan solutions to fix the estate tax and repeal the 1099 reporting requirement in the health care reform bill that would overburden our small businesses. These changes would provide certainty to small businesses, investors and taxpayers.
One of the foundation stones for long-term growth is a forward-looking energy policy.
The United States lags behind countries like China, Germany and Spain that have adopted strong national policies to promote their homegrown energy industries. Doing the same in the U.S. should be a matter of national security and economic prosperity, not partisan posturing.
I have joined with Sen. Olympia Snowe, Republican from Maine, to introduce legislation for a national renewable electricity standard modeled on Minnesota's standard.
As it has in other countries, such a standard would stimulate investment and innovation by creating market demand for homegrown energy technologies such as wind, solar and nuclear.
Bipartisan action is also necessary on education reform.
Both Democrats and Republicans support significant changes to No Child Left Behind. We all want greater accountability for schools and higher achievements for students. Likewise, we need policies to strengthen science and math education and allow local school districts more flexibility.
Rep. John Kline of our state will be the new chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, and he has already indicated a willingness to work across the aisle.
Finally, it is essential for Democrats and Republicans to work together on long-term strategies to reduce the federal deficit. That is why I pushed for the creation of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
Tough decisions will be necessary to curb ever-rising government spending. But these decisions will happen only if both parties have "skin in the game."
Cynics like to claim that bipartisanship is a fantasy. But I know it can be real.
In fact, some of the most important federal legislation of the past 50 years passed only because of leaders who set aside the partisan talking points and stepped across party lines.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a good example. Although introduced by President John Kennedy and pushed forward by President Lyndon Johnson, it was vigorously opposed by Democratic senators from the South. After a filibuster lasting 57 days, it passed the Senate thanks to the votes of 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans.
More recently, President Bill Clinton worked with the Republican-led Congress on welfare reform, which passed the Senate with all 53 Republicans voting in favor, along with 25 Democrats.
No one party acting alone can solve our problems. The good of our country depends more than ever on those who will dare to show leadership by working together to move our country forward.