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Don’t let partisan squabbling block COVID relief

In our years in the banking industry, through booms and recessions, we learned some important lessons. One was: When things start going badly, don’t tarry. Respond quickly and make needed adjustments as matters unfold.

Today we watch in dismay as our nation’s elected leaders quarrel and dilly-dally while big problems go unresolved. Immigration reform. Infrastructure renewal. The latest example has been weeks of inaction over much-needed financial relief for businesses and individuals hit hardest by COVID-19.

People are suffering. They are losing their jobs, their homes, their cars, and far too often, their lives. Yet Republicans and Democrats in Congress have spent precious time quarreling and sniping at each other. A breakthrough seems possible, but it should not have taken this long to end the impasse.

It’s the same dispiriting play we’ve seen in Washington for years. Loyalty to party, rather than to country, has become paramount. It’s virtually a sin to cooperate with the other party (AKA the enemy), so almost nothing important gets done.

It wasn’t always this way. In the not-too-distant past, Democrats and Republicans found enough common ground to pass new budgets, respond to environmental problems, make reasoned, fully debated changes to tax policies, and so on. Yes, they disagreed — often sharply — on basic governing philosophies. But they acknowledged the need to cooperate enough on key issues to move from zero to an acceptable place that helped the nation move forward.

Neither side got everything it wanted. But both parties rejected an all-or-nothing approach that would leave national problems to fester. This was before “compromise” became a dirty word in politics.

As bank executives, we tried to help people live their dreams, through savings, timely loans and smart business-development strategies. The “American dream,” even if nebulously defined, is often associated with “American exceptionalism,” a founding idea of this nation.

Over the years, we have generally embraced the notion of American exceptionalism. Indeed, the United States continues to exhibit important virtues, including a strong economy and the new and remarkably fast development of COVID-19 vaccines.

But it’s time to acknowledge that in several important ways our nation is more laggard that leader. We significantly trail other wealthy nations in child mortality, life expectancy, high school enrollment and other measures.

If we were still in the banking business, we’d have to ask ourselves: would we lend money to this client?

That’s a disturbing question, but it stems from a sclerotic political system whose most potent force is fierce partisanship. Far too often, congressional leaders and their colleagues decide it’s better to walk away empty-handed than to compromise with the other party and settle for, say, 70 or 80 percent of what they originally sought. This all-or-nothing mentality — encouraged by rabidly partisan voters who often dominate low-turnout party primaries — paralyzes our government and fuels the public’s frightfully low opinion of elected officials.

Luckily, there is a courageous, results-oriented group in Congress trying to break this gridlock and get things done. The roughly 50-member House Problem Solvers Caucus — equally divided between Democrats and Republicans — has resolved deadlocks on important legislation and forced long-needed reforms to House rules by jointly insisting on common-sense solutions to sticky matters.

In return, they suffer recriminations and political punishment from their own party’s members because they dare to work with the “enemy.” But these problem solvers acknowledge a truth that others deny: It’s mathematically impossible to pass anything through Congress without bipartisan collaboration. Neither party can amass the super majorities it would need to enact legislation on its own.

This axiom is a central tenet for the non-profit group No Labels, where we are active, and which helped found the Problem Solvers Caucus several years ago.

Americans need a new pandemic-related financial relief bill, and they shouldn’t have to wait through weeks of partisan posturing and point-scoring.

Compromise isn’t a dirty word. It’s crucial to the form of government the Framers created 230 years ago. Please, elected officials, rise to the occasion and shore up the American dream.

John B. McCoy is Retired Chairman and CEO of BancOne Corp. David A. Coulter is Retired Chairman and CEO of BankAmerica Corp.

Tags coronavirus relief COVID-19

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