Jim Gilmore

Some say we should simply keep on paying for unaffordable public union contracts and obligations to other creditors. That’s not viable. If gas prices continue to rise, burdens on mainstream wage earners would be magnified by tax increases. People of modest means, and even those in the middle class, would only be more pressured by a tax hike in a high-price energy environment. Our anemic economic recovery could very well turn into a double-dip recession with only deeper and more prolonged unemployment. In short, we don’t have the money.

There is only one viable path. And that is for political leaders who have now been elected across the country with the mandate to make tough choices to begin their hard work. Unfortunately, this will have to be done regardless of whether the public unions come to the negotiating table or a handful of legislators show up for a vote. Our country has promised too much, spent too much and borrowed too much. At any time, creditors could take these difficult decisions out of our hands and make those decisions even more painful for all.

So here’s some sound advice:

Public employee unions should lose the high-octane rhetoric. Put down the drums. Ditch the phony sick slips. Quickly let the sights and sounds of Madison, Wisconsin, recede from the public’s mind and consciousness. Approach negotiations in a serious, thoughtful spirit of shared sacrifice and a realistic, open-minded appraisal of the tough financial times faced by most taxpayers. Many will not be with you.

Political leaders, meanwhile, should be ready to work together in a bipartisan manner, make principled arguments and show up for the vote. Bipartisanship used to be a nice sound bite. In times like these, it will be our only way forward.

Government must make the same tough decisions that everyday Americans have had to make to work our way out of this terrible challenge. Even the toughest problems can be solved by leaders working in an honorable and trustworthy way that voters and the public can trust.

Jim Gilmore

James S. Gilmore III, is President and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (www.freecongress.org).