If what you hope to get out of your elected officials is an ego massage, there is no better job to have in 2012 than entrepreneur. Politicians want to shake your hand, figuratively speaking, at every campaign stop. Pollsters hang on every blip in your opinion. Stump speakers hold for applause every time they promise to protect job creators like you from all the horrible things their opponent wants to do to you.
Well, sorry, Washington, but that's actually not what entrepreneurs want from you.
In a survey last month, Inc. 500 CEOs made it quite clear what they expect of whoever wins the election next month. They want 1. the deficit brought under control; 2. the economy supported; and 3. the tax code rationalized. In other words, like most Americans, entrepreneurs want members of the next Congress to quit bickering, to abandon economic fairy tales, and to compromise.
In the current political climate, there is zero chance of that. It "will require...a degree of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in Congress that is inconceivable at this time," Bruce Bartlett, a former senior policy analyst for President Reagan and a columnist on fiscal policy for The New York Times and The Fiscal Times, told me. When I asked him for conditions, however unlikely, in which Washington might address the Inc. 500 CEOs' three goals, he said, "I'm too pessimistic even to think of a best-case scenario."
I'm more optimistic than that, in part because of what I learned as we prepared this month's special report, "The Agenda." As writers Bo Burlingham, Adam Bluestein, and Dan Ferrara point out, even today, both parties agree on the value of entrepreneurship. There's much policymakers can do to stoke the job-creation machine (even though few in office seem to have a clue how it works) and to clear out obstacles to growth. Then there's the work entrepreneurs are already doing to fix the country's most serious challenge--the out-of-control cost of health care. You'll come away hopeful, too, I think.
Which brings us back to the Inc. 500 CEOs' tough challenge to politicians. Bartlett thinks it will take a severe economic crisis to bring the two sides together for meaningful tax reform and sane fiscal policy. That's nobody's idea of a best-case scenario.
Congress: If you are so eager to help entrepreneurs, listen to them. Adopt one of the bipartisan blueprints for fiscal sanity and tax reform, negotiate the details with your colleagues across the aisle, and put it into place. You were elected to govern. So do it.