Romney has impressed Democrats and Republicans alike with his serious demeanor and intellect. His success in business launched his political career, and in Massachusetts, he showed how a Republican can work with Democrats.
Obama's campaign derided Romney's business experience (something Obama may now regret), but the president can make amends by asking Romney to join this effort. Romney may have his own regrets about the tone of the campaign - and he may want to make a genuine contribution toward solving a problem he campaigned on. This is his chance to set aside his rhetoric and be the man who pragmatically cut costs and raised revenue to bring companies back to health.
It would be unfair to ask Romney to take this on alone. Obama should also turn to the last president who balanced a budget and presided over a booming economy, Bill Clinton.
Clinton said at the Democratic convention that the secret to his budgetary success was simple: "Arithmetic." He could use his basic math skills, and considerable political skills, to help reduce the deficit and create jobs. The man who could compromise with Newt Gingrich can surely do so with a fellow Ivy League lawyer who also governed a state of a decidedly different political color.
The Clinton-Romney commission should begin work right away, drawing on the Simpson-Bowles commission and others. Its plan must include entitlement reform, which Romney can craft and Clinton can sell, and new revenue, which Clinton can craft and Romney can sell.
U.S. business leaders have sat on the sidelines for three years while politicians stalemated sensible approaches to our economic problems. They need to set aside preelection rhetoric and push for bipartisanship. The 80 chief executives who recently signed a letter for the Fix the Debt initiative should become the core of a much larger effort to get our political leaders to focus on the urgent, not the expedient.
And to ensure the politicians listen, business leaders could adopt Starbucks chief Howard Schultz's call to pledge that not one dime of contributions will go to politicians of either party until they get serious about the debt.
Obama pledged last week to reach out to Romney. Now he should pick up the phone and ask him to set aside the cramped positions of the campaign. And the president should show he's serious by promising to support entitlement reform.
Romney, meanwhile, should show that the business leader who could reach across the aisle in a blue state can craft a plan that will stimulate jobs today while balancing the budget tomorrow, even with new revenue that may enrage the right.
And no one understands the challenge before them better than Clinton. He balanced the budget before. He can do so again.
These times demand big ideas. Neither Obama nor Clinton nor Romney will ever face the voters again. They can afford to take risks and anger their own constituencies. It's time to put their enormous political capital to work for the good of the country.
Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty has been Bill Clinton's chief of staff and a chief executive of a Fortune 500 energy company. Nelson W. Cunningham has worked for Clinton, Joseph Biden, and Rudolph Giuliani. They wrote this for the Washington Post.