In the previous thread Robin Naismith Green ended a comment with the following question:
Enough blame how about some action and cooperation between the parties?
To which I responded:
Robin, the Tea Party is forcing the GOP to trend to the right at the same time that the Democrat Party has lurched violently to the left. I’m not sure how you get cooperation between such polar opposites. For example, which of the principles that guide your thinking would you be willing to compromise on? Which of our principles do you think we should compromise on. What is the ultimate goal if we both give up a little? Specifically, can you picture a country where we all get along, and how would you accomplish that when we clearly don’t want the same things. Would the ultimate compromise be to make each of us equally miserable?
And then Amazona added:
Good question. But you need to ask the right questions first. For example, the first step toward working together is agreeing on a goal. Cooperation happens when both sides agree on a goal and then only have to find ways to achieve that goal, which usually involves some give-and-take. What we are seeing, and have seen for quite some time, is goals being thrown under the bus in favor of gross and blatant demagoguery.
Example: Let’s say the Left says its goal is to feed poor children. The Right agrees, this is a worthy goal. Therefore, the next step ought to be rational discussion about how best to do this. But what happens is, the Left says there is one way to do this and only one way, their way, which happens to totally contradict the Right’s objective political philosophy, so letting the Left have its way would not be compromise, it would be capitulation.
So poor children do not get fed. BUT….the true goal of the Left is met, which was never the feeding of poor children but the demonizing of the Right, because once the Right has walked away from an entirely dogmatic and unacceptable position the Left can then trumpet its claim that the Right doesn’t care if children go hungry. And this was the intent from the get-go.
So if you truly want cooperation and true compromise, drop the either/or paradigm, and agree that the goals are shared and the only thing left is to figure out how to meet them.
We often talk about compromise. Compromise used to be the glue that held our government together and made it work. It was an historic compromise back in 1983 that extended the solvency of Social Security by 2 decades. But when George Bush attempted to reform and save Social Security again early in his first term, saying publicly that EVERYTHING was on the table, compromise was nowhere to be found. It appeared to anyone who was paying attention that for Democrats, the campaign value of being able to say that Republicans wanted to destroy Social Security was greater than actually fixing the program for future generations.
So when exactly did compromise die? And, unless you’re living under a rock, you’d have to admit that, if it’s not dead, it’s at least in a coma. Many on the Left cite Newt Gingrich as the single individual who banished compromise from the D.C. lexicon, and in some respects, they would be right. But David Axelrod’s reference to Gingrich as the Godfather of Gridlock notwithstanding, Gingrich’s compromises with Bill Clinton probably accomplished more in terms of historical, meaningful legislation than any Speaker in my lifetime:
So what did Clinton and Gingrich accomplish during this era of (relatively) good feelings? Here are a few notable bills, each of which passed with broad, bipartisan majorities.
Telecommunications Act, 1996 — described by the Federal Communications Commission as “the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years.” The House passed the final version of the bill by a 414-16 margin, with 236 Republicans and 178 Democrats supporting it.
Welfare reform, 1996 — a landmark bill to end cash payments and instead encourage recipients to find work. The House passed the final version of the bill by a 328-101 margin, with 230 Republicans and 98 Democrats.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 1996 — a law that allowed people to change jobs without fearing the loss of their health insurance due to pre-existing conditions, as well as provisions dealing with health information privacy. The House passed the final version of the bill by a 421-2 margin, with 227 Republicans and 193 Democrats.
Taxpayer Relief Act, 1997 — which established a child tax credit, tuition tax credits, and penalty-free withdrawals from IRAs for education expenses and first-home purchases, as well as a decrease in the capital gains tax and limitations on the estate tax. The House passed the final version of the bill by a 389-43 margin, with 225 Republicans and 164 Democrats.
Balanced Budget Act, 1997 — a bill that cut spending in order to balance the budget by fiscal year 2002. The House passed the final version of the bill by a 346-85 margin, with 193 Republicans and 153 Democrats.
My feeling is that today’s lack of compromise is the result of two dynamics: distrust between the parties and the wide chasm that separates their respective agendas. I’m not sure exactly when the distrust factor entered the picture (at least in terms of modern-day politics), but a good guess would be the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA).
The ratio in the final deal — the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA) — was $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. It sounded persuasive at the time. Believing it to be the only way to get spending under control, most of the president’s colleagues signed on. He disliked the tax hikes, of course, but he agreed to it as well.
You don’t have to be a Washington veteran to predict what happened next. The tax increases were promptly enacted — Congress had no problem accepting that part of the deal — but the promised budget cuts never materialized. After the tax bill passed, some legislators of both parties even claimed that there had been no real commitment to the 3-to-1 ratio.
So the question remains: how do we get compromise back? Or maybe a better question: do we want it back?