Sunday, October 6, 2013

When Compromise Makes Sense - And When It Doesn’t

There are two boys and two candy bars, a Babe Ruth and a Snickers bar. Both boys want the Babe Ruth candy bar and are about to come to blows over the issue when Mom steps in and works out a compromise allowing both boys to have half a Babe Ruth and half a Snickers bar. A perfect compromise! Well, nothing is perfect in these situations Neither boy got all that he wanted but both got some of what they wanted.

A terrorist is holding 20 hostages, demanding that 20 of his jihadist buddies who are rotting in Guantanamo be released in exchange for the 20 hostages. He has explosives attached to each of the hostages and will detonate them if any attempt is made to rescue them. Is there a “Mom” who can step into this situation and “split the difference”? Hardly. And pity the poor President who has to make the decision to either risk the lives of innocent hostages or turn loose on the world 20 dangerous jihadists.

The Congress of the United States has passed a health reform law, the President signed it, the Supreme Court upheld nearly every aspect of it, and the American people re-elected the President whose name has become synonymous with the law. But now a small group of radicals has taken the law hostage and is holding a gun to its head, saying, we will shoot if the President doesn’t agree to eviscerate the health reform law.

Of course the “gun” they are holding to the head of the “hostage health reform law” is really two guns, a government shutdown and a default on the nation’s debt.

When asked by the media, many Americans seem to be saying, “Why don’t the two sides just split the difference. They should quit acting like children fighting over a candy bar, split the difference and get on with things.” But what are the consequences of forcing a president to either scrap or delay a major piece of legislation in order to keep the “hostage holders” from pulling the trigger? How many more “hostage” situations will we have to deal with in the future. Will the other side (the Democrats in this situation) be forgiving when it is their turn to play “jihadist”? Not very likely.

There are compromises in which splitting the difference makes sense, no one is hurt very badly. But dismantling a law in the process of being implemented will have long and lasting implications for millions of Americans. This is not a situation in which compromise will improve the outcome. The Tea Party Republicans, and Speaker Boehner who is enabling them either through cowardice or conviction need to pass the budget bills needed to keep our government functioning and paying its bills. That is their job. We pay them $175,000 per year, plus benefits and retirement, to do that job. It is not their job to repeal laws at the point of a “gun.”

There will be time enough, at some point in the future, when Republicans hold the balance of power, to revisit the health reform act. And when that day comes Republicans had better hope that Democrats have forgotten the terrorist tactics used against them in the fall of 2013.

This dysfunction has been a long time coming. It began with Ronald Reagan’s depreciatory comments about government and has grown to the point that nearly a quarter of the electorate has decided that they can do without the government – until it is shut down. Then those who have trashed the government suddenly want to re-fund it piecemeal to make themselves look good to certain constituencies that they have hurt by their intransigence. It is impossible to know where are current crisis will end – or how. If we make it through without triggering another “Great Recession” or worse, we need to do a few urgent things as quickly as we can:

1.         Pass meaningful and effective campaign spending laws getting big money out of politics

2.         Pass laws requiring that Congressional Districts be drawn by impartial panels rather than state legislatures

3.         Pass effective laws guaranteeing the right of every citizen to uninhibited access to the ballot box

4.         Reform the rules under which the Senate and the House operate so that decisions are made by majority vote in all but very exceptional cases; ratification of treaties, etc.

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