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Compromise Needed In Government

July 24, 2011

It is now obvious  to me that the only way for Washington to proceed with the debt ceiling debate is to first take a time out and read a book.  It would be time well spent!

It could be a Congressional Book Club of sorts, and not too difficult as the selection I wish them to read is only 180 pages with a large font.  Congress would likely agree the author has merit since he was appointed historian for the House of Representatives.

The book, “At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union.” by Robert Remini  is proof that it can be possible to compromise and move forward.  The book provides a snapshot of a time when slavery in one way or another was part of every issue that gripped the nation. There were sides and factions on every aspect of the issue, and no clear path expect to war and dis-union.

And then there was Henry Clay.

Briefly, and in part, Clay shaped the Compromise of 1850 that pushed off  Southern secession, guaranteed that California would be a free state, gave Texas money in return for its relinquishing a claim for part of New Mexico, and created changes to the fugitive slave law.  All this allowed the North more time to prepare for war and find a politician who could lead the way.  

None of this was easy, and no part of it came without compromise.

I think this book would be a good starting point for members of Congress who think about, or wish for, compromise in Washington.  It also would be an excellent text for those who fail to understand the necessity of compromise as a means to getting the work of government completed.

But the key is, and current Washington needs to be reminded, that compromise is different from capitulation. 

History shows that compromise is often needed in the most dire of times. Given the emotion and desires of various factions compromise is always very difficult to achieve. That it is imperative at those critical times to reach a deal should not be news to anyone. Yet sadly, compromise or even talk of it, (such as now) can lead to all sorts of outcomes, including the threat of primary races to scare elected officials from acting bravely.

Ask conservative Republican U.S. Senator Bennett how his election in 2010 fared after he dared to venture into working partnerships with Democrats on the issues that impacted the nation. He lost his seat, in part for working with ‘the other side’.

When thoughtful and always blunt-spoken former Republican Senator Alan Simpson was asked about any possible run again for office he responded this past week, Oh, hell, no. Now it’s just sharp elbows, and instead of having a caucus where you sit down and say, “What are you going to do for your country?” you sit figuring out how to screw the other side.

In other words there is no room for compromise, only time for partisan bickering.

There is much to say about how compromises must be constructed to allow for everyone to feel they gained something while knowing they also gave something up.   In the current debate over the debt ceiling Democrats would need to give in to entitlement changes, and Republicans would need to accept new tax revenues.  But too often it seems that we can not even get to the point in thinking in broad terms that the art of compromising is a worthwhile goal.  That is astonishing to me.  

If former Senator  Bennett is the example of the future of those who compromise than even Henry Clay would find it impossible to deal with modern-day Washington.

Last week I thought of something Ben Franklin said back in 1787.  I do not ponder Franklin everyday so his words made more of an impact in light of the news that then was coming from Washington. 

At the time it had been reported that a compromise termed “the big package’ might actually emerge as the one to finally address  the debt ceiling issue.  President Obama and Speaker Boehner were in serious talks, and progress was being reported.  There was reason to have some faith something finally could be done in Washington with this issue, and it was then Franklin came to mind.

As the Constitutional Convention was proceeding  Ben Franklin often looked at the president’s chair and saw the image of the sun that was painted upon it.  After the proceedings were complete he remarked to other colleagues that he had wondered if the sun was rising or setting on the chair, and felt with the completion of the work that it was indeed rising.

But after the news late Friday when a breakdown in budget talks forced all the players to their respective microphones and talking points I had to ask myself  where the sun was in relation to America.  These are not the best days when it comes to how the political process should work, or the type of outcome citizens should expect from their government.

  1. Solly permalink
    July 24, 2011 8:36 PM

    Obama is compromising enough for both sides. I’ve never seen a politician who can negotiate with himself against his base’s position, and get nothing in return from the Republicans, except no. He squandered his first two years when he had a mandate and huge majorities. He truly wasn’t ready for prime time. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for supporting him. Draft Hillary. Boner, McConnell and Cantor would be walking funny after the meeting if they pulled that with her.

  2. Paulette permalink
    July 24, 2011 6:54 PM

    Can’t put any kind of income-related requirement on either Social Security or Medicare. Republications would then refer to those programs as welfare, and demand that they be cut.

  3. Dave Senft permalink
    July 24, 2011 4:09 PM

    I think most of us on the right would agree with most of what you said. My compromise would be rather simple: the left wants tax increases (or end tax cuts) for millionaires and billionaires, the right says too many of those are “job creators” and the $250,000 mark is no indication of wealth. Well, let’s just raise the taxes on those who earn over $1,000,000 per year and end social security retirement payments to those who have portfolios so high that $800 a month won’t be noticed. Then on the spending side, the cuts would have to be immediate and substantial. Too many times we have allowed spending sprees with the promise of spending cuts down the road. Too many times the money has been spent but somehow we forgot the spending cuts.

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