Sunday, September 27, 2015

Compromise Is Not A Sign Of Weakness, But Refusing To Compromise Is

There's a great quote in a New York Times article exploring the fallout from John Boehner's sudden and dramatic decision to resign as Speaker and from Congress.

"At its core, there’s a group of members in the House Republican caucus who affirmatively don’t want to govern if that means compromise. And governing always means compromise.”

This of course is the core problem. Folks on the right often claim to believe in the strict text of the constitution, yet their governing philosophy completely dismisses the constitutional order. From the moment the GOP won the House in 2010 a group of hard core Republicans decided that only they should determine the nation's agenda. Never mind that Democrats had the presidency and the Senate. Now the GOP has the House and Senate and the hard core are doubling down. Again ignoring the presidency and the Dem's ability to filibuster.

And when leaders like Boehner and McConnell try to govern by negotiating the compromises that our constitution demands they are treated as weak leaders and sell outs. Former Majority Leader captured it well in a recent Op-Ed:

"...somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies. They took to the airwaves and the Internet and pronounced that congressional Republicans could undo the president’s agenda — with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.
Strangely, according to these voices, the only reason that was not occurring had nothing to do with the fact that the president was unlikely to repeal his own laws, or that under the Constitution, absent the assent of the president or two-thirds of both houses of Congress, you cannot make law. The problem was a lack of will on the part of congressional Republican leaders."
In truth, Republican leadership has been anything but weak. Instead they've tried hard to fashion compromises in the face of a partial party revolt. Ronald Reagan cut deals and compromised with Democrats often. The folks who now claim to revere Reagan actually revere a myth of an uncompromising conservative who never existed and never would've been a success if he had. When Reagan proclaimed that government was not the solution to our problems and that government was the problem he was referring to a convoluted tax code and excessive regulations. Reagan did succeed in lowering taxes and easing some regulations, but he never preferred a shut down over cutting a deal. And Reagan also agreed to tax increases, new regulations, and several sizeable expansions of Medicaid. For all of the railing against "Obamacare" the Medicaid expansions under Reagan transformed Medicaid from a relatively small program into the largest single source of health coverage in the nation. But Reagan used his leverage as President and the GOP Senate majority to reach compromises he could live with. He never got everything he wanted, but neither did Democrats. That's how are system is supposed to work.

But the current crop of hard core GOP in the House and folks like Ted Cruz in the Senate believe that they should get 100% of what they want. They're not willing to accept anything less. Though that strategy may please the small number of folks who vote in primaries it's unlikely the majority of general election voters will continue to back a majority party that refuses to govern.