The Ground Zero of Gridlock

Founding Dads, gasp, "compromising."

Representative democracy is designed to produce compromise. All of those inefficient checks and balances the Founding Fathers built into their Rube Goldberg policymaking machinery means that no single political party or branch of government has autocratic power. That forces branch and party leaders to negotiate and find mutually disagreeable middle ground.

In other words, to the Founding Fathers, compromise wasn’t considered a disease. It was a cure.

Admittedly, compromise isn’t very cathartic for zealots. In sports they say “a tie is like kissing your sister,” and a compromise is a tie of sorts. House Speaker Kurt Zellers would probably rather be kissing his sister right now than compromising with Governor Dayton, and vice versa.

But as frustrating as compromise can be, we have done well with our maddening compromise model. The Constitution – the document the compromise-hating Tea Partiers love to nag us about — was a negotiated compromise that left many of its endorsers disappointed. Almost all major legislative achievements in the nation’s history – the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, the creation of Medicare, the creation of the Interstate Highway system, the “Minnesota Miracle” — were the product of bipartisan, bicameral compromise.

But compromise we did, and it helped us move the country forward and avoid the kind of violent upheaval experienced by others around the world. How remarkably grown up of us.

So what happened? If Minnesotans and Americans have successfully compromised through gritted teeth throughout our history, why does it now seem almost impossible to achieve now?

Whatever the reason, “compromise” has become a bad, bad word, especially among conservatives. According to a Pew Research Survey, 71% of Liberal Democrats agree that “lawmakers should be more willing to compromise, even if that results in a budget they disagree with.” At the same time, only 26% of Republicans who support the Tea Party agree with the need to compromise and be disappointed. The more conservative Americans are, the less willing they are to compromise.

(The other thing that is interesting about these data is that the ideological “middle” – conservative Democrats, Independents and liberal/moderate Republicans – is not the segment that is most willing to compromise, as many in the self-styled “sensible center” assert. Instead, liberal Democrats are the group most agreeable to compromise. When it comes to compromising, the “extreme left” looks to be the least extreme of all.)

Conservatives haven’t always been this anti-compromise. A reading from the Holy Book of Reagan:

“When I began entering into the give and take of legislative bargaining in Sacramento, a lot of the most radical conservatives who had supported me during the election didn’t like it.

Compromise” was a dirty word to them and they wouldn’t face the fact that we couldn’t get all of what we wanted today. They wanted all or nothing and they wanted it all at once. If you don’t get it all, some said, don’t take anything.

I’d learned while negotiating union contracts that you seldom got everything you asked for. And I agreed with FDR, who said in 1933: ‘I have no expectations of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average.’

If you got seventy-five or eighty percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later, and that’s what I told these radical conservatives who never got used to it.”

In contrast, here is what modern day Republican icon U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said when asked on CBS’ 60 Minutes about his willingness to “compromise:”

I reject the word.”

I made it clear I am not gonna compromise on my principles, nor am I gonna compromise the will of the American people.”

Modern Republicans universally label themselves “Reaganites,” but they don’t act like Reagan. As Republican analyst David Brooks wrote in the New York Times:

…the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative. The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.”

That poses a huge threat to the country. It’s impossible to run a representative democracy when both sides don’t believe in the necessity of compromise that underpins our entire system of governance. The right wing’s compromise ban – “I reject the word” — leaves liberals with two terrible choices:

1) Get rolled. Agree to one-sided compromises, and lose everything to the anti-compromisers.

2) Go “eye-for-an-eye.” Join their conservative colleagues in refusing to compromise.

The first option leads to a radical swing in policies that is not in keeping with voters’ wishes, and a complete breakdown of the principle of representative democracy. The second option leads to catastrophic government shutdowns, financial crashes and civil war. These options aren’t just bad options for liberals. They’re bad for the entire nation, as the constitutional framers would be quick to remind us.

So people who want to see more compromise need to start calling out anti-compromisers. For those who say “neither side is willing to compromise,” look at the Pew data. By a 3-to-1 margin, liberal Americans are more willing to hold their noses and compromise than GOP Tea Party supporters, and legislators are representing their respective constituencies accordingly. That’s the problem. Supporters of compromise need to stop aiming their criticism broadly at “politicians” and start aiming it more precisely at gridlock ground zero – Tea Party supporting conservatives.

- Loveland

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48 Responses

  1. Yesterday’s NYT online had a good piece about presidents and their debts, from FDR to Bush. The most critical comments were reserved for Reagan: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/07/20/presidents-and-their-debts-fdr-to-bush

  2. the most successful option in a game of Prisoner’s Dilemma is the Tit for Tat option.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tit_for_tat

    • We like to break out Prisoner’s Dilemna over the holidays… play at Christmas, New Year’s Eve parties…

  3. Speaking of ground zero, the Norwegians are getting a taste of multiculturalism today. It sickens me, but there is no greater education than reality. Assimilation simply doesn’t work for certain cultures. When will the West learn this?

    • You apparently know something the Norwegians don’t know. What will you say if the bombing and shooting turn out to have been done by a Norwegian equivalent of Tim McVeigh?

      • It wasn’t. Occam’s razor once proves right once again.

      • OK, Newt, Erik, the N YT says that the shooter was a norwegian==a right wing extremist:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/23/world/europe/23oslo.html?emc=na

        Norway Police Say at Least 80 Killed in Youth Camp Shooting

        At least 80 people were killed on Friday when a gunman stalked youths at an island summer camp for young members of the governing Labor Party, the police said on national television early Saturday.

        Before the shooting attack, explosions in Oslo killed seven people and wounded at least 15, the police said, according to the state television broadcaster.

        After the shooting the police seized a 32-year-old Norwegian man on the island, according to the police and Justice Minister Knut Storberget. He was later identified as Anders Behring Breivik and was characterized by officials as a right-wing extremist.

        The man was arrested in connection with both attacks.

      • I was mistaken and wrong, I jumped to an erroneous conclusion.

      • Erik: that is perfectly understandable, and it was also my first reaction–Muslim terrorists, people attacking the west, etc. basically, when i heard about this attack, i had an emotional reaction, and went into post 9/11 mode.

        Of course, i still remember those first few moments after 9/11, when i was wondering if that might not have been a domestic terrorist, another Timothy McVeigh, because, up until that time, that was the most recent huge atrocity in my memory. And that is probably also the reason i immediately thought of Islamic terrorists in connection with the attacks in Norway. 9/11 set a template in my mind for attacks like this.

        While all of that might make sense emotionally, however, they most certainly are not an example of Occam’s razor, which suggests the explanation with the least number of variables (the simplest, cleanest, etc.) should be the first choice. The 9/11 template has never fit the Occam’s razor model–it is a convoluted, extreme conspiracy, while the homegrown terrorism is far more commonplace, and far more widespread around the globe. Even the Al Queda attacks are far more frequent close to the Arab heartland. As a general rule, terrorism is more of a local phenomena (largely because it is easier to do close to home).

    • Maybe you should amend you statement and say that assimilation doesn’t work for right wing extremists–but it would be pretty hard to blame multiculturalism for that.

      • It’s shameful that one day after we know the facts in this piece are not true, the Washington Post still has this 100% incorrect post up by one of its “conservative” bloggers: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/norway-bombing/2011/03/29/gIQAB4D3TI_blog.html

      • rather embarrasing for the blogger…..

      • TBogg at Firedoglake discovered a right wing blog inappropriately named “The Astute Bloggers” which went from initially blaming Islam to deciding that “Obama’s policies have made us all more vulnerable” to, when the truth came out, speculating that perhaps “BREIVIK IS A PSYCHOTIC LEFTIST WHO DID THIS HORRIFYING ACT TO DISCREDIT THE RIGHT.” (All caps needless to say in the original.) High marks for originality, low marks for sanity.

    • Newt, i was wondering what you think now that we know that the person who perpetrated this horrible crime is actually someone who did it because he is opposed to multiculturalism?

      It seems to me that the real problem is that those on the far right, christian fundamentalists, opponents of immigration and multiculturalism, are the ones who refuse to recognize the rules of society, who refuse to fit in, who refuse to channel their opposition into the open and legitimate avenues that society has created for those who disagree?

      It isn’t muslim immigrants refusing to play by the rules of society, it is the far right opponents of muslim immigrants, the people who reflexively oppose any change at all, who are refusing to play by the rules. They are the real ones who are illegitimate.

      In a similar vein, and relating this back to the topic of this thread, I think that it is Boehner and the house Republicans who are illegitimate, and not Obama–our founding fathers created a political system that requires compromise–that is what all of the checks and balances are about. Yet, here is a minority, who control only 1 branch of government ((again, a minority), who do not enjoy the support of the people (look at the polling data–again a minority), who are refusing to compromise–they are rejecting the traditional and legitimate principles that the founding Fathers enshrined in our Constitution. These are the ones who are threatening to hold their breathe until everyone else in the country turns blue–to wreck the economy if they (the minority) do not get their way.

      That is about as illegitimate, as UnAmerican, as it is possible to be.

  4. Today’s news…

    Obama urged congressional factions to unite and suggested the biggest obstacle to a deal remains a bloc of conservative Republicans in the House.

    He said at a town hall-style meeting at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., that he was still open to a deal — even if it means deeper domestic spending cuts than many in his own party can stomach.

    “I am willing to sign a plan that would include tough choices I would not ordinarily sign,” he said. “Whether I like it or not, I’ve got to get the debt ceiling raised.

    Boehner, in a speech on the House floor following the Senate vote, said, “The House has acted. …We’ve done our job. The Democrats who run Washington have done nothing. They can’t stop spending the American people’s money. They won’t and they refuse.”

  5. This been the news for 800 days. The Dems won’t send forward a budget. So who isn’t making the tough choices?

    • Obama Proposes Cutting $4 Trillion From Deficit in 12 Years

      President Barack Obama vowed to cut $4 trillion in cumulative deficits within 12 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases…

      In presenting his long-term plan for closing the federal budget shortfall, Obama set a target of reducing the annual U.S. deficit to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2015, compared with 10.9 percent of GDP projected for this year. He reiterated his support for overhauling the tax code to lower rates while closing loopholes and ending some breaks to increase revenue.

      As with his budget, Obama called for ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which are set to expire in 2012. “I refuse to renew them again,” he said.

      To achieve his new goals, the president is urging Congress to pass a “debt failsafe” that would trigger across-the-board spending cuts and tax changes if the debt-to-GDP ratio hasn’t stabilized by 2014, according to an administration fact sheet. The automatic cuts wouldn’t apply to entitlements, including Social Security, Medicare, and programs intended for low-income Americans.

      Obama would target government spending, from the Pentagon to the Department of Agriculture. He proposes saving $400 billion in current and future defense spending and called for a “fundamental review” of U.S. military missions.

      Signaling the political fight his plan faces, Republican congressional leaders said after getting briefed by the president that they won’t accept tax increases as part of a deficit-cutting plan.

      • Republican analyst David Brooks:

        The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.

        Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way. There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.

        If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

        A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

        The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

        This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

        But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party.

    • Budgets originate in the House; the House is controlled by Republicans.

  6. Extraordinary post, Loveland.

  7. Another interesting angle:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/07/grover-norquists-pledge-is-a-colossal-failure/242340/

    the text:

    In 1986, Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, created the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which he describes as “a simple, written commitment by a candidate or elected official that he or she will oppose, and vote against, tax increases.” It has recently come under repeated fire: it became a tool for ethanol subsidy apologists, for example, and most recently, it emerged as a needless obstacle in negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

    Responding to his critics, Norquist has taken to the op-ed page of the New York Times this morning to defend his legacy:

    Contrary to the hopes of some that I am somehow softening the pledge, it is stronger and more important than ever: it has made it easier for members of Congress to credibly commit to voters that they will refuse to increase taxes and instead focus on reducing the cost of government.
    In fact, it is more important than ever to be rid of The Pledge, because it has been a colossal failure. Does anyone think that fiscal conservatives should be happier with the state of our nation’s finances now than they were when the pledge began 25 years ago? Does anyone still harbor the illusion that “starve the beast” is an effective method of shrinking the federal government?

    Here is why The Pledge has failed. Time and again, it has contributed to the GOP tendency to make taxes their top priority, deficits be damned. As Kevin Williamson puts it at National Review, “Republicans led by naïve supply-siders are preparing, for the third time in my life, to sell their souls on spending cuts in exchange for tax-rate reductions that are small, ineffective, and sure to be temporary. Ronald Reagan got his tax cuts, but he went to his grave waiting for those spending cuts. George W. Bush got his tax cuts, and ended his presidency with spending soaring and his entitlement-reform program in the garbage. And now certain Republicans are starting to slobber over the Gang of Six plan.”

    What Norquist doesn’t understand or won’t admit is that deficit spending is worse than a tax increase, because you’ve got to pay for it eventually anyway, with interest. Meanwhile, you’ve created in the public mind the illusion that the level of government services they’re consuming is cheaper and less burdensome than is in fact the case. If you hold the line on taxes but not the deficit, you’re making big government more palatable.

    Back in 1986, if taxes had been raised every time federal spending had increased, and voters knew that taxes would go up again every time new federal programs or spending was passed, the backlash against big government that we’re seeing now would’ve started a lot sooner, and been much more broad-based. Had that been the policy, it’s doubtful that George W. Bush would’ve passed Medicare Part D. Instead, the Baby Boomers have borrowed a bunch of money that my generation and my children’s generation is going to have to pay back. But their taxes didn’t go up. Thanks for that, Mr. Norquist. I’m not sure what to call it, but fiscal conservatism isn’t it.

    As the conservative movement laments our fiscal straits, and the dire situation the nation finds itself in, perhaps it is too much to ask that they assign Norquist a little bit of the blame. But surely they can at least recognize that the solution he’s been pushing since the Reagan Administration hasn’t worked.

  8. Another problem–there is a significant part of the Republican Party who will never agree to anything that Obama agrees to:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/07/21/republicans-in-the-debt-debate-out-of-their-right-minds.html

  9. Excellent analysis.

    That SOB Boehner walked out of discussions with Pres. Obama tonight (Friday). Obama is furious and has summoned the leaders of both the House and the Senate to the White House tomorrow morning at 11. That’s called going to the woodshed time.

    I can’t even laugh at any of this anymore. Could we even rebound from another Wall Street crash, even a one-day crash?

    • If I were Obama I would tell the gops that (1) he’s exercising the 14th amendment option and unilaterally raising the debt ceiling unless they want to give him a clean bill and (2) since everyone seems so worried about the deficit and the Bush tax cuts are due to expire in 2012, he’s willing to let that happen since no current proposal would do more to bring down the deficit. It’s up to them to come up with something better.

      • Yeah, but he can’t do that because Wall Street and the institutions probably won’t be receptive to the new debt issues. Oh wait, the Fed is buying all the debt with fiat money, so that’s not a problem.

        This entire drama is an exercise in reductio ad absurdum. The conservatives are malfeasant because they won’t stand to let the funny money game continue? Pftttt. I have no worries about August 2nd.

  10. Clicked on CNN this morning and found a panel of “experts” being interviewed about the situation. The kicker read “AMERICA AT RISK” so I thought I’d better watch.

    All three were asked to bottom line the situation: Would there be an agreement by the end of the week? Without hesitation each answered “No.”

    And then everyone laughed. Laughed.

  11. Haven’t we built our entire economy on the principle that we have to keep Wall Street and the institutions happy? That’s worked real well for us, hasn’t it.

    I want to ask a sincere question: Why would Boehner be so irresponsible as SoH to say he does not believe in taxes? Does this mean he does not use public roads, or police or firefighters, or does not believe in the military that defends his right to be such a bonehead?
    The “anti-tax but let’s just borrow it” crowd really has no moral high-ground here.

    And the Tea Party has made all the partisanship even more ugly with its social engineering agenda and loyalty oaths. Now THAT’S creepy.

    • That’s not Boehner’s position, and it’s such a poor paraphrase of it that it won’t serve any useful purpose in this conversation. It’s a strawman. Way to go, you beat the hell out of that one.

      He believes in taxes and their use to fund roads, police, firefighters, military, as well as quite a few other things.

      As a practical matter, the government can’t keep borrowing this much money from its “lenders”. Bringing back the Clinton tax rates on the “rich” won’t fix that.

      • Clinton, by raising taxes, put the budget in surplus and put the country on the road to ending the deficit by 2013. It is true that it is going to be tough to catch up on the two unfunded wars and the unfunded handout to be big Pharma that is part D of Medicare and the tax cuts that are the Bush legacy, but I don’t see that Republicans have any ideas except in Paul Ryan’s fantasy land where suddenly we have a string of years with 5% growth for no discernible reason.

      • Don’t get your bloomers in a bundle, Erik. No one believes in unlimited borrowing.

        But do your homework on the Clinton tax rates, which did, indeed, have positive effect. It’s foolish to think the top 1% are taxed enough today compared to what a working-class person pays. I assume you do work for a living.

        The fact is that we need a combination of three things to get out of this mess: tax increases, spending cuts and sacrifice from everyone. This means agreeing to work longer before drawing Social Security, not taking social benefits when you don’t need them, taking care of obligations at home before policing the world, using value-added taxes. And, as you so eloquently put it, “quite a few other things.”

  12. I’m not even in substantive disagreement with you, but those sentiments are merely whistful asides John.

    As a practical matter, the government can’t keep borrowing this much money from its “lenders”. When something can’t go on, it won’t. There aren’t enough workers to pay the taxes for the benes.

    • Erik, the US government’s “lenders” (the people who buy US treasuries) are more than willing to buy more from us. The proof of this is that we have been able to sell more and more, and the price keeps on dropping (ie., the interest rate is extremely low). This is because the vast majority of reputable economists and educated investors believe that the US has excellent capacity to pay those securities back.

      Right now, the concenr is not the capacity of the US, but rather the intelligence, and the viability of the political system. People are worried that the massive stupidity and shortsightedness of the Tea Party might lead to a perfectly insane default by the US–not, like Greece, because there is a problem with our economic situation, but because there is a problem with our political situation.

      And, of course, that is what all of the above posts and links demonstrate–and incredible lack of responsibility by the House Republicans, who appear willing to create an economic crisis where there is none simply for the sake of trying to ensure that Obama is a one term president.

      • We have less willing lenders than it appears. The Fed has been buying enormous sums of treasury issues for over a year. The debt is being monetized

        http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/28/news/economy/federal_reserve_purchases/index.htm

        Even if there were this capacity for treasuries, thats not what you want the private sector doing with their money. We have an unemployment problem.

      • Erik: read the piece I posted below by Schiller–It addresses the points you raise.

      • I read it. He’s making the Keynesian argument, increase the size of denominator…

        He doesn’t address the monetization aspect. The numerator is being increased as well. 1/5 is being converted to 2/10ths. Is there utility in that? Add to that, stimulus is just stealing from future demand.

      • Borrowing from future demand?

        Demand is not static–there is not a “lump” of demand, just as there is not a “lump” of labor–demand is created. Put people to work, and you increase demand. Consumerism has driven demand in this country for years–this is a basic fact of economic growth.

        BTW, you might be interested in this, as you seem to be a basic monetarist:

        http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/92524/why-conservatives-abandoned-monetarism

      • I already read it, I read TNR every day.

        I don’t know what I am. I’m not an economist, and I do not have stacks of gold bars in my basement.

    • Let’s disaggregate the problem. The two biggest sources of the ongoing debt are the two wars and the Bush tax cuts; solution get rid of them and immediately bring the debt down to manageable proportions.

      The entitlements: first separate Social Security from Medicare. Social Security is basically not a problem for the next 25 or so years, and given honest dealing, it’s an easily solvable problem. I saw a table that set up something like 30 variables people could play with, mix and match, to solve whatever problems exist. For example, currently an individual pays 6.2% of gross compensation up to a cap of $106,800, so if you make $106,800 you pay (contribution matched by employer) $6,621.60; if you make $106 million you pay $6,621.60. This means that most of us pay 6.2% while Derek Jeter with a salary of $33 million pays .002%. I’m not very enthusiastic about raising the retirement age, since most of the people pushing the idea work in air conditioned offices and lift nothing heavier than a coffee cup on the job, but if they can get roofers and cement finishers on board, I’ll listen. Changing the COLA, I’ll wait to see what the nerds say.

      Medicare is a problem. All nations are facing rising health care costs. The good news for the U.S. is that we spend something like twice as much as most of the other industrialized democracies and get generally inferior results, so we have a lot of slop to be squeezed out of the system. To begin with I’d do what the Swiss did a decade and a half or so ago: say profit making private insurers maybe, private insurers making huge profits, no. No more stories in the business section about insurance executives walking away with millions in income. Next, Medicare, like the VA, the Canadians, the Germans and others, gets to negotiate drug prices, so we walk away from the Bush give-away to big Pharma. That won’t solve the problem, but it will buy a lot of breathing room.

      • Just to be clear, in this example you’d be getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class..

        “Given honest dealing?” Puhleeze

      • I’m quite willing to go back to the Clinton era rates; I don’t remember feeling being “taxed to death,” and the economy was growing and adding jobs.

        I’m not inherently cynical about honest dealing on Social Security; Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan managed it.

  13. PM: Nice blog post, there. I agree entirely with the long term investments we must continue to dedicate ourselves to – funding for education, social services, rebuilding our infrastructure. Sadly, these are the very items we’re cutting.

  14. This will cheer eveybody up. Happy Sunday:

    http://www.wtfnoway.com/

  15. Joe: Here’s an interesting piece by Norm Ornstein in Foreign Policy, called “Worst. Congress. Ever.” http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/07/19/worst_congress_ever?page=0,4

    Great discussion, gentlemen.

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