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Compromise, 2011 Style

In the course of debating Atrios on the prospect of a compromise plan to shore up Social Security, archetypical “reasonable liberal” Kevin Drum outlines what his concept of compromise entails:

[M]y support for a deal obviously depends on reaching a good deal. If Republicans refuse to consider revenue increases, then no deal. If they insist on means testing or increases to the retirement age, then no deal.

Now, one might reasonably argue that a compromise to ensure Social Security’s long-term solvency should not solely consist of tax increases (in the form of higher contribution rates and/or removing the earnings cap). One might also reasonably argue that a compromise would not solely include conservatives’ prescriptions such as means testing (which seemingly would make social security more progressive and thus more in-tune with liberal ideals, but is anathema to liberals as it would strip the veneer of non-redistributiveness from what is, effectively, a redistributive program already) or increasing the retirement age.

However, if you decide beforehand that all of the other side’s preferred solutions are anathema—and, tellingly, he doesn’t even bring up ideas like privatization (private investment or private accounts) that most conservatives would like to see on the table, even if they’re complete non-starters with the left—you’re arguing for something that isn’t really a compromise between the two sides in the first place.

Such a deal might be a compromise of liberal or progressive principles (to the extent that it doesn’t transform Social Security into a cradle-to-grave guaranteed minimum income, presumably their political end game in their ideally-conceived universe), but it’s a really unrealistic conception of how compromise from a minority position in a multiparty political arena works in practice.

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About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State College in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    I suspect Kevin is still mad about health care reform. The Dems started with an old Republican plan, added other old Republican ideas, met with the Gang of six forever, and got nothing out of it. A lot of people wish that Obama had started with a far left program, then negotiated back to the middle.

    Steve

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  2. tom p says:

    “he doesn’t even bring up ideas like privatization (private investment or private accounts) that most conservatives would like to see on the table”

    Sorry Chris, but if you mean the 401Ks like the one my wife has, who I told back in early 2007 (I was not prescient, just a thinking human being)”Get it out of the stock market. Put it into CDs, Treasuries, ANYTHING BUT STOCKS.!!!!!..”

    And she said, “I can’t…”

    I have never been so angry as when I found out that my wife had NO control over her retirement account. You want to know how much money she lost? Not even I want to know….

    Do you really think the Titans of Wall Street are not going to rig THAT game?

    How naive are you?

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  3. @tom p: I’m sorry your wife’s retirement plan gave her no choice in the matter. Most private plans that I’m aware of (including my 403(b), essentially the same thing as a 401(k), which is from a public employer) let people choose how to allocate their risk within some boundaries; for example, TIAA-CREF allows you to choose between an annuity, a REIT, several bond funds, and several stock funds (including “socially-responsible” funds, life-cycle funds, international funds, etc.).

    Presumably Congress would (or at least could) require private plans to offer options catering to various levels of riskiness, from T-bills to penny stocks (or could even restrict the riskiness of investments allowed). Certainly a plan that required all investments to be in the stock market would be a bad idea. But this is all completely hypothetical because the Democrats won’t allow it to even be on the table.

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  4. ratufa says:

    “But this is all completely hypothetical because the Democrats won’t allow it to even be on the table.”

    How times have changed:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/security/stories/retire012199.htm

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  5. ponce says:

    George W. Bush was politically neutered after he suggested handing over Social Security to the morons on Wall Street to pilfer.

    Here’s hoping Boner the Weepy starts out his doomed term with the same idea.

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  6. Jack says:

    And this is different from the GOP/ “reasonable conservative” method of “compromise” in what way?

    Good for the goose should be good for the gander. Wake me up when the GOP starts behaving like a mature party interested in governing instead of scoring cheap political points by getting what they want and STILL voting against things and I’ll start complaining about how “reasonable liberals” supposedly don’t compromise.

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  7. I don’t know… Bush’s Medicare Part D and NCLB plans owed a lot to the Democrats and attracted a lot of yelling and screaming from Republicans. Yet they were genuine compromises. I don’t think either one was good policy, but Democrats certainly got something they wanted from each. For that matter, Bush signing McCain-Feingold (again, a policy I disagree with, but you can hardly argue that it wasn’t a substantial compromise).

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  8. Gustopher says:

    Social Security is fine for another 25 years. It hasn’t added to the debt, it’s not part of the budget problem, and it shouldn’t be chopped as part of the budget solution.

    The problem is that some people have wanted to kill Social Security forever, and want to use the budget problems as an excuse.

    And other people (often the same people) want to default on the treasury notes that the Social Security Trust Fund is required to invest in.

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  9. vinc says:

    I think this is a case where Kevin doesn’t see a compelling need for a deal. In his view, Social Security is basically okay the way it is, and it would be easy for the Social Security system as a whole to be made worse by making a deal with people who fundamentally want to change or destroy it. They don’t need to make a deal.

    I think if Kevin were more unhappy with the status quo, he’d be more open to giving up things to conservatives in order to make the system sustainable. On health care, for example, the left gave up all kinds of stuff in order to get a bill passed. And that’s because the United Staes health care system was/is a complete disaster and the left, in the end, knew that half a loaf was better than none.

    But right now the lefty consensus is that Social Security is fine and there’s nothing they really want to do do change the system. So conservatives just don’t have very much to offer progressives here in order to get them to accept something they find unpleasant.

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  10. just me says:

    Well from the comment it looks like the only thing Drum would compromise on is the amount of the tax increase.

    I think ignoring social security now because it is working now is a mistake. And waiting for the crisis may be waiting too long.

    I suspect that we will eventually end up raising taxes (probably by raising the tax threshold for top earners not necessarily the amount of the tax per dollar earned) and most likely will have to means test and to be honest I am not that bothered by means testing. I think they have topped out the age threshold about as much as they can. Requiring somebody in some jobs to work until they are 70 in some occupations isn’t going to work well. While somebody in a desk job can work 8-10 hours a day at a desk, I highly doubt a roofer is going to be able to do it.

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  11. sam says:

    Chris, I didn’t read Kevin’s quote the way you did:

    “[M]y support for a deal obviously depends on reaching a good deal. If Republicans refuse to consider revenue increases, then no deal. If they insist on means testing or increases to the retirement age, then no deal.”

    I read it this way:

    “[M]y support for a deal obviously depends on reaching a good deal. If Republicans refuse to consider revenue increases, [and instead] insist [only] on means testing or increases to the retirement age, then no deal.”

    Which makes your criticism a bit off the mark, I think. Now I admit that my reading is influenced by having been reading him since he was Calpundit, but I don’t think he would categorically reject something in the manner in which you claim. I could be wrong, of course, but I really don’t think it’s in character.

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  12. john personna says:

    Could compromise 2011 style possibly be any worse than 2010 style, and that last round of tax cuts?

    Maybe I shouldn’t ask, but I certainly won’t be shocked that the is short-term political thinking in the house.

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    What vinc said.

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  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Social Security is fine for another 25 years. It hasn’t added to the debt, it’s not part of the budget problem, and it shouldn’t be chopped as part of the budget solution. ****lol………….

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