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The Art Of Compromise

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Judging from what I’m seeing there doesn’t really seem to be any one on either side of the aisle that is all that thrilled with the  Fiscal Cliff deal that passed the Senate in the early hours of the morning. It’s easy to see why that’s the case.

For one thing, we knew that the Fiscal Cliff was coming seventeen months ago when Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 which resolved the debt ceiling crisis that had gripped Washington that entire summer. Part of that deal included the appointment of a so-called “Supercommittee” that was intended to work out a budget deal that would have avoided the Sequestration Cuts that had been put in the BCA more as a threat to Congress than as something that anyone thought would ever actually be implemented. By November 2011, though, it was clear that the so-called “Supercommittee” had failed. At that point, everyone in Congress knew that the Sequestration Cuts were going to happen unless a deal of some kind were made. Similarly, we’ve known for two years that the Bush Tax Cuts were going to expire on December 31, 2012 along with the latest Alternative Minimum Tax modifications, the Medicare “Doc Fix,” the extension of unemployment benefits, and a whole host of other programs. There was nothing at all surprising about the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.” It was, as we’ve mentioned here several times at OTB in the past two months, a crisis entirely created by Congress and by the unwillingness of our political leaders to deal with a problem until the last possible moment.

As always happens when Congress procrastinates like this, there’s not a whole heck of a lot to like about the bill the Senate passed last night. Yes, it does keep the Bush income tax rates permanent for something like 99% of the American people, and it also rationalizes once and for all the Alternative Minimum Tax in a manner that will prevent ordinary Americans from being caught up in that Bizarro World twin of the Income Tax Code. It also makes some needed changes to the Estate Tax that should shield the estates of most Americans from even being considered taxable. At the same time, though, the bill completely ignores issues like the debt ceiling, merely punts the question of the Sequestration Cuts down the road two months ago, and doesn’t touch the question of either comprehensive tax reform or entitlement reform. Additionally, many conservatives are objecting to the fact that the bill actually effectively increases spending and the deficit. Indeed, preliminary scoring from the Congressional Budget Office of the bill the Senate passed last night says that the measure would increase the Fiscal Year 2013 budget by $330 million and adds $4 trillion to the National Debt over ten years compared to what would happen if there was no deal at all.   Because of this, there are calls from many on the right for the House GOP to reject the Senate bill, or to amend it, a measure which would virtually guarantee that nothing will be signed into law before the 112th Congress comes to an end in a little under 46 hours.

I’ve spent far more time discussing politics on this New Year’s Day than I probably should, mostly with friends on the right who are vehemently opposed to this deal largely because it doesn’t accomplish everything they want. When I mention the fact that their position would mean that everyone’s income taxes would rise substantially and that, based on every analysis I’ve seen, the economy would likely enter recession no later than the third quarter of the year, the response seems to be rather cavalier. Even the Republican partisans don’t seem to recognize that a rejection of the deal by the House at this point would likely be a political disaster for the Republican Party. Most importantly, though, none of them seem to realize that the Republican Party only controls one half of one branch of the Federal Government at the moment. The fact that they control the House and are able to filibuster in the Senate gives them negotiating power, of course, but in the end the reality is that they are not going to get everything that they want in the current political environment. This means that compromise and deal making are inevitable.

Compromise has become a dirty word on the right in recent years but, in reality, it’s the essence of politics and as American as apple pie. President’s and Congress’s have found themselves being forced to compromise in order to get the nation’s business done from the beginning of the Republic. Washington compromised, so did Jefferson. Lincoln was forced to engage in much political bargaining during the Civil War. Even LBJ needed to reach across the political aisle in 1964 in order to get the Civil Rights Act passed. Ronald Reagan, the great conservative, made many deals with his arch political rival, who he still maintained a friendly personal relationship with, Tip O’Neil. Even in the days when FDR’s Democrats held an iron grip on Congressional majorities during the Depression, Roosevelt found himself often having to negotiate with members of his own party to get things done. This is how governing occurs in a political system such as ours. To reject it is to reject the very idea of governing itself, which is certainly the impression that many Republicans give when they insist on a “my way or the highway” approach.

The bill that the Senate passed last night is far from ideal. However, at this late date, it’s pretty clear that it’s the best that can be done. Perhaps if the GOP had approached these negotiations more seriously after the election rather than insisting on adhering to a “no tax rate increases” orthodoxy that makes no sense politically, the outcome would have been different. Perhaps we might even been able to get a deal that resolved all of those things that the Senate bill pushes off for two or three months. In any case, though, this is the deal that is now before the House. Either they accept it, or there is no deal and everyone in America sees their income tax rates go up. The choice that faces the House GOP is really that simple. What they decide will decide the fate not only of our economy, but of their political futures. If it were me, I’d hold my nose, vote yes, and move on to the next battle. It simply isn’t worth dying on the hill of protecting 1% of the population.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Stonetools says:

    Wow, is Doug finally beginning to realize that one party is mostly to blame for the gridlock in government and that the ” both sides do it” narrative is now an outdated myth?

    I have to admit, I was amused at Doug describing his attempt to ” reason” with his far right buddies. Here’s a pro tip: reason is not how you appeal to those guys.
    About two weeks ago I said I was more than 90 per cent confident that there would not be a deal to avert the fiscal cliff because of rabid right wing Republican opposition. Unfortunately, it looks like I will be right .

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 1

  2. michael reynolds says:

    It’s in the hands of the mental patients who run James’ party now. Of course they’re “cavalier,” they haven’t been interested in governing for a long time.

    I’m relieved to see that you’re noticing the effects of the “Tea Party” on politics. They are extremists, they are nihilists, they are not interested in government or in the well-being of this country, they are interested in destroying Barack Obama. That’s all they’ve ever been interested in. From Day One. From back when you were arguing that they’d be good for the party and the country. From back when you and others were excusing their extremism, their profound ignorance and their racism.

    This is not about balancing the budget or even lowering the deficit. This is about destroying the black man in the White House. This is rage and lashing out, and an inability to come to grips with the loss of control by old white men.

    You and James and Dave always want it to be about policy because you’re comfortable with policy. But politics is almost never about policy. It’s about power and insecurity and raw human emotion. None of this is about policy. It’s about 200-odd white, male, largely Southern and rural Congressmen who cannot tolerate a new reality. And rather than see themselves lose face and lose power, they’ll happily destroy the economy.

    James’ party and the people you welcomed into it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 43 Thumb down 2

  3. @michael reynolds:

    Not for nothing, but if you were to look at what I’ve written about the Tea Party here at OTB you’d find articles that are, mostly, highly critical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But politics is almost never about policy. It’s about power and insecurity and raw human emotion. None of this is about policy. It’s about 200-odd white, male, largely Southern and rural Congressmen who cannot tolerate a new reality. And rather than see themselves lose face and lose power, they’ll happily destroy the economy.

    Exactly right-you nailed it Michael!

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 0

  5. legion says:

    Aw, they could have avoided looking like like a bunch of dysfunctional idiots, but Cantor just had to stick the knife in Boehner’s back…

    My daughter has been watching “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” lately, and I see more and more of those characters inside the GOP caucus now. No matter what the reward for being decent might be – even for just a few minutes – any opportunity to screw someone else over will _always_ be taken.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. Geek, Esq. says:

    The deal is all but dead due to the Teahadists, who are biologically incapable of compromise.

    They will reap the whirlwind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. john personna says:

    It’s all very odd. “We won’t agree to your tax increases, and so we’ll choose even more tax increases.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  8. mattb says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    The deal is all but dead due to the Teahadists, who are biologically incapable of compromise.

    They We collectively will reap the whirlwind.

    They will most likely win reelection thanks to the sad state of gerrymandered electoral maps and the current primary system.

    I (sadly) had to fix that for you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. superdestroyer says:

    I think Doug forgets that giving the Democrats everything they want know for a promise of cuts in the future if a political disaster for the Republicans. Everyone knows that there will be no cuts in the future and everyone knows that as soon as the Democrats regain control of the House, taxes will go up for everyone one and spending will go up even more.

    What should be considered the disaster is that no progress has been made on reducing the deficit let alone retiring the national debt. The Democrats are massive winners because they will have more money to spend on the core groups of the Democratic Party while the Republicans have delivered nothing that there voters wanted.

    The failures of the Republicans clearly demonstrates that the U.S. continues down the road to being a one party state and that the most relevant issue in politics is what happens after the Republicans complete their collapse and the general election is no longer in the U.S.

    You’ve been warned too many times on this one: Stop hijacking threads with your “one party state” spiel. It’s well past tiresome at this point. We consider it trolling and will start aggressively treating it as such. Policing it will get old very quickly, at which point you’ll be banned from the site. – JJ

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 21

  10. Spartacus says:

    Doug wrote:

    The bill that the Senate passed last night is far from ideal. However, at this late date, it’s pretty clear that it’s the best that can be done.

    I disagree. The deal seems ideal for the GOP; they just don’t realize it.

    Virtually every reasonable Democrat believes there is going to be some kind of spending reduction deal this year. And, there were certainly going to be tax increases whether Republicans believed that or not. There was no reason for Obama and Dems at this point to permanently limit tax increases to $400/450K particularly while letting the payroll tax cut expire. That’s a deal they could have gotten at any point, but now that tax increases are off the table where is their leverage for dealing with the debt ceiling and the sequestration cuts?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. anjin-san says:

    if you were to look at what I’ve written about the Tea Party here at OTB you’d find articles that are, mostly, highly critical.

    In spite of that, you have said (correct me if I am wrong) that you could never vote for a Democrat.

    I’m just sittin’ on a fence
    You can say i got no sense
    Trying to make up my mind
    Really is so hard at times
    So I’m sittin on a fence

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. mattb says:

    Doug Wrote:

    The choice that faces the House GOP is really that simple. What they decide will decide the fate not only of our economy, but of their political futures.

    Repeating my comment to @Geek, Esq., what makes you think that killing the legislation with hurt the political futures of House Republicans? As you and Steven have pointed out in recent posts, the current institutional structure of House elections encourages those members to vote “no.” The majority come from incredibly safe districts — at least as far as threats from Democrats go. The primary system means that most threats to existing House Republicans will come from people *further to the right* (i.e. Eric F’s “true conservatives”).

    So what do most GOP house members have to lose by going against this? If they do so, they’ll be talk radio and Conservative Inc’s darlings (versus those turn coat, tax loving Republican Senators). Hell even lame ducks seem to be ready to vote against it.

    All of that, plus the fact that elections are two years away for them, means that they will most likely suffer little, if any, consequence to this action.

    Now Republican Senators might have a harder time…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. @anjin-san:

    Because the Democrats are far too in love with government for my taste.

    I voted for Gary Johnson in November and I will stand by that vote no matter what you or anyone else says.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 15

  14. LaMont says:

    @Spartacus:

    but now that tax increases are off the table where is their leverage for dealing with the debt ceiling and the sequestration cuts?

    It may seem to you that The dems gave up too much but what many (particularly consrvatives) fell to realize is that this bill is only a part of the total package Obama wants to increase revnues and decrease spending. Although Obama was willing to include the debt ceiling in this bill he has made it clear that the debt ceiling itself is non-negotiable. So you can virtually take that off the table as he is probably willing to use his executive power of some sort to pay the debt, even if that means possible impeachment (which would be meaningless at this point). I really do not believe conservatives are taking Obama seriously on that right now.

    My two cents as to what might happen regarding the sequestration cuts, Obama is in a much better negotiating position with more time for negotiating. I personally don’t like the fact that this can is proposed to be kicked down the road for two months. However, Obama is willing to negotiate those cuts with increased revenue or stimulus spending (paid for by the cuts) of some sort. Oddly, Republicans, mostly known for appearing to be the biggest supporters for spending cuts, will be left to look as though they are defending less spending cuts (particulary in the military). This could mean that sequestration deal negotiations may not be as fierce as many might think today.

    Bottom line is, After the dust settles in 4 to 6 months (of course assuming that no more cans are kicked down the road), Obama could get anywhere from 1.2 to 1.6 trillion in increased revenue mixed with some insignificant amount of spending cuts that likely would not hurt the economy (although they may hurt the middle clase to some extent with meaures like the expiration of the payroll tax cuts).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. al-Ameda says:

    Let’s see: A tax increase on less than 2% of the taxpayers, firming up the current rates on all but the top 1 to 2 percent? Yes, I can see why House Republicans are unhappy with the deal.

    Is there a means by which Obama could have the House Republican delegation sent to Yemen?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. john personna says:

    On the subject of compromise, Why Is The Pentagon Off The Table?

    Moderate Republicans have conceded this one long ago, and yet nothing changes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:

    the most relevant issue in politics is what happens after the Republicans complete their collapse and the general election is no longer in the U.S.

    I always wait with bated breath to hear the answer from you. I assume we’re talking race war and compounds and lots of guns? Care to enlighten us? Really, enough with the obsessive and boring build-up. Give us the pay-off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I assume defense cuts are off the table because the Democrats are scared to do DoD alone without being part of some broader set of cuts. And since they don’t really want any domestic cuts they’ll keep mum on Defense. The Republicans for their part only want domestic cuts. So aside from you, me and the American people, no one wants to go after the Pentagon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Everything is so very murky right now. If Obama thinks he’s going over the cliff, and that his negotiations have been Kabuki, then he is getting defense cuts, in short order.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. john personna says:

    (But yes, no one wants to talk about that.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I know. It’s hard to suss it out without knowing details of whip counts and back room promises. I have a strong suspicion no one in Washington knows what’s going on, either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Do you really think the Democrats want to take responsibility for laying off people in the military while the economy is doing so poorly? The issue is that Democrats refuse to take responsbility for anything that can be the least bit negative. At least Clinton cut back the military during an economic bubble so that military people could find (temporary) jobs when they got out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 10

  23. Woody says:

    Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the House GOP are stuck. None can compromise even if they wanted to (and who knows if any do).

    The hard right’s media corporations are not rewarded for good governance. They are rewarded for showcasing ads to a particular audience. That audience, after 25 years of increasingly extreme rhetoric (every day of those 25 years), are unable to process the concept of voting for a Democratic bill pushed by a Democratic President (particularly this one).

    Every Republican I know watches Fox – and only Fox – and speaking to them reminds me of the 1984 passage in which O’Brien offhandedly remarked to Winston Smith that most of the conversation they were having would be incomprehensible in several years time due to the inevitable advancement of Newspeak.

    As they represent carefully crafted districts, a Republican Representative only needs to pay heed to a challenge from the further Right. Their district’s voters, as always primed by the hard right’s media, will only blame the Democratic Party regardless of consequences.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I note that you didn’t answer my question. Again.

    Such evasion makes me wonder if you just don’t have the cojones to explain to us all just what you see happening after we all accept your prophecy of a future one-party nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The answer is quite easy. All one has to do is look at the political process in places like the
    District of Columbia. The media and most of the voters treat the Democratic Primary as the real election and barely manage to acknowledge the results of the general election. In Baltimore, after the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor is annoucement, the are referred to as the mayor elect and the media ignores the general election. Of course, such election as the mayors elections in the District of Columbia are massively corrupt and the Chief of Staff of the mayor and at least two city council members have been convicted of felonies. Yet, the media barely covers the events.

    What is amazing is that the media keeps pretending that the white voters are important when most of the white voters do not bother to show up for the primary. If you want to see the future, look at the Congressional Black caucus member and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They almost never face an opponent, they serve for decades, they are corrupt, and no one cares.

    Image all of the talent that will be wasted in the coming one party state because they will not be interested in participating in a third world version of politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 14

  26. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: @superdestroyer: I go with “Rebel Without a Cause Clue” myself for the why of always plot build up but never a payoff.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Yeah, that’s just you repeating the same bullsh!t.

    Read carefully: Assume that 100% of us agree with you 100% that we are heading for a one-party state. Now, what is your plan of action?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. swbarnes2 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Because the Democrats are far too in love with government for my taste.

    Because roads and the federal clean water standards are just too good for most of the American people, right?

    I voted for Gary Johnson in November and I will stand by that vote no matter what you or anyone else says.

    Gary Johnson would have voted against the Civil Rights Act. That’s pretty much all we need to know about your sense of decency and fairness and respect for your fellow human beings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  29. Unsympathetic says:

    Doug, your pragmatism is quaint [ "but It simply isn’t worth dying on the hill of protecting 1% of the population." ] however, any individual Republican politician who acts as a martyr for The Cause is guaranteed 42 virgins a FoxNews or Heritage Foundation job after their political career.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  30. legion says:

    @superdestroyer: The thing is – if it was the _Republican_ primary that determined the results of the general election, and a group of rich white dudes who had inordinate influence on that primary instead of this all-powerful minority caucus of which you speak (but which is really just “all the white people who don’t feel the same way you do”) – you would have absolutely no problem with that at all.

    That’s why nobody has any respect for you, SD – you’re a gutless, amoral coward. When a growing majority of voters, in election after election, local, state, and federal, continue to reject your ideas, you blame the system. You blame the Hispanics. The Blacks. The Poor. The immigrants. The left-wing media. You point the finger for your loss at every possible external source, but you simply don’t have the courage to even think about the concept that _You_ might be the problem here. That _you_ might be the one that’s out of sync with actual Americans. And you’re perfectly happy to compromise and corrupt every principle of American Constitutional government to put “your guys” back into power because really – _you_ know what’s best, and if the proles won’t vote for the right people they just shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  31. Spartacus says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The answer is quite easy.

    You were asked a straightforward question that, by your own admission, is “quite easy” to answer and you do nothing but blather nonsense.

    I will say, however, I am quite impressed that someone as mentally diminished as you is still capable of maintaining a computer and internet access and writing sentences that are grammatically correct for the most part.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  32. James Joyner says:

    @superdestroyer: You’ve been warned too many times on this one: Stop hijacking threads with your “one party state” spiel. It’s well past tiresome at this point. We consider it trolling and will start aggressively treating it as such. Policing it will get old very quickly, at which point you’ll be banned from the site.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  33. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Not for nothing, but if you were to look at what I’ve written about the Tea Party here at OTB you’d find articles that are, mostly, highly critical. ”

    It’s not just the Tea Party, it’s the rest of the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: Thanks, James.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. MBunge says:

    “It’s in the hands of the mental patients who run James’ party now. Of course they’re “cavalier,””

    While the Dems in Congress went along with the fiscal cliff mini-deal, there were plenty of liberals in the commentariat who were pretty cavalier about going over the cliff. The fact that it would have produced even more of the austerity they despise didn’t seem to sink in.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Rob in CT says:

    @MBunge:

    I noticed that too, but to be fair the idea had 2 steps:

    1 – go over cliff
    2 – propose a bill that cut taxes from the reset baseline, as well as reduced cuts.

    I’m not nearly as certain as some that it would’ve worked well and, therefore, I was always a little squeemish about going over the cliff (down the slope, whatever). Very, very few people were cavalierly suggesting to go over the cliff and just take the hit. Those who were (and yeah, I did see some), well… yeah, they weren’t really thinking things through.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0