Tuesday, July 12, 2011

None of the Above

Senator McConnell today outlined the terms of a possible Republican surrender in the debt ceiling negotiations: "[I]n my view, the president has presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors, tax hikes, or default. Republicans choose none of the above." None of the above essentially means that Congress will raise the debt ceiling without any agreement at all on deficit reduction. Under McConnell's plan, however, Congress would disguise its decision by disapproving of a resolution to raise the debt ceiling, which the president would then veto.

What this means is that the president has successfully called the Republicans' bluff about insisting on massive reductions in the deficit, and in government spending, in upcoming years, in return for raising the debt ceiling. The Republicans can't even identify the cuts they claimed they wanted. And their supposed concern about the deficit melted away when they were forced to consider possible revenue hikes as part of a deficit reduction plan. Republicans proved that there are some things they care about more than deficit reduction, and more than big spending cuts. They care so much about preserving every possible tax break for the wealthiest individuals and the most heavily-subsidized corporations, that they are willing to throw deficit reduction and government spending cuts out the window.

I'm happy to celebrate what is starting to look like a major victory for the administration, and to praise the president's superior negotiating skills. All the same, it is a genuine shame that we may have lost an opportunity to craft a bi-partisan agreement that would have gone a long way toward restoring Americans'--and the world's--trust that our government is capable to working together effectively to make lasting change. It is a shame that the budget process has become overly politicized. It is a shame that partisans on both the left and the right are so quick to view any sign of compromise as a betrayal. From my biased point of view, it appears that the Republicans have become a lot less willing to compromise than Democrats: they simply cannot conceive of any discussion of anything that looks like a tax increase, whereas Democrats have been willing to discuss all kinds of cuts to cherished programs. I will acknowledge, however, that there are partisans on the left who are ready to desert the cause at any hint that adjustments might have to be made to Medicare or Social Security, just as there are partisans on the right who have made it impossible for most Republican legislators to consider tax increases without fear of losing their seats. Any deal that included both tax increases and significant spending cuts would have been met with howls of protest from both left and right.

It's too bad we can't just settle down and remember, hey, it's just the budget we're talking about. It's not war or peace; it's not all a matter of principle. I understand that there are a lot of things in there that people feel strongly about, but at the end of the day, it's just a bunch of numbers. We've got so much revenue coming in, we've got so much we want or need to spend. All we need to figure out is what size deficit we can afford or need to run, and how much we need to adjust spending and revenue to meet our goals. In a democracy, everyone's position on these issues should be respected, and everyone needs to give a little of their goals to accommodate the legitimate views of others. Nobody gets everything they want, and anyone who expects that they should get everything they want is not being respectful of our democratic system, particularly as it is forced to operate under a divided government. Obviously what I am suggesting is much too radical a concept to consider, but we can always dream.

(photo from RollCall)


  1. Why did the Democrats not pass a 2011 budget last year?

  2. I'm with you on this one Joe. It's a lot easier to pander to ideology because compromise means you have to give something up.

    People also see it as having to admit which principles they think are less valid/important, and most people want to think that everything they hold dear is valid and important.

    John McCain was right when he said a few weeks ago that Americans don't want compromise. Afterall, compromise involves a lot of thought and self examination, and requires the thinker to be critical of his own ideas, and who wants to feel the concomitant unease of having to question yourself and your beliefs?

    I'm personally okay with it, but I think I'm in an ever-dwindling minority with that sentiment and commitment to the Socratic life.