The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Debate and Compromise Is Not a One-Way Street

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


A few months back my 20-something niece was complaining about how Congress, in particular the Republican House, was just not cooperating with President Obama over spending, taxes, and government-investments like bridges and green energy.  She said the current system was broken and that we needed something new so things could be done quickly.  I said, “So – what do you want – a king?”  Silence was the answer.

I would argue that the current dust-up occurring in Washington on the continuing resolution is precisely what our Founding Fathers had in mine.  No one or all-powerful person, such as a king, was going to put into place some edict concerning people’s lives without it being considered and voted on by the people’s elected representatives in Washington.  That is why we had a revolution in 1776.  And when it came time to create a new country and a government, our Founders were also very concerned about protecting the rights of the minority and the Constitution allows that to happen.

While many may disagree with Sen. Ted Cruz's tactics concerning Obamacare and spending, he certainly has elevated the issue in the public arena.  This has provided an opportunity for conservatives to express their continued concern with the healthcare law that is scheduled to open its exchanges tomorrow for open enrollment.

In the September 26 edition of The Federalist, David Harsanyl wrote, “The Bogus Case for Compromise.”  It takes on the proverbial notion the House of Representatives must accept what the president and the Senate wants.  If the House fights for what it wants somehow it is the conservatives that are the extremists.  He says, “Well, believe it or not, compromise isn’t a holy sacrament.  It’s not a mitzvah. It’s not particularly inspiring to voters.  Politics is the art of compromising as little as possible, actually.”

Harsanyl notes that while the New York Times editorial called Sen. Ted Cruz of employing an “aimless and self-destructive Tea Party strategy” to defund Obamacare in the continuing resolution, when liberals undertake a similar hopeless liberal cause such as gun control or cap-and-trade “it’s always a worthy idealistic pursuit.  Conservatives in uphill fights, on the other hand, are more likely to be fanatics or money-grubbing frauds – the Times can’t seem to decide.”

“So while conservatives may be fumbling for a plausible plan to deal with Obamacare, the contention that they’re more ideologically inflexible than their opponents is preposterous.  The only thing more preposterous is the idea that Cruz’s crusade will hurt them,” says Harsanyl.

Harsanyl goes on to say:

It’s the substantive question liberals have a problem with these days, not the tactical one.

A potential shutdown over the continuing resolution or the debt ceiling would be fine if the issue happened to move the liberal soul.  But Republicans can’t possibly have a legitimate reason to want to defund/delay/defeat/de-anything Obamacare.  If  [NBC commentator Chris] Hayes were to concede that genuine objections existed – however misguided he might find them – he’d also be conceding that conservatives have a purpose beyond his own cartoon depiction of free-market beliefs.

In this cartoon the GOP are obstructionists, and that’s that.  When Reid says any Republican House budget he dislikes is ‘dead on arrival’ how many non-partisan publications will call him out on his uncompromising position?  When the president states that negotiating with Republicans over debt ceiling ‘is not going to happen’ how many reporters are going to point out that his stubbornness could potentially lead to a government shutdown?”

We are reminded by Mr. Harsanyl that “one of the remarkable and most often overlooked aspect of this debate is that it revolves around perhaps the least cooperative pieces of major legislation in American history, Obamacare.  Shouldn’t those who idealize the D.C. bargain be concerned that a single party took control of a significant chunk of the American economy and compelled the participation of every family and business in the nation without a shred of support from the minority party?”

Harsanyl calls out the “the cynical push for Republican compromise” and the “more idealistic championing of the idea, most often by realists on morning cable shows.”  He criticizes those that argue our Founders wanted an American government that would compel the minority to cooperate.

He says, “Obviously, compromise is often the inevitable outcome of our political process and we have a republican system that gives us a better chance than a democracy.  But a person could very easily argue that Madison would probably be more apprehensive about the lack of checks and balances, that he would support evolutionary rather than revolutionary change, and that protecting the voice of the minority would be a top concern.  Certainly, nothing in The Federalist Papers leads us to believe that perfunctory compromise would have topped his list.  Madison and the Founders – and this is just a hunch – would be uncomfortable with the idea of legislation that coerces American citizens to buy a product (many against their will) and undermines federalism by blackmailing every state to compliance.”

Harsanyl argues that “the only way for the minority GOP can collect any crumbs of concession is to trigger showdowns.  The big trick is winning them.  Whether Republicans have the right strategic ideas to achieve is another discussion.  But with both parties drifting towards ideological purity over the past decade, there is no other way to forge compromise without some level of anguish.  There has to be a showdown on every major issue because there is less common ground to work with.  That’s not necessarily unhealthy.”

He concludes that even with all the handwringing and “scaremongering about the end of political cooperation” that somehow the federal government still receives funding every year.  We also have more regulations every year and green energy continues get their subsidies.  He closes by saying, “Considering the gaping ideological divide Washington functions under it’s actually pretty amazing how little things change–and, for a lot of us, that’s pretty disappointing.”

And that certainly is the truth.  As our nation careens toward bankruptcy, very little gets done in Washington that addresses the debt, now approaching $17 trillion.  Entitlement programs, particularly Medicare, Medicaid, and now Obamacare are consuming more and more of our nation’s budget.

The Congressional Budget Office has said, “Federal debt held by the public is now about 73 percent of the economy’s annual output, or gross domestic product (GDP).  That percentage is higher than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II, and it is twice the percentage at the end of 2007.”  The CBO also says the government’s current spending trajectory is unsustainable.

We will get by this current kerfuffle concerning the continuing resolution and the government will get its funding.  But sometime soon, perhaps the week of October 14, Congress and the president will need to face lifting the debt ceiling in order to pay its bills.  This presents another opportunity for spending hawks to start to get a handle on the ever-growing debt and the battle we have been witnessing these past few days will begin again.

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