The Politics of Compromise


A government shutdown looms on the horizon as Congress is once again locked in a stalemate over the budget (or Continuing Resolutions). Most people (68%) believe that a government shutdown (really a slowdown) is a calamity that Congress must prevent at all costs. Except for the Libertarian Party, most of the narrative assumes that a shutdown will lead to an economic downturn, loss of essential services, and anarchy (probably).

But this post is not about the consequences of a shutdown, it is about politics and electoral fallout. Recent polling suggests that Republicans will bear most of the blame for any government shutdown and that could have consequences for the 2014 elections. Because of that polling data, some Republicans are divided on how far they’re willing to push shutdown and Harry Reid is taking advantage of their hesitancy. The Democrats will continue to portray themselves as the “grown-ups” in the room compared to Republican “obstructionists” and “anarchists.” The Democrats will say that the Ted Cruz filibuster (or not filibuster) was political grandstanding more suited to boosting his chances at the Presidency than arguing for substantive policy change.

For those of you living under a rock, this recent budget battle does not hinge on any broad reduction of spending, but rather a single piece of legislation from 2010: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. (That’s a link to the entire bill, read up ladies and gentlemen, it starts Oct 1st!) Setting aside how terrible and unpopular the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is, let’s talk about compromise.

With the exception of dedicated moderates like Richard Hanna[1], many politicians are reluctant to stray from their principles and compromise on issues. Many worry about the ensuing primary battles with cries of how they broke their promises. This is especially so in the House of Representatives where they face reelection every two years.

The Republicans have maintained control of the branch closest to the people for the past two election cycles, in part because of opposition to the ACA. Republicans believe that have a political and moral imperative to repeal, defund, or delay a bad law that swept many of them into office in the first place.

The Democrats are reluctant to modify the ACA because it is one of their most significant achievements in years and why should they do anything to change it? They maintain control of the Senate and the Presidency.

Herein lies the crux of the argument that Republicans should back away from any repeal effort tied to a Continuing Resolution: Repealing the ACA was always a lost cause. Threatening a government shutdown for a politically impossible feat is foolish and destructive.  Many people have bought into that narrative, despite the efforts of Republicans to turn it around. However, people like Ted Cruz have a point: part of the blame for a government shutdown has to fall on people like Harry Reid and President Obama, who are also unwilling to compromise.  It takes two to (not) compromise.

The House of Representatives passed two CRs that would prevent a government shutdown. One of which defunded the ACA and other delayed implementation by a year and removed the medical device tax. Both are dead on arrival in the Senate. President Obama has publically avowed to veto a bill that impacts the ACA. Neither are willing to negotiate any form of compromise because they’re gambling that the Republicans will cave or hope that a government shutdown would be politically advantageous to Democrats.

But for all of the talk about “taking the country hostage” the core matter is not the tactics the Republicans are using, but the ideology. Under the right conditions, Democrats would do the same. If they had the majority of Americans on their side and if there were a cause important enough to Progressives, the Democrats would resort to tying a controversial measure to a spending bill. And why not? That’s their job. The people elected them to make positive change, not rubber stamp the status quo.

As for my opinion on this, I don’t object to the tactics that Republicans are using, I object to the execution. Setting aside that their CRs would do nothing to reduce spending, they should have been able to get a delay or reform of Obamacare. Republicans should have went for the delay all along, but they may have pushed repeal first to give something to concede in negotiations. The ACA is a terrible law that Congress ought to repeal, but the Republicans pushed their strategy in a way that cost them the media narrative and stoked the frustration of average people who would prefer to see a reduction in government befitting a functioning republic rather than the squabbling ad hoc mess we see now. Democrats should still get some of the blame for any government shutdown for their failure to communicate and take any spending bill from the House seriously.  A delay of the ACA would be the best solution to Americans. The Obama administration has already delayed many aspects of the ACA and many supporters of the law know it isn’t ready to take full effect.

But I guess we’ll see how it all turns out this afternoon.

P.S. As I’m writing this, I saw a post from Matt Welch at Reason validating my opinion.

Washington Post has a breakdown of how the slowdown will impact many Federal Agencies

Update: Found a great article from the Washington Post on previous government shutdowns

Plus, it looks like the government is officially shutting down.

Ron Swanson approves
Ron Swanson approves


[1] No disrespect to Mr. Hanna, just clearly a part of his strategy.


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