The Lost Art of Compromise

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If you’re like me, your focus has been on the bargaining in Washington on the debt ceiling. So you may be surprised to learn that, while we had our blinders on, a grand bargain was also being struck in Sacramento on the state budget. You can be forgiven for sleeping through this because, despite the statutory deadline of July 1, the process usually grinds on past Labor Day.

Not to worry, your elected GOP representatives were at their work stations, earning their paychecks, toiling away on your behalf, looking after your interests, and winning concession after concession on pensions, job creation, business regulation, and governmental reform. I am speaking, of course, of 70th District Assemblyman Don Wagner and 35th District Senator Tom Harman.

The GOP did have leverage going into this battle. They simply had to trade four votes to Jerry Brown for a silly referendum on taxes. And you know what voters do when given the opportunity to tax themselves, don’t you? So it was really a no-brainer, right? Show a little flexibility, collect that paycheck, bring home the bacon by Labor Day.

Actually, we don’t have to wait to see what Mssrs. Wagner and Hartman won for the home folks. Miracle of miracles, a budget was passed on time this year. The grand bargaining session is over. So, what concessions did our stalwarts wring out of the frustrated majority?  … Zilch, nada, shut out, rien, bupkus, not a farthing, skunked. How many ways can you say nothing?

Did not Ronald Reagan teach these guys that Gorbachev gets prettier at closing time? What were they waiting for?

Well, the same scenario was played out last week in Washington. Some Democrats think President Obama gave up too much to get the debt ceiling raised without any revenue enhancement. However, if they calm down, they may discover it was the other side that didn’t get much.

Remember the Simpson-Bowles Committee’s recommendation last January? It was a $4 trillion package that included changes in Social Security and Medicare. Obama signed on, but it needed to pass the committee by 14 votes out of 18 to get sent to Congress. Because it also called for revenue enhancement, several GOP members balked. The report only got 11 of 18, a majority, but not the necessary super-majority. Also remember, Obama already has $1trillion in revenue enhancement if he simply lets the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012.

So you’d think the GOP would have been happy to jump on Simpson-Bowles, and Obama did keep offering House Speaker John Boehner this deal all summer long. But their no-tax ideology got in the way. So who got what in the end?

Obama wanted the debt ceiling raised until after the 2012 election. He was willing to trade some deficit reduction, but he didn’t want upfront cuts that might derail the economic recovery. He got all that. The $900 billion in budget cuts over 10 years that he gave up is less than the $1.6 trillion offer made by VP Joe Biden, and the Year One down payment is a puny $22 billion.

What he also agreed to is a bipartisan congressional committee that will recommend another couple trillion in cuts and some tax “reform.” But wait, that’s just the balance of what the Simpson-Bowles Committee recommended last January.

Not such a bad deal after all.

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