March 12, 2013

Compromise and Consensus

Peter Larson/Medill News Service
Paul Ryan, in his role as chair of the House Budget Committee, has released a budget proposal that calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), i.e. Obamacare. The President and his Democratic compatriots ran on the record of the ACA and won popular majorities in the House, Senate, and Presidency. However, per the Huffington Post, Ryan has stated:

"The election didn't go our way. Believe me, I know what that feels like. That means we surrender our principles? That means we stop believing what we believe in? Look, whether the country intended it or not, we have divided government. We have the second largest House majority we've had since World War II. And what we believe in this divided government era, we need to put up our vision."

While the meaning of his last sentence is somewhat unclear, what is clear is that he feels no humility in the face of the popular will, and no responsibility to compromise with those who reflect that will. We tend to admire and support those who stand on principle, even if we disagree with their principles. But the job of legislators is to persuade, cajole, arm-twist, shame, beg, entice, etc. each other into a workable consensus on tough, divisive issues. Their job is not to cross their arms, hold their breath, jump up and down, etc. until they get their way -- or just take their marbles and go home.

Divided government relies upon compromise and consensus to function, and it is necessary that government function. Therefore, as long as we have divided government, we need compromise and consensus -- and anyone in government who isn't seeking compromise and consensus doesn't belong there.