March 06, 2013

Obstacles to Consensus

Our budget crisis, particularly the current sequester, is driven by the division in Congress and between Congress and the President. That much seems to be well-understood. What isn't so well-understood is that 'rules' and 'policies' are actually thwarting the ability to overcome this division.

In a situation where people with diverse opinions have to come to consensus, they must seek compromise and build their consensus thereupon. Sometimes that entails participants changing their minds, contradicting what they have said earlier, or otherwise exhibiting a lack of consistency. Additionally, it sometimes entails bearing the disappointment of their former allies who stick to their opinions and do not compromise. Put simply, consensus in these situations is built when people are willing to abandon compatriots and embrace opponents.

In today's Congress, not only is there an unwillingness to entertain such consensus, it is actually prohibited by an informal but enforced policy: the so-called Hastert Rule. This prohibits a Republican Speaker of the House from bringing a bill to the floor for a vote unless a majority of Republicans will support it -- even if a majority coalition of Republicans and Democrats would support it.

Every American who is disgusted by the inability of Congress and the President to come to compromise and pass a competent budget should condemn this policy and demand that it be rescinded.