Compromise – Friend or Foe?

August 31, 2011

Often these days we hear those in Washington talk about the need for compromise. Although compromise can be useful and is sometimes the right course of action, it is a mistake to promote compromise as the best solution in all circumstances.

In order to achieve a beneficial compromise, both sides must be invested in a positive solution and need to be willing to listen to one another. When at least one party has a goal that is damaging for the country (even though it may benefit them personally) and is not open to reason or discussion, beneficial compromise will almost never occur.

Bad compromise we’ve already seen

The compromise that extended all the Bush era tax cuts was very disappointing. As discussed in my first article, The Real Job Creators, the top wage earners can easily afford to pay the additional 4.6% on top portion of their income. While working and middle class Americans absolutely needed these cuts to stay in place in order to make ends meet during these difficult times, the wealthy could clearly afford to pay a bit more to help get our country back on track. Those who were supposedly so worried about fiscal responsibility dug in their heels to require that, if we spent any money on tax cuts for working families or support for the unemployed, we create an even larger debt and deficit by keeping the tax cuts for the wealthy. And those who knew tax cuts for the wealthy were bad fiscal policy betrayed themselves and folded under the pressure to achieve something positive for everyday Americans.

Bad compromise waiting to happen

While Congress did raise the debt ceiling prior to their recent recess, the legislation requires a bipartisan committee to identify cuts and/or new revenue in the upcoming months once the Congress comes back to Washington. With half the committee staunchly committed to rejecting new revenue, it seems this process has nowhere to go. I’m hopeful they can prove me wrong, but I am mentally preparing for this to be a complete unproductive mess.

We can’t go on this way

The way we do business in Washington needs to change drastically. So many elected officials have forgotten that their job is to do what is best for the country. They were not elected to do special favors for wealthy supporters who refill their campaign coffers and support their reelection. This is tantamount to drawing a paycheck to protect special interests and their own sphere of power. Plus, as I noted in my article from Monday, A Little Accountability Please, many of those who behave in this way are not held accountable for letting us down.

Moreover, our current system forces legislators who would like to do the right thing to make something similar to a deal with the Devil. They are presented with legislative packages that combine beneficial items with damaging ones and feel they must take it or leave it. This means any progress comes with steps backward as well. This is why, in my opinion, each and every item or proposal should be considered on its own merits and not as a package. For example, let’s have an up or down vote on tax rates for each tax bracket so that we can see who is interested in protecting the majority of Americans and who is trying to keep their rich donors happy.

Compromise has a negative meaning too

The word compromise has several meanings. One is finding middle ground but another is conceding to something negative or derogatory. Unfortunately, legislative compromise often embodies both meanings. We may be meeting somewhere in the middle but this sometimes means that we are doing the wrong thing for our country and abandoning our principles and values. This form of compromise holds us back, impairs the effectiveness of our government, and hurts our country.

The way forward

Sometimes compromise can be useful. However, other important approaches that have been neglected are analysis, education, discussion, persuasion, collaboration, and negotiation. Elected leaders should study the issues and educate citizens so that they can actively participate in discussion and give their elected representatives feedback. We need leaders who passionately argue for what they feel is right and try to persuade others about the value of solutions that can truly help our country. We need a climate in Washington that invites everyone to participate in identifying solutions. And, sometimes, we need our leaders to use tough, hardball negotiations which may involve holding firm and saying no.

Compromise is not always the best approach. When a proposed course of action moves us in the wrong direction and represents a complete departure from everything we value and believe, we need leaders who aren’t willing to accept that kind of compromise.