David R. Henderson  

You Should Compromise With Me

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Cleaning out my office on Friday, I came across an interesting piece by Gerald F. Seib. He's a Wall Street Journal reporter who covers Washington politics. The piece is about ending gridlock in Washington, and Seib argues that that will happen when voters punish politicians who "eschew compromise." He then gives data showing that there has been a shift in voters' attitudes on this. Seib writes:

Precisely 50% said they would pick the candidate who favored compromises to gain consensus, surpassing the 42% who said they would prefer the candidate who sticks to his or her positions.

That may not seem like much of a shout-out for compromise and consensus, except that it represents a stark reversal from just four years ago. Then, a clear majority, 57%, said they preferred candidates who stuck to positions, while just 34% opted for those who would compromise. Do the math: That's a 23-point advantage for opposing compromise four years ago, compared with an eight-point edge in favor of it now. A 31-point swing is a significant movement.

So far, so good, in the sense that he makes his point. But then Seib digs beneath the data, writing this:
A lot of the pro-compromise sentiment shows up among Democrats, who think Republicans have stiffed their president, Barack Obama, and want that to change. But they aren't alone. Even among Republicans, the share saying they favor a candidate who will compromise has risen 13 percentage points since 2010, the year of the midterm in which the GOP took back control of the House.

Notice that first sentence: Democrats want Republicans to compromise. Really? Who'd a thunk it? I know hardly anyone who doesn't want his opponent to compromise. Seib was presumably writing about voters being willing to punish their own side for not compromising. This is not evidence.

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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory

COMMENTS (22 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

But is their a failure to compromise that's in need of punishing? Major compromises were made on health reform with little Republican support, on the stimulus with little Republican support and Democrats have been suggesting compromises on the budget too. I would have thought the re-election of Obama reflects the appreciation of compromise, and then as you say of course they want the other side to compromise as well.

Andujar Cedeno writes:

During much of America's Gilded Age gridlock gripped Washington separated by native born groups vs new immigrants and urban vs rural voters. Neither side could find compromise for almost three decades and we saw the political landscape change remarkably once compromise reappeared with the direct election of senators, the prohibition of alcohol, the income tax, the federal reserve system, recall elections, as well as initiative and referendum.
Will our current divides caused by the urban-suburban divide, the baby boom vs late generations, and statist vs libertarians produce a consensus in the end that results in another wave of nation altering change?

Steve writes:

Two thoughts
1) If the demand for compromise is rising among Republicans, as he claims, then there is some evidence for his claims, just not as strong as the claim he is trying to make.

The most likely source of this rise though isn't from partisan Republicans, it's from self-described independents, eg conservatives and moderates who are disaffected by the Republican party.

2) "Compromise" in most people's minds still means "other party gives me what I want". It does not mean "I give them something they want in exchange for something I want" or "I give up something I want in order to help someone else get what they want".

Yancey Ward writes:

Seib and everyone else, except for maybe David, is missing the real change- the 2010 elections made compromise necessary and possibly good for both sides. Between January 2009 and January 2011, the Democrats didn't need compromise, and the Republicans were in no position to actually demand anything since they were out of power completely. With both side now holding some power in Washington, it isn't surprising to see both sides suddenly mouthing words about compromise.

MG writes:

I think Paul Ryan, among a "few" Repiblicans who have written about the deliberations of that great legislative period of 2009-2010, would quibble with the use of the phrase "with little Republican support". He would say "with no consultation with Republicans" would be more accurate.

Of course, this did necessarily leave whatever compromising was needed to placating a few Democratic Senators. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these "compromises" involved political-financial payoffs rather than compromises on widely diverging policy differences: think of the "LA Purchase", the "NE Cornhusker", etc.

john hare writes:

Reason together yes, compromise together, maybe. Compromising with something that is wrong is wrong in itself. " It's OK honey, we compromised and you will only be half gang raped as only half of the gang is going to rape you."

ThomasH writes:

I have no idea what issues Republicans want to compromise on. What I wish to to see Republicans "compromise" on is when Democrats propose a health care finance reform that retains the link of employer provision, to propose a version that does not. When Democrats propose a complicated cap and trade scheme to reduce GG emissions, for Republicans to propose an alternative carbon tax. When Democrats propose an increase in the minimum wage for Republicans to propose an alternative increase in the EITC.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Yancy Ward -
That's largely the point I was trying to make about the importance of compromise even in practice the last several years. I would just quibble with your dates. Given the willingness to use the filibuster it's not really accurate to say that the Democrats didn't need compromise. There was a brief period in the second half of 2009 when they technically had the 60 they needed but that didn't coincide with the major pieces of legislation and of course it's razor thin and not always reliable.

Compromise has been required for many years now which is precisely why the major pieces of legislation have been compromises.

I do agree that this has been even more substantially the case since the 2010 elections.

Rich Berger writes:

Obama: "I won". Tells you all you need to know about compromise.

Daublin writes:

Compromise is important, but it's not the precise thing I find so toxic about Washington politics. And as you hint at, nobody really wants *their* guy to compromise, except insofar as they have to to get bills through.

The precise thing that gets me is not compromise, exactly, more more that it infects everything else. The IRS is auditing people based on which politicians they support. The Supreme Court is inventing new constitutional clauses so they can vote on party lines. Popular bands are announcing their political party, and listeners are swapping who they listen to based on it. The EPA, the FCC, and the FDA are also switching their regulations around along party lines.

The state of academia is also a little depressing. In most fields, you simply cannot get anywhere if you express sympathy to the Republican party. You have to get your papers approved, and the people approving you are going to be strongly motivated by whether they like you in general.

All these positions can do massively more good by doing their job effectively than by gunning for a political party. They are compromising on doing their jobs in order to be troopers for a national political party, and that's a form of compromise we all ought to be against.

michael pettengill writes:

Conservatives hate it when Democrats compromise with Republicans.

While Republicans controlled Congress, Clinton compromised with Republicans multiple times, increasing the pork barrel spending on infrastructure. The Bush gas tax hike to pay for military spending was diverted to paying for pork barrel projects replacing aging bridges.

Clinton compromised on welfare reform and gave health care based on need to kids without requiring kids to get jobs and off welfare.

When Bush was president, the "most liberal Democrat" Ted Kennedy compromised and got NCLB passed. Democrats compromised on Medicare Drug benefits. Democrats compromised on hiking the debt ceiling multiple times. Democrats compromised on Iraq. Democrats compromised on the Patriot act. The only thing Democrats did not compromise on was making Bush's tax cuts permanent, until Obama compromised and made them permanent. Democrats compromised with Bush on energy policy. Democrats compromised on Bush's bank bailouts without punishing the bank management. Democrats compromised on Bush's failed 2008 tax cut stimulus to prevent a recession.

Democrats compromised with Mitt Romney on health reform. Then Democrats spent 15 months compromising on Romney's presidential campaign promise for health reform hijacked by Ted Kennedy who was at Romney's side when he signed it into law as his credentials for president in the 2008 election.

Obama's failed 2009 tax cut stimulus was his compromise with the Republicans he had to have to get anything passed, putting way too much wasteful spending into failed tax cuts to create jobs.

Obama used the Bush energy bill to fund energy R&D and to fund the first new nuclear power plants proposed since the 70s. That nuclear power plant funding is not strongly opposed by the Tea Party, most environmentalists, most Democrats, but supported by most Republicans.

The claims that Democrats and especially Obama are leftist extremist is so absurd given the core of Democratic policy and principles would be solidly Republican in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Today, Republicans are basically Southern Democrats, Dixiecrats, from before 1965 that were members of various social groups like KKK. They did everything the could to stop FDR, Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ doing things Republicans supported then.

Yancey Ward writes:

Jesus, Daniel, the filibuster stopped nothing. All the "compromises" the Democrats offered to Republicans were offered in pure jest and attempts to look bipartisan. All the true compromises were within the Democratic Party itself- most of which made the two big bill passed much poorer in design, but they still passed the stimulus and the ACA. No, that is not what you were getting at, and that is why I wrote the comment I did. More than anyone above, you missed the point about the 2010 elections.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Yancey, you can mean whatever you want to mean, but please don't tell me what I'm getting at.

A lot of the compromise was indeed within the Democratic party, as I had said, because getting 60 votes on many of these items had very little margin for error. All of this legislation was considerably different than it would have been otherwise because they had to compromise.

I think in many ways it is for the worse. Certainly stimulus, probably health reform too. But the point of compromise isn't because you think it makes the bill better. If you thought that then it wouldn't be a compromise position it would be your starting point! The reason you compromise is because you recognize that there are a lot of people out there who feel differently and if you want to do something that needs to be accounted for.

"More than anyone above, you missed the point about the 2010 elections."

Since the only thing I disagreed with you on was the timing I suppose, but of course from my perspective you're missing the point. Anyway, yes, of course whatever the situation was prior to November 2010, compromise became even more imperative afterwards. I said that.

Vivian Darkbloom writes:

@Daniel Kuehn

It is not clear to me from your various comments by and with whom those alleged compromises were made.

With respect to the ACA, stimulus, etc., can you be specific? Are you saying the left wing of the Democratic party was forced to compromise with the middle and the right wings?

As far as the ACA is concerned, I recall that, shortly before the bill was passed without any Republican votes, President Obama called a very public conference with the opposition. I can't recall specifically which, if any, changes were made to that bill after that meeting. Can you? Where was the "compromise" here? What changes were made to that bill from the date of its introduction to the date it was passed and signed that reflects those compromises?

Rich Berger writes:

One of the many advantages of limited government is a reduced need for "compromise". With most activity left to individual discretion, you make your choice and I make mine. Monstrosities like Obamacare arise from a desire to subject every aspect of life to political control and impose a top-down structure. Instead of allowing each to decide how much medical care to purchase and how to fund those purchases, we are forced to comply with a vast set of rules which have zero chance of working as intended and will be administered by a bureaucracy which has little interest in customer satisfaction.

The architects of this law did not want compromise; the Democrats have wanted nationalized healthcare for 60 years. They originally wanted to pass it in 2009, but as the voters got wind of it, passage was slowed down and the 2010 elections forced the Democrats to resort to last minute tricks to push it through. Since then, their tactics have been to hide its ill effects, illegally ignore inconvenient sections of the law and hope that it becomes too difficult to scrap - too late, suckers, live with it!

The failures of government are rarely acknowledged and reversed; instead we get endless tinkering and immortal life.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Rich Berger,
Correction on dates. The 2010 elections came well after ObamaCare and, indeed, it was ObamaCare that contributed to Republican wins in the 2010 elections. Passage was slowed in 2009 because Harry Reid was trying to get his 60-vote margin. With the Massachusetts election for Senate in early 2010, which elected Republican Scott Brown, Reid had to settle for what had already been passed because there were now only 59 votes available to him for any changes in the bill. I think that’s why this bill is even worse than the usual: it didn’t go through a conference committee so that some of the worst features could be removed.

Rich Berger writes:

You're right, it was passed in March 2010, after the Scott Brown election, but before the midterms.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Rich Berger -

"The architects of this law did not want compromise; the Democrats have wanted nationalized healthcare for 60 years."

And since we did not get nationalized health care that would make this a compromise, no?

We need to be clear here about what "wanting compromise" means. If you think the compromise product is ideal then by definition it's not a compromise. So wanting nationalized health care and agreeing to something else is a compromise precisely because you wanted something else. When someone "wants compromise" it's not because they like the final product best it's because they like coming to agreement and satisfying other peoples' concerns even if they consider those concerns unfounded. Normal people are OK with this because they recognize the diversity of views, interests, interpretations, etc. out there and they recognize they could be wrong and that they're not the only ones that matter.

RPLong writes:

Compromise is only a good thing if the result is preferable to gridlock. I'm sure we can all think of issues for which we'd prefer gridlock to the proposed policy.

khodge writes:

When the two parties compromise with each other they get what the politicians want, not what is best for the country.

When the politicians accomplish something we are stuck with it forever; laws - bad, good, or indifferent - never go away.

Vivian Darkbloom writes:

@Daniel Kuehn

Perhaps you are out there compromising with your vote; but, I'm still looking for those specifics. And, those specifics are relevant to this exchange:

"The architects of this law did not want compromise; the Democrats have wanted nationalized healthcare for 60 years."

"And since we did not get nationalized health care that would make this a compromise, no?"

First, while Rich Berger might be right, it's hard to say. I am not aware of many Democrats publicly stating that they are for "nationalized healthcare". Did Obama even say that? Absent that, how do you know there was a compromise? You mean, what they say in public to voters is different from what they really want?

That wouldn't come as a surprise to me but 1) it says something about the sorry state of our politics; and 2) unless your telepathy can read minds and hearts (or you have a backstage pass to those smoke-filled rooms), it makes it very difficult to pin down, exactly, when and by whom a "compromise" is actually being made.

Assuming, arguendo, that "the Democrats" did want "nationalized healthcare", who, again, did those architects compromise with? Themselves? Again, can you be specific? Were changes made to that Democratically sponsored bill to satisfy Republicans that escaped my attention?

Phil Collins writes:

Republicans had no desire to compromise on comprehensive healthcare reform during the beginning of Obama's first term. "It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, then it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out." (Mitch McConnell, N.Y. Times 3/6/10).

When Democrats were down to 59 votes in the Senate, the Republican strategy had gained momentum. There was little incentive to compromise with popularity for the Senate and House bills diminishing and the party base extremely hostile to, among other things, the concept of individually mandated health insurance coverage (a concept that had been embraced relatively recently as a free market alternative to single payer by many Republicans such as Senators Bennett, Grassley, Alexander). Given this environment, Republicans were not going to support much more than tort reform and purchasing health insurance across state lines in negotiating a deal. "Obviously, I am pleased that the White House finally seems interested in a real bipartisan conversation on health care. The American people have overwhelmingly rejected both of the job-killing trillion-dollar government takeover of health care bills passed by the House and Senate. . . The best way to start on real, bipartisan reform would be to scrap those bills and focus on the kind of step-by-step improvements that will lower health care costs and expand access." (Boehner on the White House Summit, 2/6/10). A bipartisan deal that would provide affordable coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and low incomes was not a remote possibility at this point.

With respect to specific compromises made during the process (mostly to woo conservative Democrats and a few Republicans), the following is an account from a liberal perspective on how the sausage got made.


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