Is a compromise possible?

U.S. President Obama speaks during a bipartisan meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White HouseHaving established last week that the president could have pursued a different policy – and is being disingenuous to blame congress for the mess – it is now worth exploring whether congress or the president should have pursued different policies.

For example, in the absence of an extension to the debt ceiling, there should be no need for a default by the US on the present debt. Current income is sufficient to service the debt. The question is whether defaulting on the debt might be the least painful cut to make. If the federal government simply cut its expenditure to the level of its income, the economic consequences are likely to be extremely serious. The president and congress should find a way of compromising on this issue, and it is gratifying that, having maintained that he was unwilling to compromise, the president is now suggesting that he just might.

Realistically, the president is not going to walk back Obamacare. No matter how unpopular, it remains the singular achievement of his first term. A repeal passed by the House would not even be debated in the Senate. If it was debated there, repeal would probably be defeated and even if enough Democrats could be persuaded to vote for repeal, the bill would still get vetoed by the president. Defunding some elements of the program – insofar as present law does not already mandate such expenditure – is a possible goal, but it is likely that the GOP could secure more valuable concessions in other areas long before the president would back down from this.

Both in the debate over a continuing resolution (to enable the government to keep functioning) and in the related but separate debate over raising the debt ceiling, the GOP would be wiser to focus on more realistic goals. 

What of the president? His burning desire to preserve his healthcare legacy and his strong attachment to government programs should render him eager to compromise. Who loses the most if government agencies close their doors? Republicans, who would happily close down many of the agencies permanently? Or Democrats, who love government and who are funded by the unions whose members have been furloughed? 

The problem is that both sides have been looking at only one side of the equation. Republicans have persuaded themselves that the Democrats’ love of government means they have to surrender. Democrats are convinced that Republicans are the ones suffering politically in this crisis. While both are correct about the other side’s weakness, they have been slow to see their own.

A realistic solution is for a respected Republican – Paul Ryan perhaps – to offer the Bowles-Simpson plan as a route forward. The plan was commissioned by the president as a responsible approach to dealing with unsustainable entitlements. Unfortunately he has ignored its recommendations. But given its origins within his administration it would be hard for him to present the plan as the moral equivalent of terrorism. His re-election now safely behind him, the president just might agree.

There are signs that both the president and the speaker recognize that they must move to break this logjam. The president has not dropped his hysterical language, but he has suggested he might be willing to move. John Boehner also seems to realize that continuing deadlock is a greater threat to his position than a reasoned compromise. That might be enough for change.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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