Saturday, April 9, 2011
Possibly inspired by last month's NCAA madness, party leaders in Washington pulled through last night and compromised just in time to avert a government shutdown; the political equivalent of a buzzer-beater. However, the compromise was reached at the end of a long and contentious negotiation process. So it was less like Christian Laettner's 1992 jumper, and more like Chris Farley's reenactment:
In fact, as negotiations proceeded and each side conceded more and more the differences being debated in the face of a government shutdown became almost comedic (that is they would have been comedic if not for the seriousness of the issue).
According to a New York Times article, the dollar difference was below $2 billion dollars. A large number, but very small in the context of the federal budget and small when compared to the approximately $28 billion dollar discrepancy between the proposals of each party going into the negotiations ($33 billion and $61 billion).
The New York times article said Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, was embarassed that arguing over a relatively small sum might force the government to shutdown. the article quoted him as saying, "People across Virginia cannot understand why we can’t get this done."
The final way in which the budget agreement resembles a buzzer-beater is that, although both sides support the agreement reached last night, the actual legislation won't go through until sometime next week (after the buzzer). The government will keep running until Thursday, thanks to a short-term resolution. The budget agreement will be translated into legislation and passed in the meantime.
On a positive note, after all the ridiculousness and last minute drama, the government will not shut down and Democrats and Republicans demonstrated that it is at least possible to compromise.
A real compromise allows both sides to save some face but ensures one is entirely pleased with the end result. So let's look at how Washington did:
Representative Boehner had his chance to appease tea party republicans by demanding outrageous cuts from Obama and opposing compromise until the last minute. But in the end republicans didn't get the ridiculous budget cuts they wanted and had to give up on targeting groups like Planned Parenthood for especially harsh cuts.
Democratic leadership and President Obama were able to protect important government institutions and programs as much as they could in the face of Republican demands and fiscal realities. However, Democrats had to agree to cut more than they wished and will have tough job trying to help impoverished Americans when so many programs facing large budget cuts.
So both sides, eventually, made the effort to compromise.
We are in a difficult time when the economy has yet to fully recover and the federal budget is being strained by defense spending, failing entitlement programs, and a number of other factors. The Republicans have decided to respond by attacking the public sector and trying to eliminate any government program they can (at least the one's they disagree with). This has put Democrats on the defensive as they try to preserve vital programs that help the poor, sick, and disadvantaged in our society.
This trend has progressed to each side scoring political points instead of addressing real problems. The way to address problems when no one party has an overwhelming majority is to compromise, which this latest crisis has shown to be very difficult but possible.
Hopefully Republicans and Democrats can reach more compromises in the future and eventually come together on issues with less unnecessary squabbling.
Otherwise, our government might as well have shut down for all they'll manage to get done.