The compromise deficit
Adam Newman | Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Anyone who has watched CNN recently, read a newspaper or spent a couple of days in the United States know that America has a deficit issue.
While the political pundits have discussed this deficit, too little attention has been paid towards an issue that is much more systemic than any federal budget deficit: The compromise deficit, a deficit that has much larger consequences.
The past four years have seen the rise of the Tea Party, a group of ultra conservatives who see compromise as a sign of weakness. The Tea Party looks for purity in candidates and believes that any candidate that has compromised with a Democrat is not fit for office (just ask the Republican incumbents who lost primary races).
Our history shows us, though, that the most important pieces of legislation have been those with strong bipartisan support. Examples include the Social Security Act of 1935, the Medicare Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Tax Reform in 1986. These pieces of legislation all required passionate debate, bargaining, but in the end were compromises.
Not only have great pieces of legislation utilized compromise as foundation, but our founding father’s conceived the Constitution in a well of compromise. Slaveholders had to compromise with abolitionists. Those from the industrial northeast had to compromise with those from the agrarian south. Those from states with large populations had to compromise with the states that had small populations. The Constitution included compromises that allowed not just for slavery, but also for an extension of the slave trade for another 50 years. These provisions were true atrocities. But the unfortunate reality is that America would not exist today without them.
The Tea Party experienced the pinnacle of its influence during summer 2011 when they almost led America to not raise the debt ceiling (a limit on how much debt the Treasury can issue) and default on its obligations. There is an argument to be made about whether or not America spends too much and how spending should be decreased in the future. But since America’s federal government borrows roughly 40 cents for every dollar spent, not raising the debt ceiling would have had disastrous implications: Depressed growth, a new recession, higher borrowing costs, less confidence in the American economy and a major decline in the stock market to list a few.
Fortunately, the Congressional Republican leadership was able to get their younger Tea Party members on board with the Democrats as America reached its debt limit, but not without a price. Soon after this debacle, America’s debt was downgraded by Standard and Poor’s (S&P), a very important ratings agency. Most people believe that the S&P downgraded the U.S because of its fiscal situation. But this is not exactly true. It was not because our debt was too big, but as the eight-page announcement letter says, S&P saw the two political parties as unable to compromise on the structural issues of the U.S debt.
An excerpt: “We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process.”
The S&P downgrade did not have the serious economic consequences that downgrades had in other countries such as Greece. Even though it was downgraded, American debt is still the safest in the world. But the S&P downgrade is a start of an American decline down a very slippery slope that will be very difficult to climb back up.
Compromise is the key to progress, and allows us as a democracy to show why we are better than China (where the government unilaterally makes decisions to solve a conflict), or African nations (where citizens fight one another to solve a conflict). It gives our democracy a unique humanity that we Americans can disagree, without fighting with one another. It sounds simple. But, there is no doubt we take it for granted, especially Tea Party Republicans.
Many politicians, especially Tea Party Republicans have claimed that they refuse to compromise because they are fighting for what they believe is right based on what the Founding Fathers believed.Unfortunately, these Tea Partiers are too intellectually small to realize the irony in what they say, because without compromise, they would not have an America to fight for.
Adam Newman is a senior political science major. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.