The painful Congressional machinations to avoid the fiscal cliff and defaulting on our loans up to now had been an irresistible force meeting an unmovable object. What we have needed is the emergence of a strong, pragmatic middle, a coalition of the willing to compromise. Whatever middle is born this week will be on life support through March. Debates on tax policies, budget cuts, defense spending, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and debt reduction will take place in a series of votes on the fiscal cliff, dire budget cuts, debt ceiling, and in "the continuing resolution" to avoid a government shutdown. Just what we need: a government shutdown, the final evidence of a dysfunctional democracy.
These votes will signal whether a pragmatic middle has grown strong enough in Congress to control the political process and to marginalize those unmovable objects, straight jacketed by ideology, pledges, campaign promises, and lobbyists.
Recently I heard liberals tagging Tea Party members of Congress as "extremists". I reached for my dictionaries. General consensus is that someone is extreme if they are out of the mainstream of thought. Common wisdom is that we are so polarized, there is no mainstream. We are all extremists: Anti tax on one side and pro unaltered social programs on the other and nothing in between.
However, exit polls in November showed over 60 percent of all voters, more than voted for Pre. Obama, supported increasing taxes on the rich and a balanced approach of some cuts, some tax increases. This may be an emerging new mainstream that is somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. The question is will the new mainstream be reflected in Congress to be sufficiently powerful in the next couple of months to overcome filibusters and parliamentary tricks.
The fundamental problem is that compromise has become a dirty word, yet It is the heart of our political system. Our founding fathers hammered out many compromises in formulating our Constitution and the amendments. They constructed a government they had hoped would balance power, protecting the minority from absolute rule of the majority, while allowing the majority to rule. They gave us a Congress with a platform to work out differences. Since then, Congress has established rules that have allowed a minority to be the tail wagging the majority dog by abusing the filibuster, certain party caucus practices, and denying votes on issues. Those rules are compromise killers and stonewall enablers.
To make the process even more dysfunctional, the Tea Party caucus and fellow travelers are not only anti-tax, they are anti-compromise. They have been throwing a monkey wrench into the gears of our Constitutional government dependent on compromise. They seem to be willing to kill economic recovery in the name of tax protesting ideological purity, opposing a 4 percent tax increase on 2 or 3 percent of the rich, no matter what ratio of cost cutting to tax increases the Administration offers them. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that raising such taxes on the top would not hurt the economy, in spite of Tea Party claims.
To their credit, the left has been a bit more pragmatic. While grousing about any tinkering with "entitlements," they so far seem unwilling to vote against compromises the President makes. If the cliff and debt ceiling debates result in deadlock, and our economy crashes, the Tea Party is more likely to get the blame. They can hide in gerrymandered safe districts. However, those from more diverse districts who join them should fear voters' wrath in the next election cycle.
The laurel leaf of voter approval in the future will be awarded to members of a new moderate coalition formed from both parties to solve our problems in a balanced, fair way. Democracy based on compromise will then function again.