When congressional Republicans, egged on by the boisterous voices of the tea party, vigorously objected to President Barack Obama’s signing a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia in December, GOP stalwarts were called in to explain why it was necessary to support the effort.
By having the secretaries of state under Republican presidents weigh in, GOP critics couldn’t just lay the blame at the feet of Obama without having to trample the integrity of Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz and James A. Baker III.
Once they publicly came out for the treaty and were photographed in the White House, the momentum shifted, and the treaty was approved.
No matter how principled someone may be when he comes to Washington, he is going to have to learn how to play along with others. That’s the rule in the sandbox, and it should be the same rule in Congress.
But we have become a nation in which the strong ideologies that the left and right clutch to for dear life don’t allow for middle ground. In fact, if you even broach the idea of compromising, activists on both sides will tear you to shreds and make it hard for you to even win a primary.
As a result, we have elected mercenaries to Congress who aren’t interested in the well-being of all Americans, just the sliver of the voting public that sent them to the nation’s capital. They play to the activists who raise money and turn out en masse at rallies.
The ongoing debate over the debt ceiling is a prime example of this unwillingness to consider an alternative viewpoint that could avert a crisis.
On one side, Democrats didn’t want the GOP — or even President Obama — going near entitlement programs as a part of deficit reduction. When the president put those on the table in his negotiations with Republicans, Democrats revolted in anger.
Social Security and Medicare have long been strong political rallying points for the Democrats, and they want to keep that edge.
President Obama made clear that revenues had to be a part of any plan. The Congressional Budget Office has been clear that the Bush tax cuts contributed $3.3 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. Talk to conservative activists, TV pundits and members of Congress and they swear that it isn’t true. But it is. Facts simply aren’t debatable.
So instead of confronting cuts that adversely impact the national debt, House Republicans saw that as a non-starter, refusing to allow any revenues to be a part of any debt ceiling deal. As a result, Obama’s grand plan of a $4 trillion debt reduction was shot down, but House Speaker John Boehner’s plan came to slightly less than $1 trillion. And fiscal conservatives are happy?
The reality is that President Obama is a Democrat; Republicans control the House; and Democrats control the United States Senate. Both sides can push their perspectives as hard as possible, but unless we stop treating the word “compromise” as a dirty word, we will have endless partisan fights that make ideologues feel good but the nation in a worse state than it was before, and we will not move this country forward.
The House has passed Boehner’s plan. Now the Senate will take up Majority Leader Harry Reid’s debt plan. They are very different. Let’s pray that both parties don’t dig in their heels and learn to give a little. Otherwise, the nation’s credit is jeopardized, and those already hit by the recession will be plunged even further into the economic abyss.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and the author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website atwww.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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