Opinion: Government: What does ‘compromise’ mean?

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Potential GOP presidential candidate Sarah Palin has come out against House Speaker John Boehner’s debt-ceiling proposal, and her comments reflect a puzzling but pervasive line of thinking among Republicans close to the ‘tea party’ movement.

Speaking Tuesday on Fox News, Palin said the House GOP’s ‘cut, cap and balance’ approach was the right way to go, then added:


Evidently, there are enough members of Congress who are insisting that the debt ceiling will be raised. I don’t want to see it raised.... So if it’s going to be raised, we’d better get something out of it.

Clearly, Palin believes it would be fine not to raise the debt ceiling. Simply agreeing to raise it constitutes a concession, and therefore the folks demanding a higher debt ceiling must make some concession(s) in return. Put another way, a debt-ceiling ‘compromise’ involves no further concessions to congressional Democrats or the White House beyond giving the government the authority to honor the commitments it’s already made.

Another example comes from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Conference -- a group of 175 conservative House Republicans. Like Palin, Jordan has opposed Boehner’s proposal as a poor substitute for ‘cut, cap and balance.’ After the House passed a ‘cut, cap and balance’ bill on a near-party-line vote July 19, Jordan said, ‘Let me be clear: this is the compromise. This is the best plan out there.’

That plan, which the Senate rejected in a party-line vote, is an unequivocally Republican approach to solving the federal budget mess. The only way it constitutes a ‘compromise’ is if one assumes that not raising the debt ceiling is an option.

Jordan’s and Palin’s point of view differs subtly but meaningfully from that of Boehner (R-Ohio), who accepts that the debt limit must be raised. For Boehner, the compromise is in accepting less deficit reduction and a different path to achieve it than Republicans would insist on if they were in control.

Given the amount of debt Washington has amassed, it’s easy to understand why some people yearn for an unequivocal end to the borrowing. But to kick the credit habit, Congress would have to cut federal spending by roughly 40% immediately. To paraphrase one of the Republicans’ criticisms of President Obama, where’s the Republican Study Commission’s plan for that?


It’s not ‘cut, cap and balance,’ which adopts the spending cuts in the fiscal 2012 budget resolution drawn up by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). That measure -- which the House passed on a near-party-line vote in April -- calls for the government to borrow more than $1 trillion in fiscal 2012, and nearly $6 trillion in additional deficits by the end of fiscal 2021.

To the extent Jordan has a plan, it would be HR 2651, a bill by Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) to ensure that holders of Treasury securities, Social Security recipients and active-duty members of the armed forces get paid first if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. And for all the other federal employees, contractors and suppliers, not to mention doctors who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients, recipients of federal benefits and scientists with research grants? Let the devil take the hindmost, presumably.


It’s time for Congress to make a deal

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-- Jon Healey