Ronald Reagan was a staunch conservative and Tip O’Neill was an equally staunch liberal. But both were old school and also believed in the art of political compromise. As a result, Reagan and O’Neill worked together on a series of successful compromises that included revisions in Social Security, working with Margaret Thatcher on establishing the Anglo-Irish Accord for peace in North Ireland, and beginning the thaw in the Cold War after O’Neill delivered a message to Mikhail Gorbachev from Reagan.
Unfortunately, in recent years there have been few major national issues that have been successfully addressed through political compromise. The end game today is playing for media sound bites and maneuvering for imagined political advantage in the next election cycle.
Now the U.S. Senate has taken a page from the playbook used earlier times when bipartisan coalitions were the norm for dealing with major issues. The issue is immigration reform and it now appears that as many as 70 Senators from both sides of the aisle may be prepared to support the bill developed by the bipartisan Gang of Eight, although the coalition probably won’t include either of Idaho’s senators.
Earlier this week I was moderator for a Boise City Club forum featuring Grover Norquist, arguably the most influential conservative voice in Washington, D.C. His subject was “Why Conservatives Should Support Immigration Reform.” He is supportive of the Senate bill for a number of reasons, but primarily because he believes that it will benefit the nation’s economy.
He is also a political pragmatist who sees the handwriting on the wall for the Republican party if they continue to offend the growing number of Hispanic voters by opposing immigration reform.
The national issue that eclipses immigration is federal deficit reduction. It is another issue that will only be successfully dealt with by forming bipartisan coalitions willing to make some compromises on issues such as entitlements, taxes and defense spending.
One of the biggest obstacles to bi-partisan compromise solutions on deficit reduction is none other than Grover Norquist, the champion of bi-partisan compromises on immigration reform. Norquist, through his organization Americans for Tax Reform, has gotten nearly every Republican in Congress to sign his pledge to not raise taxes of any sort. If a member has signed and continues to honor the pledge, he or she will only support deficit reduction efforts that focus on spending cuts.
But a growing number of Republicans who have signed that pledge have determined that it has grown irrelevant as they seek ways to reduce the deficit. Two of those individuals are Idaho’s Senator Mike Crapo and Congressman Mike Simpson. Both have indicated that everything, including revenue increases, has to be on the table as the President and Congress deal with the deficit.
Peter King, a Republican Congressman from New York, said it best several months ago on “Meet the Press.” “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress,” King said. “For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed. And the economic situation is different.”
If Congress succeeds in dealing with the immigration issue on a bi-partisan compromise basis, perhaps the gates will have opened to similar efforts to deal with other major issues such as deficit reduction.
It would be good to have the shrill voices of no-compromise special interests on both side of the aisle grow increasingly irrelevant and have the real interests of the American people once again take center stage in Washington. Making Congress a respected and productive part of American society, as it once was, is in everyone’s best interest.
Marty Peterson is retired and lives in Boise.Share on Facebook