Don’t compromise on this: Send the money to everyone
Somehow, this procedural approach to negotiation has been elevated to a policy goal by some who lack conviction. Democrats, of course, always quick to try to make people happy, jump when offered a “compromise” which is often nothing more than a watered-down version of what is really needed.
The latest gambit by a few “moderate” Republican Senators, only one of whom voted to remove Trump from office, is nothing more than “less.” Rather than Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal, they suggest a coronavirus relief bill of only $650 million. Why $650 million? Why not $1.9 trillion? There is no logical argument for their position, no reason for that specific amount of money, other than that they want to offer families in need and struggling states and small businesses less.
Mitch McConnell, of course, offers crocodile tears over the fact that many Democrats are nonplussed over this deeply unserious offer. How dare the Democrats, says he, to have the temerity to use the same process to pass coronavirus relief in the midst of a national crisis that he used to pass the Trump tax give-away to the rich.
That tax bill, by the way, that really only benefited the very rich and did little to help the economy, had a cost of $2.3 trillion. All these “moderate” senators who were in office at the time voted for that tax bill, not balking for a second over the multi-trillion dollars being added to our national debt to hand to the very rich. And yet, God forbid we do something that helps everyone in their times of need.
The truth is that McConnell and his ilk only roll out the “compromise” argument when they are out of power. When in power, they have no interest in that vague concept. Just ask the man who would be Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland how well compromise works in Mitch McConnell’s world.
Compromise is not just a vacuous concept and a poor substitute for policy, it is just bad politics. As Larry David said, “a good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied.” But politics is about making people happy, ideally most people, at a minimum some people. But you will never make all people happy. Any effort to do that will result in nobody being happy which is a prescription for political failure.
In some respects, the tragedy of the Obama years can be written in those terms. As a candidate he had pledged to “turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington, so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people.” But McConnell had only one agenda, making Obama a one-term president. And even though he did not succeed in that task, he did manage to destroy the Democrats’ hard won majorities up and down the ticket over the next few years. He did that by eschewing compromise.
Obama tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to woo Republican support to some of his agenda. He proposed what had been a Republican plan as his health care proposal. He proposed a watered down stimulus plan that included mostly tax cuts to address another recession of Republican making. He proposed a well-respected moderate for the Supreme Court. He even appointed Republicans as his Secretary of Defense.
Did he ever get any credit for these efforts? No. The result of his compromises was a “shellacking” in the 2010 election.
The story of that election can be told in one statistic. In 2010, turnout by young voters fell by 60 percent from 2008, when Obama was first elected. The reason? They and other Democratic-leaning constituencies were unexcited by Obama’s record. His compromises had not made them happy.
Contrast Obama’s frustrations with the success of FDR. For proposing Social Security, FDR was tarred and feathered by Republicans as a “socialist.” Roosevelt insisted that the program be broad-based, not means-tested, and designed to benefit everyone, regardless of income. As a result of that decision, Social Security largely eliminated poverty among senior citizens, and it remains overwhelmingly popular.
It turns out, not terribly surprisingly, that sending money to people is popular. After Social Security passed, FDR’s Republican opponent, the one who called it socialism, got shellacked in that election. What Obama didn’t understand until it was too late is that people will vote for candidates who support popular programs, and a milquetoast compromise will never achieve a high level of popularity. If Biden is serious about restarting the economy while simultaneously changing the political conversation, he will act the way Republicans did when they wanted to pass a tax give-away to the very rich. He will push forward an ambitious plan that sends checks to everyone.