WILSON: Average citizens lose when politicans serve too many masters

Posted: Mar. 1, 2013 3:37 pm Updated: Apr. 12, 2013 4:15 pm


Everybody may be worn out by all the talk about a federal budget crisis. Unfortunately, there's more to come.

On March 27, the government's budget extension will expire. So unless Congress votes to pass another budget measure there will be another crisis, with a government shutdown possible.

For those keeping score there have been a few debt ceiling showdowns in recent years. On Jan. 1, the "fiscal cliff" was partially avoided when some tax hikes were approved. The "sequester" was big news on March 1, with across the board spending cuts taking place automatically. And now another budget showdown is just 24 days away.

This is a lousy way to govern.

In fact, it's guaranteed to fail in the current political climate.

Democrats, in general, don't want to see programs cut. Republicans, in general, don't want to see tax hikes. No compromises are likely.

Part of the problem has more to do with the influence of leaders than with purely partisan influences.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are not the purest examples of Republicans and Democrats in action. That's not meant to impugn either of them. It's just that Reid and Boehner have too many masters.

One master is self interest. Both men want to remain in control. They won't stay in control long if they make themselves unpopular with their own caucus. So they try to work with the greatest number of their own party members whenever possible.

Another master is party building. Every vote, every strategic move, is weighed in relation to how it will anger or please certain voting blocks. There are times that losing a small battle can win the next campaign war ... for the party.

Next come party principles.

A final master is the common good. This one does not always come last, but it doesn't get top billing often enough.

In the days before the fiscal cliff and the sequester, Boehner and Reid each came up with proposals. They didn't sit down together and work out an agreement. Both leaders wanted to win. The nation lost.

This too-brief outline of dysfunction in Congress does not mean compromise is always good. Compromises can be bad, even disastrous. But swearing never to compromise is the political equivalent of playing chicken, with the American public strapped in the passenger seat.

Several famous compromises of the past were handled by rank-and-file members of the House and Senate, working more-or-less outside the leaders' control. Unfortunately, many of the lawmakers who worked out previous deals have either retired or faced backlash from their leaders. There seem to be fewer lawmakers willing to brainstorm with their peers from across the party divide.

That's too bad, especially with the sequester cuts starting to come into focus and the March 27 budget deadline approaching.