My friend (and occasional former boss at LEO) Rep. John Yarmuth has a letter in today’s Courier-Journal stressing his desire for more compromise in Congress. In it, he praises his colleague, House Speaker John Boehner, but implores him to give some ground on some of his views rooted in ideology, particularly those ideological commitments that would lead him and other members of the GOP-run House to oppose just about any tax increases:
… because, in a government this polarized, the issues where common ground already exists are simply too few, and the challenges that divide us far too important for inaction. In fact, in the current political environment, insisting on common ground without compromise may be the best way to guarantee 90 percent of the nation’s problems remain unsolved—not coincidentally, that is the same percentage of Americans who disapprove of this Congress and its refusal to compromise.
I think my friend may be mistaken.
First, the history. James Madison didn’t craft the Constitution to grease the wheels of government or make it more efficient. Why? Because Madison and the other founders viewed “inaction” as the appropriate default position for the federal government. Government, in their view, could rarely be trusted with large sums of money or unchecked power.
Second, the debt and deficit problems faced by the United States today have not been caused by a government with insufficient resources or power. Gigantic increases in federal expenditures and the vast new regulatory structures that have yet to fully unfurl (the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, etc.) have done little to make the life of the average American more safe, secure, happy or wealthy.
(As an aside, isn’t it possible that people have a low opinion of Congress because, well, Americans give Congress trillions of dollars every year and somehow things aren’t awesome yet?)
Our country and our system of government were formed through compromise and have been strengthened by it for more than two centuries. Until Republicans find leadership that values results over ideology — and economic progress over anti-tax pledges — this Congress will continue to fail America.
Let’s talk about results. An AEI study last year found that of 37 fiscal adjustments made by national governments to deal with excessive debts, the ones that were most successful at actually reducing debt over the long term relied primarily on spending cuts, specifically reduced transfer payments within a country. And if you want history specific to the United States, it’s clear that when Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were faced with fiscal imbalances and chose to compromise with Congress on taxes and spending, those compromises (which were supposed to yield both spending reductions and tax increases) only yielded tax increases.
I like John Yarmuth a whole lot. He is an engaging conversation partner and I always look forward to hearing what he thinks about issues of the day. From the chats we’ve had in the LEO office or on the radio or in his office in Washington, D.C., he’s been nothing but respectful and pleasant, and always intellectually stimulating. Unfortunately, it taxes credulity to consider “economic progress” synonymous with Congresspeople abandoning their worldviews in the name of “compromise.” One never necessarily implies the other.