Truth or consequences
Collaboration, compromise still in short supply, but it’s what the public wants
“ Elections have consequences.”
That was a familiar quote heard in news coverage of last week’s noisy showdown in Madison, Wis., between the Republican governor, Democratic lawmakers and union members over legislation that would ban some collective bargaining by state employees and increase cost-sharing for their pensions and health insurance benefits.
They’re also words that have been chanted frequently since last November’s midterm elections brought sweeping changes in state legislatures and in Washington. One such electoral consequence is supposed to be the unraveling and eventual demise of the healthcare reform law.
In Wisconsin, one man spouting that quote was a state tea party representative, making the point that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was elected to slash spending and close a growing hole in the state’s budget, so he was only doing the will of the people in demanding passage of the legislation. What about the tens of thousands of protesters opposing the governor’s bill and seeking negotiation? “We won, they lost,” was the retort, referring to the tea party’s achievements in November. I guess the message was that it was time for everyone to shut up and go home.
By the time you’re reading this, it’s quite possible that the Badger State finally found a way to move beyond the stalemate. But the shrillness of the spectacle will linger. And the same battles are playing out in other states across the country as lawmakers confront the widespread damage from the Great Recession as well as years of fiscal malpractice. Healthcare spending will continue to be a big target.
So maybe it’s time to look a little closer at these consequences everyone likes to talk about. From much of the polling following last year’s elections, it’s pretty clear that one key consequence voters expected to see was a more collaborative effort to strengthen the economy and — yes—reduce government spending at the state and national levels. How- ever, those pushing for a full repeal of the health reform law are misreading public opinion. A more appropriate consequence would be another “C” word: compromise.
Nobody disputes the fact that actions at the ballot box equate to some type of change. But is it only this most recent election that has consequences? Are the results of previous elections invalidated at some level? Of course not. We still have a man named Obama who will reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington for at least two more years. And I believe the senators who weren’t up for reelection in 2010 still have their incumbency intact. Their continued presence, a consequence of previous elections, is probably an annoyance to many freshman Republicans.
Let’s also take a closer look at the mandate to rein in governmental spending. According to a recent CBS News poll, nearly 80% of those surveyed would indeed rather cut spending than raise taxes (favored by only 9% of respondents) to tackle budget deficits. But what should be cut?
While specific numbers varied by political leanings or affiliation, 67% of those polled said they were “unwilling” to cut healthcare and education spending, while more than half, or 52%, said they were “willing” to trim the defense budget. Those aren’t exactly the consequences that conservatives in Washington are touting. And a new USA Today/ Gallup survey shows that by 2-1 margins Americans want Congress to reach a compromise in the budget battle to avoid a government shutdown.
Still, look for more fireworks very shortly as Congress gets down to business confronting spending bills for the remainder of this fiscal year, the Obama administration’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal, and the public’s demand for decisive action to address the nation’s monstrous debt. If there are any egregious missteps, the next election will indeed have some harsh consequences.