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We’ve just seen Round One in what amounts to a political heavyweight championship fight between Democrats and Republicans. Get ready for the next 11 rounds.
Though they were unhappy with a package that included more spending and higher taxes on the wealthy, Republican realists understood that defending tax cuts for millionaires is never an ideal strategy.
Democrats had successfully maneuvered them into a corner, pounding them with blows to the solar plexus and even an uppercut or two. Battered and bloodied — with a job approval rating in the teens — savvy congressional Republicans figured that it was time to accept the loss of a round in the hope of making up ground later in the fight.
They know that over the next year or two the match will continue, over the now-delayed sequester cuts, the debt ceiling, entitlement spending, tax reform and, yes, more taxes.
Round One was not pretty. But politics isn’t about aesthetics, and our system of checks and balances, combined with a more polarized nation, makes compromise more difficult.
Yes, President Barack Obama won the election, as Democrats remind all of us repeatedly in demanding more compromise from Republicans. But House Republicans also won their elections, and that is the real reason our elected officials had such a hard time agreeing on how to avert the fiscal cliff.
While it is easy to complain about gridlock in the nation’s capital and bemoan the inability of Congress to compromise on taxes, spending, unemployment insurance, the farm bill and other matters, it’s important to remember that Congress’ job isn’t merely to pass legislation. It is to pass good legislation, or at least legislation that the individual member and his or her constituents think is worthwhile.
To many conservatives, raising taxes on anyone and failing to address the nation’s growing debt and entitlement problems are at least equally dangerous outcomes (maybe even worse than going over the fiscal cliff) that will take the country one step closer to the kind of economic crisis that Greece and other countries in Europe face. For these conservatives, their opposition to the deal wasn’t merely “selfishness” or “partisanship,” criticisms often leveled at Congress for its inaction. It was based on principle, on members of Congress doing what they believed was the right thing for the country and for their constituents.
Still, conservatives ought to be happy that almost all of the Bush tax cuts were made permanent, that the estate tax was adjusted and that there was a compromise on capital gains — and more importantly that they didn’t get knocked out by Democrats before the bell at the end of Round One.