Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, with regard to the current budget standoff, said, “We are at one of the most dangerous points in our history right now. Every bit as dangerous as the break-up of the Union before the Civil War.”
That’s exponentially exaggerating the gravity of the nation’s current situation, which shows no signs of degenerating into interstate combat. What it does demonstrate, however, is that hyperbolic rhetoric seems to increase as comity and compromise decrease.
The only way out of this crisis is for people on each side to tone down their speech and begin to compromise to some degree. And yet as of Wednesday both sides were digging in, hoping voters would blame the other side for failing to find the middle ground.
Ironically, this is where both parties are in perfect alignment — Republicans and Democrats are more than willing to undermine the basic functions of government in order to score political points. Small wonder so many Americans are cynical about those who represent them in the halls of Congress.
What both sides are overlooking is the common ground that could be used to forge agreement on at least one point, allowing the GOP and the Obama administration to save face to some degree. There is a growing bipartisan consensus that the new Affordable Care Act’s mandated 2.3 percent sales tax on medical devices is a bad idea that will cost jobs in greater proportion to the tax revenue it will generate. Repeal of that tax, then, is both good policy and good politics. If Democrats were to give in on this issue, it would help them politically and demonstrate that they are willing to be reasonable. Right now, their refusal to compromise looks more churlish than statesmanlike.
At the same time, Republicans could claim victory on one important point that would be cheered by conservatives and the business community.
The demands by some in the GOP for the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, were unrealistic from the outset, and they are the primary reason the nation finds itself in this current legislative standoff. Republicans lack the numbers in Washington to make that happen. The Senate and White House will always stand in the way, and despite the current shutdown, the president is unlikely to ever abandon his signature piece of legislation. Republican calls for the delay of Obamacare instead of its full defunding are an admission that their earlier demands on this issue were little more than theater designed to rally the party’s right-wing base.
But a genuine compromise over repeal of the medical devices tax is doable, and it could be the first step toward a more conciliatory tone in Washington that might lead to other important changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Our guess is that cooperation would be more politically advantageous to all sides than exaggerated rhetoric and stubbornness.