Compromise, Consensus, Common Ground

Compromise, Consensus, Common Ground: The Missing Three Cs


Leonard Zwelling

President Biden is right. Politics is the art of the possible.

What was evident to me during my year on Capitol Hill was that compromise, consensus and common ground are no longer possible between Republicans and Democrats. Even as my boss Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) extolled the virtues of the “80% on which Dems and the GOP agree,” nothing got done without legislative tricks.

As soon as I entered the Republican office of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, what was obvious was that the staff was girded for war. Obama had just won the presidency and the Dems had sixty seats in the Senate. Rather than seek places where they could affect the proposed health care legislation in their direction, the GOP simply said no! Remember, George W. Bush couldn’t get social security reform or immigration reform passed either. Long before Donald Trump, the parties on the Hill have tied up any progress on the business of the people by adamantly sticking their feet in cement and filibustering. Even the ACA was passed with sleight of hand by Nancy Pelosi by ramming the previously approved Senate version of the bill through the House after the Dems lost their 60-vote margin with the death of Senator Kennedy and the victory of Republican Scott Brown for his seat in January 2009. The Dems cleaned up the money parts with reconciliation, needing only 50 Senate votes.

In short, there is no compromise. No one will give an inch, especially in the Senate. Even when ten GOP senators tried to compromise on covid relief, their proposal was so watered down, that President Biden could never accept it. Instead, the Dems used reconciliation to pass their bill through the Senate without a single GOP vote.

Surely there must be some consensus on the need for rebuilding our roads and bridges, expanding internet access across the fruited plain and moving away from fossil fuel based energy production. Surely? I guess not. I think the president has an uphill battle in trying to get his infrastructure bill passed in one huge chunk. He would be wise to break it down into smaller pieces and really incorporate some GOP ideas in the final proposal. High-speed trains and electric car charging stations will allow us to keep up with the Chinese. We can all agree on that. No?

And as for common ground, Mr. Obama’s favorite phrase, there seems to be none. Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer have rendered themselves ineffective. Neither represents a chance at anything like common ground in the Senate and surely Mr. McConnell is already calculating how he can recapture the Senate in 2022 and not considering ways to make progress now.

The United States is going from election to election with nothing of consequence occurring in between. Meanwhile, our competitors in China are having our lunch, selling us gadgets and lending us money so we can continue with this foolishness. We have become a “silly people” as Lawrence characterized ill-organized Arabs in the desert in Lawrence of Arabia.

Serious people know how to compromise, form consensus and find common ground. Since Americans seem to be unable to do that, they cannot be taken seriously and that starts with our awful leadership. Mr. Biden is trying, but he is doing so without the 3 Cs instead trying to muscle his way through Congress. He should know better. It won’t work. He got his covid bill through. Good. Now sit down with Republicans and seriously decide what you can agree on and get that done. Please.

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