TJ | 19th Jan, 2018

The Tax Cut Bargain

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We need a focus on process not product.

As I write this from a waiting room at the Mayo Clinic preparing to undergo more tests Congress is negotiating to avoid shutting down the government. As usual, the Democrats have it all wrong. It is as if they still do not know how to be an opposition party or what are their core values. They tried me too in the form of the Clinton New Democrats, a philosophy the advocated collaborating with business, particularly the big banks that have the major contributors to Bill and Hillary Clintons’ success. Now that the Clintons are hopefully receding into the background, the Democratic Party seems adrift.

 

Case in point are the current budget negotiations. As it stands the Democrats are negotiating to extend what they see as essential programs. Hopefully they will extract a promise to extend these programs well into the future. I am a strong advocate of all those programs, but it seems to me this is a moment to focus on process, not product.

 

What I mean by that is now is the time to put in place fundamental structural reforms that will help heal Congress. Judging by the polls most Americans feel Congress is broken. Ir is characterized by an ethos of intransigence where rabid ideological partisans of both sides are making it impossible to get anything done. These ideologues, particularly on what I term the Rabid Right, do not care what happens to the common good, since they define success in terms of an all-or-nothing attitude. If they can’t win, they will topple the Capitol Dome rather than agree to a compromise.

 

In addition, the Republican majority has pushed its power far beyond previous boundaries. They held up a Supreme Court nominee, in violation of two hundred years of precedent, in order to put their own choice on the bench. They have twisted venerable Senate rules that once gave the minority some role in legislation to shutting them out completely. President Trump’s recent meeting with Congressional representatives included five Republicans and one, lone Democrat. The House and Senate minority leaders have been reduced to negotiating in the press.

 

This is not the way democracy is supposed to work, nor is it the way the Founders designed our government. In the famous Federalist #10. James Madison identified the major threat to the American experiment as what he called faction. What he meant by that was excess partisanship. The essence of democracy is compromise, but by refusing to compromise, Republicans threaten to turn our democracy into Woodrow Wilson’s greatest fear, oligarchy. That is government controlled by a single group at the expense of others.

 

The prospect of a showdown is a prime opportunity to put in place procedures and processes that will prevent our country from becoming an oligarchy. By focusing on process, the Democratic Party can take the high road rather than be seen as threatening to shut down our government for their partisan causes. By doing so they only mimic their Republican counterparts. Making the focus reform of the process would put them on the moral high ground. They will be seen as defending the future of our country rather than narrow interests.

 

If they fail to take advantage of this rare opportunity, the Democratic Party will only add the the mess, rather than cleaning it up. The choice is theirs.

 

 

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