Moving ahead will require compromise

commentSeptember 15, 2012 

What happens after Nov. 4? The formalities completed, we now have two presidential candidates, well credentialed, intelligent and good family men. What does each promise? We have a tottering economic recovery from a near depression that, generally conceded, was caused by the policies (two wars, free pharmaceutical drugs plus a giant tax reduction) of the incumbent's predecessor, George W. Bush, a name conspicuously absent from mention at the Republican convention and since.

The challenger, Gov. Romney, charges that since President Obama got the job, he has embraced wrongheaded and inadequate recovery policies. Romney promises a recovery and improvement in the job market through additional tax cuts for the job makers, meaning businesses and upper income bracket taxpayers, combined with less regulation and cost-cutting reforms. These reforms require some benefit cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They also include repeal of President Obama's expansion of medical services to most of those lacking insurance, called, first by its opponents and now its advocates, "Obamacare." This program is the signal accomplishment of the pesident's first term. After two years of that term, Republicans, led by a radical conservative wing loyal to Romney's vice presidential pick Paul Ryan calling itself the tea party, effectively erased the rest of President Obama's congressional wish list.

The candidates agree that the rising national deficit is a matter of grave concern. They also agree that economic growth will generate both employment and federal revenue, thereby reducing the deficit. President Obama says that if reelected, he will address the national deficit through a legislative compromise along the lines approved by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, but he excludes new tax breaks for the alleged job-making rich, a clear conflict with Republican goals. He also says he will wind up an increasingly difficult war in Afghanistan, a war about which his opponent has said nothing.

The two candidates are running neck and neck. Romney has the edge, considering predicted stronger last-fortnight expenditures by his campaign and anonymous indirect contributions authorized by Citizens United. Some pundits would give him the nod provided he doesn't blow it in the joint appearances called debates.

But the key question is not who gets elected president but who, if anybody, will control Congress after the election. Romney may win but, if it is as close as promised, we can have a repeat of Gore vs. Bush, only worse. Various ongoing attempts by partisan state legislatures to reduce the vote of the poor and immigrants by introducing identification requirements of dubious constitutionality lay the groundwork for a more bitter and drawn-out election contest. We desperately need to fix the Electoral College, but that's another story.

Even a clear win by Romney does not mean that the program you have heard about will be enacted. "All politics is local," Massachusetts Congressman Tip O'Neill said famously. The odds that may tilt toward Romney tilt away from Republicans in the congressional races. General elections produce a much bigger turnout than midterms and that favors Democrats. The Democrats' control of the Senate is likely to hold or even increase by a seat or two. The Republicans are likely to lose a few seats in the House but their control will likely hold.

So Romney will be in the same position that Obama has been in and that Obama will continue to be in if he wins. Obama is a professed believer in compromise. If he wins, the Republican priority of defeating him will be moot, so there is hope there. The good side of Romney's reputation as a "flip-flopper" is that he is pragmatic and flexible, meaning open to compromise even if the right wing of his party is not.

If we are to move ahead on anything, it will require a strong dose of bipartisan compromise under either president. That being the case, sweeping changes in policy are unlikely whoever wins and those who are looking for a big tax cut or major cuts in social programs in a Romney administration should not hold their breath while waiting.

John Havelock is a former Alaska attorney general and University of Alaska professor. His new book "Let's Get It Right," addressing the question of an Alaska constitutional convention, is at book dealers.

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