Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 6, 2013

A history of political compromise

— — Government shutdown. Those two words cause divisiveness throughout the nation whenever they are paired together.

It seems that a lot of things are put in jeopardy, lives are strained and when it’s over all parties involved can look back and ask two things: Why did it come to this point and what did we accomplish?

The answer to question number one is pride and the second answer is nothing that couldn’t have been agreed upon prior to the shutdown.

In each instance compromise has been reached and government functions restored, but why did it have to come to that situation? Why could agreement not be reached before parks are closed, services halted and citizens pitted against citizens on Facebook, each side accusing the other of being the devil reincarnated in either elephant or donkey clothing.

Government shutdown is a relatively new tool in American politics. It took the first 200 years of the nation before the first occurred in 1976.

President Gerald Ford vetoed funding bills for the Department of Labor and Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the predecessor of today’s Health and Human Services. The Democratic Congress did not pass a continuing resolution for 10 days, forcing a partial shutdown.

The very next year under President Jimmy Carter, a shutdown occurred over the issue of Medicaid-funded abortions. A Democratic House voted to uphold the ban on using Medicaid for abortions except when the life of the mother was at stake. The Democratic Senate wanted to include cases involving rape or incest. The government was closed for 12 days.

There were five shutdowns under the Carter presidency, the longest coming in 1978 and lasting 18 days. We should remember that Carter was a Democrat and Congress was in the hands of the Democrats.

The Ronald Reagan presidency went through eight government shutdowns, the longest ones each lasting three days in 1982 and again in 1983.

In 1982 a presidential veto threat to a jobs bill and a Democratic controlled House’s opposition to the MX missile program created the stalemate. The shutdown ended when Congress conceded the jobs bill, but the Reagan administration gave ground on both the MX and Pershing II missile programs.

The 1983 episode involved a situation where the Democratic House increased education funding but cut defense and foreign aid spending, creating a rift with Reagan. Compromise was reached when the House cut its education requests and accepted funding for the MX missile. But the administration gave way on foreign aid and defense cuts.

All of the closures during the Reagan years, 1981-1989, were during a time that the Senate was controlled by the Republicans, the House by the Democrats.

I was a Congressional staffer during the closure Dec. 19-20, 1987, which lasted a day, and if I remember correctly, I enjoyed the day off to do some Christmas shopping. That was over House and Senate funding for the Contras and a situation involving enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine for broadcasters.

There was only one shutdown during George H.W. Bush’s administration, that coming Oct. 5-9, 1990. Congress was controlled by the Democrats, Bush was a Republican and the issue was deficit reduction. Eventually a package was passed on Capitol Hill to end the shutdown.

Bill Clinton’s presidency saw two shutdowns including the longest in U.S. history, from Dec. 15, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996, a total of 21 says. In the end the Democratic White House and the Republican Congress came to an agreement and passed a compromise budget.

That was the last government shutdown until the one of Sept. 30.

Today it appears that neither side of the three-headed coin, the Republican House, the Democratic Senate, nor the White House is willing to give the necessary wiggle room to solve this issue. Eventually it will come but at what cost?

With the issue of raising the debt ceiling coming in less than two weeks, is this a precursor of what’s to come?

It seems that during the last two administrations the will to compromise on any issues between parties in Washington has ceased to exist and the divide is drawn with party lines. That has not always been the case.

Republican Senators Everett Dirksen and Jacob Javits supported the 1964 Civil Rights bill while party members Barry Goldwater and Prescott Bush were opposed. On the other side of the aisle West Virginia’s own Robert Byrd was against that bill as all Southern Democrats, except John Tower of Texas, while Western and Northern Democrats were in favor of the bill.

I remember the days when House Speaker Tip O’Neil and President Ronald Reagan were polar opposite on many political issues, but when it came time for the rubber to meet the road, when it was needed, they would get together, round up their respective party members and reach an agreement.

Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, before and after the closure of 1995-96, reached compromise on many issues that helped reduce the deficit to zero and give the country its first budget surplus in decades.

The beauty of the American political system is its ability to compromise.

The Founding Fathers found that out as they were constructing our Constitution. Those men who believed that “all men are created equal,” found it in them to compromise as they formed the laws of this nation. They came up with something called the “Three-fifths Compromise” that made it possible for my great grandfather to be considered three-fifths of a person when he was born on a plantation in Martinsville, Va., in the 1830s.

If you don’t know what the “Three-fifths Compromise” was, you weren’t paying attention in history class and you can Google it.

There were ideological differences in 1789 just as there are in 2013. If compromise were reached then during the early days of our nation, there is no reason why we cannot reach agreement now.

Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sports writer. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com.

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