The Fiscal Cliff Revealed That Congress Actually Works ... Seriously


The fiscal cliff negotiations rolled to completion. We thought it was over on New Years Eve (the cliff deadline), but the House still needed to weigh in after the Senate passed their spending bill. The final vote in the House was 257-167 in favor of the bill. The bill was then signed by the president.  

The media will be analyzing the deal that we got, pundits will be battling on TV and online, but more importantly, we may have found a process where Congress can actually govern ... where it actually got something done. We've got to analyze what worked and try to reuse that to achieve balanced outcomes that will work better for America.

Consider the steps taken to arrive at the deal. Initial negotiations with the House revealed all the concerns held by House Republicans. The Senate negotiated in a more bipartisan fashion and produced a bill. Republicans in the House considered the idea of amending that bill, but ultimately followed the lead of Senate Republicans.

This process may be a breakthrough. This may be the way forwards for our leaders to govern.

The Senate is supposed to be the more deliberative body. Senators can speak longer, express their thinking more deeply, and hopefully come to more complete and nuanced results. If House objections are known up front, Senators can craft a bill that takes those into account. Parties are more evenly mixed in the Senate and members have longer terms to develop working relationships. They have to compromise, or they could be stuck with enemies for six years or longer without being able to get things done.

If compromises are more likely to happen in the Senate, we should focus on finding bipartisan solutions there again. When bills pass the Senate with bipartisan support, this may signal to House Republicans to get on board. This lever may trigger the House to act and may be the best way to get House Republicans to actually govern.

After the Senate version passes, before final passage through Congress, the House should take time for amendments. Republicans in the House have some good ideas. In this case, Republicans paused to work out a spending side amendment. While spending cuts do need to happen, they had already run down the clock, negotiation time was gone, and the country was facing a self inflicted crisis. Anything produced in such a short time span would have been thrown together too quickly and resulted in low quality results.

Now, the goal should be to find agreement sooner, which allows more time to iron out areas of actual disagreement. Republicans knew at the start of this that taxes would go up. By refusing to compromise on taxes they wasted the time that would have allowed their other priorities to be addressed such as spending.

Spending is out of control. Every American knows it. Members of Congress and the president know it. There is work to do on this and every spending cut or tax increase will be to the determinant of someone. This bill brought taxes up first. I believe spending cuts will take place over the next few months.

The problem was that the House Republicans were using their power to obstruct every action forwards and refused to compromise on any bill. They were complete failures as a legislative body and were greatly damaging the economy. It's not that their ideas are wrong, but that they need to mix their ideas with the ideas of the other party. They need to find a beyond having strict ideas, but to an operational mode where they can also legislate. They need to govern.

By starting with the House and the president negotiating, then moving to the Senate to craft a final bill, Congress was actually able to govern. This is a breakthrough. If we can repeat that process to refine legislation the country will come out much stronger.

Through that process we can achieve a balance that I believe is fully necessary. My overall political position is that liberals are right when they say we can achieve bigger things by working together.

Conservatives correctly believe that our government should be as small as possible to achieve the best outcomes with the most individual responsibility.

Many problems are truly national problems. Many solutions require adjusting macro-scale societal constraints at the institutional level, to solve problems that appear across the country in otherwise disconnected communities. When die hard conservatives, or bleeding heart liberals go too far they are cutting out options where the government would effectively help, or where individual responsibility may be the best answer. A mix of the two approaches is often the best.

Both parties should work together to develop programs that achieve the maximum benefit of working together, with the most individual responsibility involved. We should find the line that yields maximum benefit, for the minimum cost, that leaves the most freedom.  This line should be defined for every program. Bipartisan solutions will be found on this line. The most effective plans for America will be found on this line. We should use the process of finding this line now as we move on to defining where to make spending cuts.

The pathway from House and President to Senate and then back to House with a bipartisan bill allowed the government to function and worked for the fiscal cliff negotiations. We should keep what we've learned there. Focusing on defining the best line between government action and individual responsibility is the process we need to add now. This is the line where compromise must happen if Congress will be able to govern.