As if Americans needed more proof that Washington is broken, the ongoing partial federal government shutdown is providing it in clear and unmistakable terms.
But a divided government does not have to be a broken government. Both sides must understand that true compromise is not about abandoning one’s principles but, rather, advancing them as far as possible.
Our nation was founded on compromise, its value recognized by our Founding Fathers, who wisely enshrined it in our Constitution. The creation of a bicameral Congress with a Senate and House of Representatives was itself a compromise, as is the balance of power the Constitution imposes among the three branches of government.
Washington’s current standoff is rooted in the regrettable decision to rebuff bipartisan compromise on ways to make health care more accessible and affordable. The decision to pass ObamaCare on a straight party-line vote was an act of raw partisanship that pushed America further down the path of polarization.
It does not have to be this way.
History shows us principled leaders can succeed when they reach across the aisle. In his relationship with House Speaker Tip O’Neill, President Ronald Reagan demonstrated the power and value of working with a political opposite in a way that allowed key elements of his agenda to move forward. Likewise, negotiation and compromise allowed significant and lasting social reforms to pass with strong bipartisan support. They include the Social Security Act of 1935 (which passed the House 372-33, and the Senate 77-6), the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (290-130 in the House and 73-27 in the Senate), and Medicare in 1965 (307-116 in the House and 70-24 in the Senate).
Here in Maine, during my term as Senate president, I placed value on building bipartisan support for major initiatives including health insurance reform, regulatory reform, welfare reform and tax cuts. Each of these issues came forward amid predictions of partisan warfare — but each was ultimately enacted with bipartisan votes in the Maine Senate.
In contrast, the decision to pass such a sweeping reform of American health care without bipartisan compromise inflamed the animosity and lack of communication that now grips the nation’s capitol in an infuriating spectacle of dysfunction resulting in such repugnant and indefensible outcomes as failing to provide death benefits for the families of fallen soldiers.
The fact is that President Barack Obama, the Senate and the House were all elected by the American people. Each of them has an equal and shared responsibility to work together to negotiate a reasonable compromise that will end the stalemate and put the federal government back to work.
The president cannot expect a House majority elected vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare to fully embrace it now. Likewise, the House majority cannot expect to achieve Obamacare’s full defunding with Obama in the White House and his party in control of the Senate.
History shows us the path to ending the shutdown. Seventeen previous shutdowns were resolved through bipartisan compromise. The only way to resolve the 18th is for both sides to once again come to the table in good faith to negotiate an agreement that can pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president.
As a member of Congress, I would strongly oppose Obama’s unwise agenda of expanding the reach of the federal government into the lives of individual Americans.
I would do so remembering always that we are all Americans first, and even when we have differing visions of the proper role of government, we have a responsibility to adhere to our principles while behaving as adults. Our nation can only truly succeed when both sides are willing to talk — and listen — in a constructive, civil and mutually respectful environment.
There are encouraging signs with House Republican leaders seeking negotiations, the president hosting members of Congress at the White House, and Sen. Susan Collins offering a helpful proposal to break the impasse.
We all know instinctively that a negotiated compromise, where both sides give up something, is the path to resolving the shutdown. It’s time for Washington to stop talking about it and act — now.
Kevin Raye of Perry served four terms in the Maine Senate, including two years as Senate president. He is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Maine’s open 2nd Congressional District seat.