No Compromise on Compromising?

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, second from left, listens to President Barack Obama, right, during a meeting of House and Senate bipartisan leaders to discuss the economy and jobs, Tuesday, Feb. 2010, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Washington. From left are, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., Boehner, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. and the president. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, listens to President Barack Obama during a Feb. 2010 meeting at the White House.
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Two Republican talking points of late suggest that for the next two years Washington may be as gripped in gridlock as it has been these last two years.

According to a CBS News poll last week, three-quarters of likely voters (including 66% of Republicans) said that if the GOP wins control of Congress, the party should compromise some of its positions to get things done.

Nearly as many likely voters (71%) said that President Obama should compromise if his party loses the House. (Seventy-nine percent of Republicans agreed with that idea.)

Yet prior to today's election, the question of how a split-party Congress would accomplish anything was answered by the GOP leadership with two words: No compromise.

Furthermore, many Republican figures have suggested that if there is to be any bipartisan action, it will only come if the president agrees with them. In other words, if nothing is accomplished over the next two years, it will be Mr. Obama's fault.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that "This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles."

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 House Republican, sounded conciliatory Tuesday morning on CBS' "The Early Show," when asked if Republicans would work with Democrats to get things done. "You bet," Pence replied. "We're going to roll our sleeves up and work with everyone . . . who's willing to rein in federal spending and let the American people keep more of what they earn."

But Pence sounded a harder note with radio host Hugh Hewitt, telling him, "There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare. There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes. And if I haven't been clear enough yet, let me say again: no compromise."

And in case you didn't get it, Pence reiterated, "Look, the time to go along and get along is over." Boy, is it ever.

When asked by Fox News' Chris Wallace whether Republicans should be willing to compromise some of their first principles that they talked about on the campaign trail to get things done, ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said, "No, they should not compromise on principle. Absolutely not. That's been part of the problem is those who've decided to go along to get along and make these compromises."

If Colorado voters wondered whether Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck might compromise were he elected, Buck told the Washington Post, "I think it's wrong to compromise your values to fit in with the social climate in Washington, D.C. When it comes to spending, I'm not compromising. I don't care who, what, when or where, I'm not compromising."

One would think the Senate -- where a more collegial, pat-on-the-back, one-hand-washes-the-other attitude is fairly ingrained -- would not be so quick to draw a line in the sand for the next two years.

In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even said in a recent interview, "I think humility and gratitude is the appropriate response to the midcourse correction that I think is coming - not, you know, sort of chest-beating or spiking the ball in the end zone or acting like we have been entrusted with the entire federal government."

Yet despite his comments about comity, McConnell's caucus has filibustered to an extent greater than any period in history.

And just last August, McConnell told The New York Times, "I wish we had been able to obstruct more."

And when Boehner hinted on "Face the Nation" in September that he could see forgoing extending the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans if it were the only way to preserve them for the rest of the country, McConnell said he'd filibuster any such move.

Bipartisanship, to hear GOP leaders tell it, is not a two-way street, and they expect Mr. Obama to be the one coming to them.

On "Face the Nation," Republican strategist Liz Cheney, chairwoman of Keep America Safe, said if there is to be bipartisanship following the election, it will be up to Mr. Obama.

"It will depend a lot on what President Obama does, frankly. I think that once he doesn't have control any longer of both houses of Congress, if he wants to get things done, I think he's going to have to move more to the center," she told Bob Schieffer.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said on "Fox News Sunday" that if there is to be cooperation, "Well, I think it depends on the president."

Republican Congressman Lee Westmoreland of Georgia even went so far as to cheer a potential government shutdown if the president vetoes a budget passed by a Republican Congress.

Political experts saw the GOP's use of filibusters to stall action in the Senate as a means of making Washington appear even more dysfunctional, thus putting the party ostensibly in power in a bad light.

"Republicans are gambling they can convince the American people Democrats can't get much done, and at the moment, their gamble is paying off," former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey told McClatchy Newspapers.

Or, as former Republican Senator Trent Lott said in 2007, "The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail ... and so far it's working for us."

Yet there are risks: In the CBS News poll mentioned earlier, 75 percent of registered voters said they think Republicans have opposed Democrats for mainly political reasons; only 17 percent say the opposition came from honest disagreements over policy.

If the GOP does take control of the House tonight, the party will take it as evidence that their strategy worked - and they will be tempted to stick with it in their effort to win the Senate, even the White House, in 2012. That could mean more filibustering and partisan bickering and with it, perhaps, even greater animosity from the public toward government. 

But they may have a hard time standing by the strategy if they control at least one house of Congress -- and face pressure to lead, not just stand in opposition.  For that reason, a GOP house takeover could, despite the rhetoric, mean greater compromise than in the president's first two years -- though that's not something Republicans (who are presenting the very notion of compromise as a weakness) seem to have any interest in acknowledging.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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