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Opinion: Columnists

What ever happened to the art of honorable compromise?

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Mark Tapscott,Columnists,Campaign 2012

It seems fairly likely as this is written that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner will reach a "fiscal cliff" deal, and it will be a classic example of the Washington Wink-Wink.

The WWW is when professional politicians talk and act as if they are solving a problem when actually they are merely kicking it down the road.

The deal will mean taxes go up now in return for promises of spending cuts later. It's the same hollow promise we've heard over and over from these clowns.

Still, expect the deal to be framed as a "grand bargain," thus recalling such legislative milestones as the Compromise of 1850, which gained the nation another decade to try to avoid a civil war. All Obama and Boehner likely are agreeing on is how much more revenue Washington gets now.

But Obama and Democrats in Congress have been nothing if not consistent. They made clear from the outset that their demand for a tax hike "on the rich" was all but non-negotiable, except perhaps on how much wealth would qualify someone to be a target in IRS crosshairs.

On their fundamental principle -- taxes must go up for somebody not called "the middle class" or "the poor" -- Obama and the Democrats made like U.S. Grant in demanding unconditional surrender.

And that's what Boehner did the day after the election by declaring his openness to "revenue enhancements." Everybody in this town with a pulse knows that antiseptic phrase is Washington code for making somebody else hand over more money for Uncle Sugar to spend.

Everything that has followed Boehner's postelection white flag has been dickering about how much more would have to be coughed up. That's not compromise, it's slow-motion surrender.

But Boehner had no "leverage," his defenders exclaim. Perhaps, but my guess is that Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay would be belly-laughing were they able to hear such a claim.

Here's why: Real compromises are honorable, and they happen when everybody wins by giving up something important. As President Reagan said, half a loaf is better than no loaf. That's why the Founders built in to the Constitution every institutional tool they could think of to force genuine compromise.

Among those tools are the power of the House to originate all tax bills and to withhold spending sought by the president. The counterbalance the Founders gave the chief executive is the veto.

The problem here is how congressional Republicans were traumatized when they went toe to toe in 1995 with President Clinton. He called their bluff, thus forcing a government shutdown. The voters initially blamed the GOP, but, please note, didn't vote them out of majority status in the next election.

No matter, because the conventional wisdom ever since has been the GOP "lost" and must never again exercise its legitimate congressional power as the Founders intended in showdowns with the chief executive.

So now Democrats deliver their non-negotiable demands, then sit back and wait for the inevitable GOP cave-in.

What if Boehner had instead said at the outset he would let the House vote on the president's tax proposal just as soon as Obama accepted $X hundreds of billions in spending cuts? Then waited for Obama to respond concretely, however long that might be.

The subsequent negotiations could then have centered on mutual concessions, as the Founders intended, instead of the Republicans' latest surrender date.

The final result would not have been universally loved, but both sides could claim gains and accept losses in an honorable process that would buy the country more time to seek entitlement reforms.

Just ask Messrs. Webster, Calhoun and Clay.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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Mark Tapscott

Executive Editor
The Washington Examiner