Steven Pearlstein writes on business and economics for The Post. He is also a professor of public and international affairs at George Mason University.
It’s obvious that both sides in the Great Standoff have played out their political chess moves to a stubborn and unsatisfactory stalemate.
Republicans have convinced themselves that if Obamacare is allowed to take root, either it would be the first step on the slippery slope to socialism and health-care chaos, or it would become another runaway entitlement program that would bankrupt the country.
Democrats see the confrontation in the context of a larger governance issue: If they allow a minority to hold the government hostage until it gets its way on every issue, then the system of majority rule and republican governance collapses.
These positions cannot be reconciled. Both sides believe they have no choice but to hang tough and hope that the unfolding disaster forces the other side to capitulate. It’s not clear who will be the “winner” in this showdown, but we can be pretty sure that the rest of us are the losers.
So the challenge is to find a way for each side to declare credibly some measure of success. To that end, a modest proposal:
Even the president has acknowledged that there are bound to be glitches in implementing an initiative as large and complicated as Obamacare. So why not agree now to a thorough review of the program once we have some experience with it?
The process could begin after two years with a rigorous evaluation by a respected group of independent experts such as the Institute of Medicine. By the end of 2015, the institute could forward its findings to a special joint committee of Congress, reflecting the partisan makeup of the new Congress. The panel would have the authority to propose any legislative changes it deems necessary, including outright repeal, within 90 days of receiving the advisory group’s report. The committee’s proposal would be filed with both houses of Congress, which under an expedited procedure could either accept or reject it without amendment. If approved by both House and Senate, the legislation would go to President Obama for his signature or veto.
Such a compromise would give both sides the opportunity to declare a moral, political and policy win. For Republicans, it would ensure a newly elected Congress has the opportunity to reform or even back away from Obamacare if, as Republicans claim, the country opposes it. For Democrats, Obamacare would proceed as enacted while they avoid giving in to “hostage-taking.”
Most important, such a compromise would give both sides cover to do what they claim they want to do: reopen the government, lift the debt ceiling and appoint members to the long-delayed House-Senate conference committee to hammer out a long-term budget agreement.
Such an agreement would be opposed and criticized as capitulation by tea party Republicans, just as it would be opposed and criticized as capitulation by some liberal Democrats. But those protests from the political fringes are what one expects when different parties control different branches of government. Our constitutional system of divided power and checks and balances works only when the country is governed from the center. Total victory and unconditional surrender is a political fantasy. Holding out for it is dangerous and costly for the country.