Just one request: Compromise

By Walt Braun

This time of year, there’s plenty of looking back and looking ahead. That is as it should be. Taking stock — reviewing our mistakes and our accomplishments, noting progress and setting new goals — is worth doing.

We’d like to think members of Congress are performing the same exercises. But because they’re on recess, we thought we’d offer a suggestion. Actually, we have lots of ideas, but we suspect that if they would just adopt one particular idea, progress in other areas would follow.

Simply put, we would like them to regain the art of compromise.

If they could compromise — and by that we mean each side giving up some of what it wants so that both sides can achieve something acceptable to all — it might occur to them that they’re all there to do the same job. And the job doesn’t involve protecting one’s party or re-election prospects.

In the current political environment, compromise is more a fantasy than a practical notion. But not so long ago it was fairly common. Rather than wonder how the situation, which has been likened to trench warfare, got this way, we’d rather our leading politicians wake up Sunday as genuine statesmen, neither making excuses nor casting blame. If they work together, just about anything is possible. If they don’t, well, they only need to look at the last year or two to gauge the futility and the harm that results.

There’s no good reason they can’t come to budget agreements that confront the deficit in a serious way without undermining the recovery. If they work together — and make clear to Americans we can’t have everything — they could reform Medicare. And they could do more.

They could make needed environmental reforms and develop some sensible policies to address climate change without stifling economic growth. They could take important steps to rebuild our infrastructure — our highways, bridges, airports, dams — and bring our transportation system into the 21st century. They could reform the entire tax code to make it more equitable without losing revenue.

None of this would be easy, even in the most collaborative of environments. But the alternative is arriving at the end of 2012 with yet another year squandered, with our problems not only unsolved but bigger and more complicated.

We are hardly the first to observe that Congress has become dysfunctional. We would like to believe that members are ashamed enough of their abysmal approval ratings to vow to change the way they operate.

That’s not our only wish for the new year, of course. We wouldn’t mind winning the lottery. Come to think of it, the odds are about the same.

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