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Slade Gorton
Political leader

Slade Gorton

A former U.S. Senator and Washington State Attorney General, Slade Gorton served on the 9/11 Commission.

This is not the time to compromise

Question: In approaching the coming Congressional budget battle, House Republican leaders have decided to forsake the bipartisan center and bow to the spending-cut demands of the most conservative members of their caucus. This mirrors the strategy of House Democratic leaders who, in the previous session, accommodated the demands of their most liberal members on key issues, only to lose power in the next election. Is it more effective for leaders to demonstrate a willingness to compromise early on, or to stake out a hard line in the hope of compromising less later?

There is no valid parallel between the outset of the Obama Administration in 2009 and the opening positions of the Republican House this year.

Two years ago, Democrats controlled all three of the levers to legislative success, including a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. There was no need to compromise with Republicans at any stage, and so the only compromises--minor at that--were with reluctant moderate Democrats in the Senate. It turned out that those majorities were used, in large part, to advance an agenda with which most Americans disagreed. "Never let a serious crisis go to waste." But that is another story.

The present situation is entirely different. House Republicans know that they must compromise to accomplish anything. But why do so now with powerless House Democrats? Compromise will begin in negotiations with the Senate and the president after the House stakes out its position. If it waters down its policies now, it will not only shock the groups that created its majority, but it will lose even more in the final negotiations. The successful negotiator knows not only that compromise is necessary but when it is necessary. That time is coming, but it is not now.

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By Slade Gorton

 |  February 15, 2011; 2:22 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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All of the comments above are using today's activities and rolling them around into cenarios not possibly. Todays activities are all about the budget. The new people in the House were elected because they campaigned on lowering goverment spending. If government spending is not lowered, there can be no compromise. You can write all the articules you want, this is a new era and something has to give. There is no give until spending comes down.

Posted by: jhsmes36gmailcom | February 24, 2011 12:44 PM
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The idea is not to compromise, but to utterly destroy the liberal influence in the United

Posted by: 1911a1 | February 22, 2011 6:38 AM
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The current, past, or future situation should not dictate how and if a leader compromises. Simply because one party controls Congress, does not ensure that party’s right to run a dictatorship of rule. There are no time constraints for compromise. Compromise is essential for effective leadership. But what does it mean to be effective? Is effective getting what you and your party wants? Or is effective working with your colleagues to find a reasonable solution that pleases the majority of the citizens? The question should be not if he or she is an effective Republican or Democrat, it should ask if he or she is an effective leader. A willingness to compromise is essential for a leader to be effective.
The Democrats of two years ago did not show signs of great leadership, as they did not compromise during their control of the Congress and the Executive Branch. However, this left nearly half the nation dissatisfied. Had they shown a willingness to compromise, maybe the Republicans of today would do the same.

Posted by: andieobermeyer | February 18, 2011 2:35 PM
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The Republicans would be wise not to follow in the footsteps of the previous Democratic majority leaders. Compromising with their ultra-conservative minority in this situation as Mr. Cohen has said would not only "unite Dems in opposition and obstruction," but also not bode well for their prospects of re-election. In recent years it has been shown that if Congress does not succeed in fixing the problems we face, the American people will vote for the opposition to give them a chance. While the idea that compromising now will allow them to push forward bills in the future is an old tradition, at this time it is unnecessary. The Republicans have the majority and need not compromise with the small minority. The American people will value the Republican majority's bipartisanship and will appreciate a united Congress. The American people will look to this Congress in a good light and it is in not only these politicians political interest but also in the American people's interests that this Republican majority not compromise with the few but work for a better tomorrow.

Posted by: NajiMcFarlane | February 18, 2011 2:40 AM
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While successful negotiators may know when to compromise, it is essential that negotiators know what and who they are negotiating for. In this specific case, House Republicans should realize that they are negotiating for the best interests of the American people, as a whole, and not for merely their own interests and personal agendas or the interests of a very small minority of American society, that is, the extremely conservative and right-winged minority of America. The fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans are moderate in view and want to establish a fairly equal compromise between liberal and conservative ideals. Thus, the time for House Republicans to compromise and fulfill the duties they were elected to do, which is represent the interests of the American people, as opposed to representing their own interests, is right now. Contrary to Gorton's thoughts, it is irrelevant what Republican members of the House will personally lose in negotiations if they agree to compromise now. What is more important is what the majority of the American people will lose. Clearly, the majority of the American people will lose much more if the House of Representatives continues to forego bipartisanship instead of collectively coming together to best serve the interests of the American people.

Posted by: toribennette | February 15, 2011 11:06 PM
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After Obama's State of the Union Speech, Americans were reassured that Congress would work together to benefit the entirety of the population; stalemates and inaction weren't working, and compromise needed to happen.
For the House Republican leaders to completely disengage with Obama's philosophy and only support the extremely right-wing demands brings us right back to square one. It is true that the successful negotiator knows when a compromise is necessary. Just because the Republicans have control of the House does not mean it is now not a time to compromise- rather, it compromise is imperative. The time is now to re-instill faith in American citizens that our chosen government can work together to make effective decisions that will improve our wellbeing. Continuous stalemates and non-negotiations will make Obama's suggestion of effective collaboration amongst parties obsolete.

Posted by: lizpyoung | February 15, 2011 5:05 PM
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Former senator Gorton's analysis of the negotiation process in Washington is spot-on and his resulting interpretation would be adequate for several previous Congressional sessions i.e. the 1994 Republican Revolution.However, I believe it is misapplied in this context. Controlling an institution where the minority party only has the power of delay and not actual derailment, such as the House of Representatives, compromise with said minority is absurd. In this respect, Mr.Gorton is entirely correct. But the issue with the 112th Congress is the distinct and violent rift within the GOP. The freshmen class of the party is much farther to the right and more stubborn than the establishment. They are effectively a powerful minority who is attempting to subvert the will of the majority to make more drastic cuts. Oddly enough, due to the rise of this unabashed, forceful, and uncompromising conservative bloc, the GOP House leadership should compromise for the greater good but they should compromise with the Democrats to craft policy closer to the center. Now is the time to compromise with a nearly-even, Democratic-leaning Senate, an opened-minded Democratic President, and an unyielding extreme on the right. Speaker Boehner should compromise with weakened Dems to save his center-right agenda instead of caving into a ultra-conservative one that will unite Dems in opposition and obstruction. Leadership is serving the interests of the whole and conservative House caucus is not representative of the majority.

Posted by: DannyCohen | February 15, 2011 2:46 PM
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