The High-Stakes Game of Political Chicken

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Published July 25, 2011

| FoxNews.com

In the budgetary and debt-ceiling game of political chicken, everyone is blinking. From the far left and far right almost everyone seems to be moving towards the middle.
 
Senators McConnell and Reid have proposed giving the President the authority to increase the debt ceiling in exchange for comparable amounts of budget cuts.  House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, a Tea Party favorite, has suggested that the McConnell-Reid plan is worthy of consideration, although he has not endorsed it.
 
Meanwhile, the bipartisan proposal from the so-called “Gang of Six” senators to reduce deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the next ten years has been drawing support left and right, inspiring renewed hope that a deal will be reached and the present budget crisis solved.  President Barack Obama has backed off of his firm demand for tax increases, and has spoken well of the “Gang of Six” proposal, as have some 50 Senators, Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, who gathered to give the proposal a fair and favorable hearing.
 
Senator Tom Coburn, perhaps the foremost budget and debt-ceiling hawk in Congress, abandoned the “Gang of Six” proposal, which he said did not sufficiently limit spending, only to return the day after he released his tomb of a book, “Black is Back.”
 
If we look to our own history for guidance, we might recall that the 1994-95 budget battle and debt-ceiling crisis demonstrated two fundamentals about American politics.  First: the middle governs. The center of gravity of American power is neither far right nor far left, but somewhere in between.  Second: the middle rejects turbulence. During the ‘94-95 stalemate, the middle decried the budgetary impasse and debt-ceiling crisis, which precipitated a government shutdown, threatening many government services on which they depended.
 
Understanding these fundamentals in 1994-95, President Clinton staked out a position amenable to the center of gravity of power.  And that’s what’s happening now.
 
“The Gang of Six,” composed of Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, has offered a budget proposal that appeals to America’s center of gravity of power. Everyone saves face. Its significant budget reductions appeal to the far right, while its promise to enhance revenues by eliminating tax loopholes appeals to the far left.
 
As for Senators McConnell and Reid, they have offered a debt-ceiling compromise that could provide political cover to the polar left and right. Congress puts the monkey on the President’s back in that he must raise the debt ceiling and provide for comparable budgetary reductions.
 
So if history is the best predictor of the future, the center of gravity of political power in America will act as a powerful magnet, pulling left and right towards the center. And in this game of political chicken, there can be no crash; there can be only compromise.
 
Dr. Charles W. Dunn is a Distinguished Professor of Government at Regent University, author of The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2007), and former chair of the United States J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

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