Time for Dems to Relearn the Lost Art of Compromise

Compromise seems to be a lost art in Washington these days. For the Democrats to regain the momentum they had in their Party when they won majorities across the board, they will need to learn how to do so quickly, especially on fiscal issues.

With a majority of the president’s bipartisan deficit commission voting to support its report on cutting the deficit, and with the White House and the Republicans heading towards an agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts, it is clear that fiscal issues are now at the forefront of our nation’s focus.

Unfortunately, many Democrats are unwilling to budge on key issues that require meeting in the middle. --President Obama continues to face pressure from the left to oppose deficit-reducing cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security similar to those outlined by the commission, and is angering the left for attempts to find compromise in extending the Bush tax cuts.

Polling from before and after the election shows if the Democrats wish to resuscitate their party, these are exactly the type of compromises they need to be making.

An examination of the data shows that voters want change from the Democrats’ taxing and spending policies of the last two years, and they want the Democrats and Republicans to work together to reduce spending and cut the deficit.

According to a Pew Research Center study conducted last month, a plurality (46%) say the major reason they opposed a candidate is because he or she supported Obama’s economic policies, and 42% say they opposed a candidate because he or she supported Obama’s general agenda.

Just like the elections in 2006 and 2008 were referendums against George Bush and the Republicans, the historic defeat the Democrats suffered in 2010 is an equally strong vote against the Democratic policies that have been implemented over the past two years.

However, opposition to Democratic policies does not mean that voters have embraced the Republican Party.

Forty-eight percent say they are happy that the Republican Party won control of the House, while 34% are unhappy. This is notably lower than the 60% who were happy when the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, and the 57% who were happy when the GOP won control of Congress in 1994.

Although the American electorate clearly calls out for change, compromise and conciliation between the parties, they also recognize it does not appear likely.

They are pessimistic that progress will be made under the new Congress, and expect conflict and chaos rather than results. They say relations between the two parties will get worse rather than better, 28% to 22%. Almost half (48%) say they will stay the same.

Further, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted last month shows that 68% of those who voted said they were "hoping to change some things over the next two years,” but 42% expect "just some change" as a result of the election. Worse, about three-quarters believe that the country is in for a period of political division in which little willingness to compromise will be shown.

Despite high levels of pessimism, Americans want bipartisanship and compromise. They want Obama and the Democrats to work with Republicans, and they want the new Republican leaders to work with Obama and the Democrats.

What kind of agenda do Americans want? They want a bipartisan, centrist, pro-growth agenda that emphasizes fiscal prudence and discipline while stimulating the economy and creating private sector jobs.

They want to focus on balancing the budget, reducing the deficit and the debt, reforming entitlements, and cutting spending across the board, even in the defense budget.

In polling I conducted last month, almost half (47%) say that federal spending should be cut by 20%. Thirty-six percent say federal spending should be cut by at least five percent. Just 10% say there should be no cuts in federal spending.

When asked what area of federal spending should be cut first, voters say defense. A plurality of voters (29%) say they would reduce national security spending in order to cut government spending, while one-quarter says they would reduce health care, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken right before the election.

Further, voters want the tax cuts passed during the Bush administration extended, as close to two-thirds (64%) approve of extending the cuts in some form, while 28% say all the tax cuts should be repealed.

Additionally, voters want to stimulate the economy through fiscal stimulus initiatives that target the private sector and encourage entrepreneurship and job creation. They are seeking a rational energy policy that promotes energy independence through offshore drilling and incentives for greater development of nuclear power, while encouraging conservation by requiring utilities to produce more energy from renewable sources.

They want to hear practical ideas for education reform and health care reform, such as a coordinated effort at the federal and state levels to improve our science education at all levels of schooling, and investments in medical innovation and health insurance exchanges.
Thus, voters have provided a clear road map for the Democrats going forward, which begins with extending the Bush tax cuts and reducing the deficit. President Obama and the Democrats must move to the center and work with the Republicans to adopt pro-growth policies that emphasize fiscal constraint if they are to revive their party and win back some support they have lost over the past two years.

Douglas Schoen is a political strategist and author of the just-released book, Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System (Harper 2010), co-authored with Scott Rasmussen.