Why is political compromise so difficult? In an election year where Congress’s approval ratings are historically low, Americans still returned more than 90% of the incumbents who stood for reelection. This happens because of the age-old adage that Americans hate Congress but love their congressperson.
Through the magic of districting congressional boundaries, we have a system where it is the politicians themselves (mostly state legislators) that are responsible for jerry rigging, ahem…make that gerrymandering their districts to be as favorable as possible for their own reelection.
So now Paul Ryan, who Americans summarily rejected at the polls two weeks ago, is now back in charge of the House Budget Committee. Along with Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Eric Cantor, the three will represent House Republicans in fiscal cliff negotiations with the Senate and the White House.
It is as if we might as well have not even had the election.
All the power players are back.
The difference is Ryan is the only one of the negotiators who lost an election on November 6. The so-called Ryan budget was very much an election year issue, yet a majority of Americans rejected it. The substance of the Ryan budget was that taxes not be raised. Yet, on Election Day, Speaker Boehner told Politico, “We’ll have as much of a mandate as he [President Obama] will … to not raise taxes. He knows what we can do and what we can’t do — I’ve been very upfront with him about it going back over the last year and a half.”
That does not sound like a person or a party ready to compromise.
Given that Boehner, Cantor, Ryan and most every other congressperson, Republican and Democratic alike, come from exceedingly safe districts, they have no personal need to compromise. Their districts are drawn in such a way as to elect either a Republican or a Democrat, but not both.
Even in big swing elections that change the majority party in the House, only 50 or 60 seats out of 435 change hands. The odds of one hundred or more seats switching party’s in any given election are quite small.
Yet, given the dangers of a repeated recession due to the drastic and immediate spending cuts caused by the fiscal cliff, all the 2012 election accomplished was to create a very dangerous game of chicken comprised of the exact same cast of characters that created the fiscal cliff to begin with.