Fiscal Landslide: Nose-Pinching Time

The way around the fiscal cliff involves some nose-pinching.

So says Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman and governor from Mississippi who considered running for president this year.

“I, as a Republican, I would take raising the rates on the two top brackets, if in return we had tax reform laid out over a period of months, if we had entitlement reform,” Barbour said of the White House’s push for higher taxes and the Republicans’ insistence on spending cuts. “If you have the whole package,” Barbour said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, “I would hold my nose despite the fact that raising those two tax brackets is bad economics, bad for jobs, going to hurt the economy. I would hold my nose to get the other done.”

“To get a big deal,” agreed Steve Rattner, Wall Street financier and manager of the Obama administration’s bailout of the auto industry, “we’re all going to have to hold our nose a little bit and accept things we don’t want.”

The art of political compromise, which is what it will take to avert the so-called cliff of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect on Jan. 1, has been explained many ways.

“A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music,” President Barack Obama has said — in a pre-Washington interview over lunch for a New Yorker magazine profile in 2004. Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” was playing in the background. “Everybody can recognize it,” Obama said then. “They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.”’

The perfect compromise, many have said, is something that makes everyone unhappy.

“You know what the Englishman’s idea of compromise is?” William Butler Yeats wrote. “Some people say there is a God. Some people say there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two statements.”

There are some people, it seems, for whom compromise is impossible.

That’s a problem for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who will have to get past the Tea Party caucus with any fiscal deal he strikes with the president, which is likely to make a lot of people “kind of blue.”

“When the Tea Party comes to town,” Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said in a July interview, “compromise goes out the door.”

In any bargain struck, however, everyone must retain some semblance of the principles they brought to the dance, lest all principle is lost.

“A good compromise is one where everybody makes a contribution,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likes to say: “I don’t compromise my principles for politics.”

Or, as the late Janis Joplin once put it: “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”


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