“Politicians are interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.” — P.J. O’Rourke
Every so often someone writes yet another column asking “Why can’t Republicans and Democrats get along? Can’t they talk to each other, work together, find a compromise?” The short answer is “We do, most of the time.” A second answer is “There are times when we should not.”
The simple truth is that NH legislators do work together, are very civil to each other (with rare, though well publicized, exceptions), and often become life-long friends. Anyone who says otherwise either has not observed first hand how the legislature works or is trying to make a political point. All too often, it is a mixture of both. Someone starts a narrative about the mean old nasty so and so party, repeats it over and over again, then people with no first hand knowledge come to believe it. (After all, politicians never lie.)
Let’s start with some anecdotal evidence, then some numbers. Earlier this year I went down to Concord to testify against a bill. It happened that one of my former colleagues, a very left Democrat, also testified against that same bill and he happened to go first. Later, when I testified, I remarked that this was the first time in two years that he and I had agreed on a bill. Later, we met out in the hall and laughed together. We encouraged each other to convince other members of our two parties. (The bill was eventually defeated with a bipartisan vote.)
Last session, a hard left Democrat and a hard right Republican worked closely together on a particular bill. Coincidentally, the two were geographically on the far left and far right sides of the state. They both worked very hard to pass their bill; they managed one of the rare instances of overturning a committee recommendation on the House floor. I was happy to work with both of them on that bill. Later the two of them worked together on another bill.
Now let’s look at some numbers. This year the House and Senate passed 281 bills. A full 188 of those bills, were passed by the House on the Consent Calendar. For those who may not have read my previous columns, suffice it to say that bills on Consent have all but unanimous support. Two-thirds of all the bills that were passed, were unanimous. (And of the bills that were killed, many, perhaps most, were also unanimous.)
So any time you hear complaints about legislators being mean and nasty to each other, not working together, please realize that it is almost always someone trying to stir up trouble for partisan advantage. The truth is that they DO work together, usually in a collegial, respectful atmosphere.
But there are times when they should not compromise. Suppose a Democrat and a Republican decide to drive down to New York City. For those who are geographically impaired, NYC is mostly South and a little West of us. Now let’s suppose that the two politicians approach an intersection. The Democrat wants to turn left and head North; the Republican wants to turn right and head South. Should they compromise and head East?
On some issues the division is just as stark as the choice between driving North or South – it makes no sense to compromise on East.
Republicans, generally speaking, want to cut taxes; Democrats want to increase taxes. This year Democrats pushed hard for an increase in the gas tax of 15 cents. They later offered a compromise of 12 cents. Why should Republicans compromise on any increase at all, when what we really want is to reduce taxes?
Democrats for the most part want bigger, more powerful government. Republicans want smaller, limited government. How can the two sides compromise when they are such opposites? (Historically, Republicans have compromised on a little bigger here, a little bigger there – which is one reason many people think there is little difference between the two parties.)
Affordable health care is a nice goal. The two parties have opposite solutions. Democrats thought the solution was to write a 2,000+ page bill, write tens of thousands of pages of regulations, hire 10,000 IRS agents. Now even many of the original supporters realize that Obamacare is a train wreck in progress.
Republicans know that the solution to more affordable, higher quality health care is a free market, with many providers competing to find the best solution at the best price. This approach has proven to work and is working today in those places where government regulations allow it.
Some Democrats call for compromise on so-called “gun safety.” What they fail to understand is that the criminals don’t obey the existing 10,000 laws and won’t obey one additional gun law. Republicans understand that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Republicans believe that self-defense is a fundamental right, that a woman has the right to choose whether to carry a handgun to protect herself against a rapist. Would Democrats compromise and allow any woman for her safety and the safety of her children to carry a concealed weapon without a permit?
Democrats and Republicans do compromise on a large majority of bills, but on some issues they cannot and should not compromise.