A Further Perspective

Compromising to Win

Perhaps Speaker Boehner had Reagan's example in mind when he negotiated with Senator Reid and President Obama. 

By 4.12.11

Send to Kindle

Rush Limbaugh spent Monday morning carrying on about the heinous crime committed by House Republicans last Friday: settling for $38.56 billion in budget cuts with Obama and the Senate Democrats.

Once, when Ronald Reagan was running for president, he was asked by a journalist if he didn't think it was wrong to compromise. He said it was in terms of principles, not process. He made the point that when you have only some of the power, not all of it, you'll get less than everything you want. He did not add but could have that getting the most you can requires deft negotiating skills and very good timing. He had them and used an illustration of principle/process and compromise.

He recapped for that journalist his campaign to carry out a sweeping reform of California welfare law and regulations when he was governor. The state was on the road to bankruptcy because the welfare rolls were growing so fast. Eligibility rules were very loose. A team of welfare experts developed a reform plan for him. He wanted to present it to a joint session of the legislature. They turned him down. So he went up and down the state speaking to every group and microphone he could. Finally, one day the Democrat Speaker of the Assembly came into his office with his hands up in mock surrender. "Stop those cards and letters," he said. "Let's talk." They then spent several days negotiating. 

The result was a welfare reform bill that greatly tightened eligibility, cut the rate of growth and actually shrunk the rolls. Meanwhile, the truly needy received an increase in grants. Of this Reagan said, "Any time I can get 70 percent of what I want from a legislature controlled by the opposition, I'll take it, figuring it will work and I can go back later for more."

Perhaps that tale was in the mind of Speaker John Boehner when he negotiated with Senate Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama. Going into the fray, the House Republicans called for $61 billion in cuts for the balance of the current fiscal year (through September 30). The Senate Democrats balked at any cuts, pooh-poohing the need. Next, they agreed to $4 billion, in exchange for a short Continuing Resolution to keep the government open. In the next round they added another $10 billion in cuts. In the final round they ended up at $38.5 billion, plus a commitment for funding the Department of Defense through September with very small cuts. Meanwhile, by keeping his own members informed every step of the way, Boehner managed to keep most of them with him.

Boehner is a good negotiator. This time, he got 60 percent of what he wanted. Considering that he has one-third of the power structure and the other two-thirds were anxious to cut nothing, it is no small accomplishment. His public statements and interviews show us a man who is confident of his ground, who speaks respectfully of his opposition without giving ground on his principles, and does not speak in hyperbolic terms.

Obama understands the importance of getting on the correct side of cost and deficit reduction. Tomorrow he will give a speech that will include much rhetoric about "getting our house in order" and "spending beyond our means." He will even talk about cost-saving reforms of Medicare and Medicaid. On analysis, the speech will prove to have been long on rhetoric aimed at centrist independent voters and very short on potential action except in one area: New taxes for the "very wealthy" (that is, anyone making $250,000 or more a year -- the people who already pay the lion's share of income taxes). What that will show us that he and Harry Reid's forces have a weak hand for the coming debate over the new fiscal year that begins October 1.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”