Politics versus policy.
That age-old debate surfaced again earlier this month concerning the motivations of Democrats and Republicans as they assess the so-called "Grand Bargain" pushed by Governor Kitzhaber to make deeper cuts in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) to boost school funding, while reducing some business taxes.
A proposal along those lines failed in the 2013 legislative session, but some supporters have not given up on the idea. The governor will decide by August 26 whether to call legislators back into special session to try to do what they failed to do in the regular session. The key to getting the necessary Republican votes in the House and Senate may revolve around some form of business tax cut.
Media coverage has suggested some Republicans who want to regain control of the House and Senate may take a pass at further PERS cuts, so they can campaign against Democrats in the next election for failing to control PERS.
Democrats appear open to supporting the Grand Bargain if it puts more money into K-12 schools and avoids teacher or school year cuts, which they view as a winning election theme in 2014.
The political calculations over the Grand Bargain, while not surprising, do raise questions about whether there is middle ground in this debate.
In “The Mindsets of Political Compromise,” political science professors Amy Gutmann from the University of Pennsylvania and Dennis Thompson from Harvard University suggest that compromise is more difficult in the United States today because of "permanent campaigns."
"The increasing incursion of campaigning into governing in American democracy — the permanent campaign — encourages political attitudes and arguments that make compromise more difficult," they wrote. "The resistance to compromise is a problem for any democracy because it stands in the way of change that nearly everyone agrees is necessary, and thereby biases the political process in favor of the status quo."