Compromise or Capitulation: Part Two

Is there progress in the Oregon Legislature toward operating in a way that honors civility and compromise? Just maybe:I guess you could say that compromise or capitulation, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Consider these two beholders of the "compromise" President Obama negotiated on tax cuts:

Last Tuesday, the Eugene Register-Guard labeled it a "fiasco." Here's the way editorial writers put it: "President Obama didn't blink. He closed his eyes, held out a tray of goodies and said, 'Here, take them all.' And the congressional Republicans did so. They are the undisputed winners over tax cuts."

On the other hand, on Wednesday, The Oregonian lauded the compromise in these words, "President Obama has struck an imperfect but essential tax-cut deal with congressional Republicans. Yes, it's a mishmash of partisan politics, but if you remember from days gone by, that's the way it is with political compromise. Yes, on the surface the deal seems to tilt to the right, because it prominently includes an extension of top-end tax cuts and a most generous estate tax exemption for the wealthiest Americans. But if you look closer, what you'll see is a generally solid package of short-term economic policies that will help – or at least avoid potential harm – to the nation's struggling economy."

Were those who wrote these editorials looking at the same deal. Yes they were and they came to strikingly different conclusions. One labeled it a giveaway to the right, the other labeled it a sound set of short term policies.

Does what happened and is happening in Washington, D.C. relate to Oregon. Well, as I have looked at politics in Oregon in the aftermath of the November election, I have been among those expressing an aspiration that those who fought at the polls would be able to govern from the center.

Most of the tough issues facing Oregon call for centrist positions:

  • Finding a way to balance the 2011-13 budget with genuine care for the poor and disadvantaged while watching out for those who pay taxes.
  • Finding a way to provide health care for more Oregonians without breaking the state's bank – or loading too much on to already hard-pressed health care providers, including doctors, nurses and hospitals.
  • Finding a way to treat those with mental illness with more humanity.
  • Finding a way to reduce congestion on Oregon highways and byways without just putting down more pavement.
  • Finding a way to instill a new sense of possibility in the state's higher education system without turning over to them the keys to the state's bank.
  • Finding a way to meet the nearly insatiable appetite for more money for Oregon K-12 schools while still expecting them to engage in improved performance.

Early indications are that new legislators may be finding their way toward organizational compromise – compromises at the front end of their process that will allow them to find more compromises at the back end.

For one thing, Republicans and Democrats, with a 30-30 tie in the Oregon House, have both landed on candidates for "Co-Speaker of the House" – Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay. Both leaders also said they are making satisfactory progress on rules for the session that will govern the way legislators operate for their 2011 sojourn in Oregon. Meanwhile, the Senate, at a 16-14 margin for Democrats, appears to be ready to begin operating as of the first day of the session, Jauary 10, with Democrat leaders in place.

It is true that, in a return to partisan electioneering, both Republicans and Democrats are calling for – and funding – recounts in a handful of close legislative races, a sign that they may not be over the campaign yet.

Back to beauty is in the eye of the beholder analogy. At this point, one observer – me – beholds satisfactory progress in the legislature toward operating in a way that honors civility and compromise as being in the best traditions of good government. We'll see if that holds true in a tough legislative session.