Gridlock or governance. With the end of the most acrimonious campaign season in the U.S. in recent memory, Washington's politicians must now decide on how to spend the next two years. The resurgent Republicans can ram through conservative legislation to try to make Bill Clinton look weak. The defeated Democrats, in turn, can veto all Republican legislation as dangerous and wrong-headed to make them look like enemies of the people. Politicians may believe that partisan showboating is the best way to position their parties for the Presidential election in 1996. But gridlock will bring them down in the end. The massive middle of America is angry because government isn't working for them. The last thing people want is two more years of legislative lockjaw.
Paradoxically, while Republicans and Democrats claw at each other publicly, there is middle ground on a significant number of vital issues.
Start with the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade. There is broad agreement on the issue between the parties. Unfortunately, some newly elected conservatives are toying with extreme isolationism. Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich must crack the whip and get GATT passed. Congress and the President should then expand NAFTA to the entire hemisphere.
On spending cuts, there is 80% agreement. The budget deficit will start rising again in 1996, and it must be cut again. There's a lot to chop, but first Republican hypocrisy must end. Dole says he wants to cut the $24 billion spent on 150 training programs every year. He has a point, since most of them are ineffective. But the Kansan is silent on the $68 billion Washington spends on agricultural subsidies annually.
Then there are the big entitlements: The two parties agree that growth in spending on Medicare and Social Security has to be curbed. The President's commission to deal with entitlement cuts reports in December. The Republicans should build on the commission's conclusions and push for a bipartisan recommendation to curb growth in entitlement spending.
On welfare reform, agreement drops to 50%. Both parties say that work has to be the end goal of welfare. Republicans want two years on welfare and you're out. The Democrats want two years and you're out--but if you can't get a job in the private sector, you get one in the public sector. The Republicans see that as a $10 billion jobs program. The solution? Leave it to the states.
Both parties also agree on reforming government. The Republicans want to downsize government and decentralize power to the states. Vice-President Al Gore is c utting 272,000 federal jobs. Both sides want to make government efficient.
What's left? Health-care reform. Clinton is now prepared to pass Dole's own more modest 1992 health-care reform plan. The two should cut a deal.
In the end, the casualties of petty partisanship will be the partisans themselves. If neither party can govern alone or together, a third will surely emerge, and the political stability the U.S. has had for two centuries will die. Republicans and Democrats will rise together in the political center, where compromise rules, or fall. The people of America demand a higher level of governance, not a lower level of gridlock.