An object lesson in GOP compromise

AN OBJECT LESSON IN GOP COMPROMISE…. The Senate voted yesterday on a proposal to create a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction. The effort failed — “only” a 53-member majority supported the idea.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether the commission was a worthwhile idea, but if we put merit aside for a moment, it’s worth noting what yesterday’s vote tells us about Senate Republican attitudes right now.

Six GOP senators co-sponsored the legislation to create the commission, and then voted against their own idea. Asked for an explanation, the Republicans said the commission — which was intended to push policymakers to make uncomfortable decisions — might have told them what they didn’t want to hear, and should therefore not exist.

Among those voting against it: Republicans Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Ensign of Nevada, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona.

A spokesperson for McCain, who supports the partial spending freeze Obama plans to announce in his State of the Union address, said the senator became convinced the commission would be “kind of a back door” to a tax increase, which he thinks would be “the worst thing that can happen now.” That was clear “once we saw the final legislation,” the spokesperson said.

A Brownback spokesperson said: “He removed his co-sponsorship last week over concerns that the commission will be able to raise taxes.”

Look, if the federal government is eventually going to address the budget deficit, policymakers are going to have to a) bring in more money; b) spend less money; or c) some combination of the two. There are no other choices. The commission would ostensibly create the conditions for some kind of grand bargain — Democrats would have to accept spending cuts they would otherwise oppose, and Republicans would accept tax increases they would otherwise oppose. Spread the pain around and everyone gets some political cover.

These six Republican senators said they’d welcome a commission — it was, after all, their idea to co-sponsor the bill — just so long as the GOP isn’t asked to make concessions or compromises at all.

We’ve heard plenty of rhetoric of late about how President Obama just needs to reach out more to Republicans to strike bipartisan compromises. But how can anyone take such an approach seriously when leading GOP lawmakers oppose their own ideas because they may be asked to accept bipartisan concessions?