The meaning of the word ‘compromise’

There were a few noteworthy exchanges on the Sunday morning shows, but the most amusing quote came from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah, who appeared on ABC’s “This Week” roundtable.

Host Christiane Amanpour, of course, explored the S&P downgrade decision in some detail, which led Chaffetz, a right-wing lawmaker and likely U.S. Senate candidate, to talk about “compromise.”

CHAFFETZ: Both sides have to be willing to come to the table and do things they don’t want to do for there to be a compromise. That’s what happens in divided government. And what didn’t happen before was that willingness.

AMANPOUR: But you and the Tea Party don’t like compromise, right?

CHAFFETZ: We have actually done a lot of compromising. Remember, it was the Tea Party that really spurred — I was the primary sponsor of “Cut, Cap, and Balance.”

Steve Rattner, who oversaw the auto industry rescue for the Obama administration, felt compelled to interject. “Wait a minute,” he said. “‘Cut, Cap, and Balance’ was not a compromise.”

Chaffetz replied, “Yes, it was,” and then changed the subject.

It’s not uncommon in casual conversation for someone to jokingly say they don’t know the meaning of a word. (“‘Quit’? I don’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit.'”) It’s not meant to be taken literally.

But in this case, it appears a congressman went on national television, kept using the word “compromise,” and really didn’t know what it meant.

In case Chaffetz is curious, let’s go ahead and set the record straight.

Before the debt-ceiling agreement was reached, Democrats, in general, wanted Congress to do what it’s done 89 times in the last 72 years: pass a clean bill. After Republicans refused, Dems came up with a series of alternative plans that, they hoped, might make GOP officials happy. They weren’t what Democrats wanted, but they were looking to strike a compromise by accepting concessions to satisfy GOP demands. Each plan has included massive spending cuts; some plans have included entitlement cuts; and every plan has tried to achieve “balance” by featuring far more cuts than revenue.

And then there was the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” measure. This was a plan that would have immediately taken $100 billion out of the U.S. economy, eliminating thousands of jobs in the process, en route to trillions more in additional cuts. It would have made draconian cuts to key public priorities, including education, infrastructure, and energy. It would have gutted Social Security and Medicare, and made it almost impossible for any Congress to ever raise taxes on anyone ever again. It went out of its way to protect tax cuts for the very wealthy, while targeting the most vulnerable. It doesn’t even do an effective job of reducing the deficit, its ostensible point.

This wasn’t an attempt on the part of conservative Republicans to make Dems happy; it was an attempt on the part of conservative Republicans to make themselves happy.

No sane person could perceive this as a credible way to strike a bipartisan compromise. What’s more, if this is what far-right lawmakers perceive as a plan intended to win over Democrats, it should be abundantly clear to everyone exactly why the traditional give and take of American politics is broken.