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Opinion: The Art Of Compromise

09 December 2018  

Will Congress learn to compromise with a divided legislature?

Politicians of all stripes are bemoaning the fact that nothing much is getting done through Congress in Washington, D.C. With the Democrat takeover of the House of Representatives, the groaning will only get louder. Even though the Republicans held the Presidency and both houses of Congress, they were unable to repeal all of Obama Care and get funding for the border wall. The easy answer for this inertia is that the Republicans have essentially become two opposing factions within one party: establishment Republicans versus Trump Republicans. 

The Democrats have their own problems with their two factions: establishment Democrats versus socialist/progressive Bernie Sanders Democrats. While they have their differences, both Democrat factions are united in their desire to get rid of President Trump by any means possible. With both of the major parties having their own agendas and both having major splits within, it seems unlikely that Congress will have any major accomplishments or legislation. That will only happen, the experts and pundits all say, if there is compromise.

In the field of compromise, the Democrats have a big leg up over the Republicans. Over the last half a century or longer, the Democrats have refined the art of compromise to where they get everything they want and the Republicans get a few crumbs at best. In 1965, Congress passed the Hart-Celler act. It was an immigration reform act. It passed the Senate, in part, because what Senator Ted Kennedy said about it on the floor of the Senate. 

Kennedy said that if this bill passed, immigration would remain substantially the same. The ethnic mix of the country would not be upset. The bill wouldn't inundate our country with immigrants from any one country. The ethnic change would not be as sharp as the bill's critics said. It would not cause Americans to lose their jobs and our cities would not be flooded with millions of immigrants annually. With the 20/20 vision history provides, we can now see that virtually everything Ted Kennedy said was wrong. This certainly wasn't anything the Republicans or their base wanted. 24 Republican Senators voted for it and 118 Republican House members voted for it. It was a great compromise – for Democrats. 

In 1986, the Simpson-Mazzoli (Immigration Reform and Control)Act was passed and signed into law. In exchange for legalizing (giving amnesty) to an estimated 4 million illegal aliens other provisions of the law required employers to attest to their employee's immigration status. On its face, this law made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit illegal aliens. Immigrants who had come to the US prior to 1982, and had remained here continuously, were required to admit guilt, pay a fine, pay back taxes and prove they were not guilty of any crime. They were also supposed to have a minimal knowledge of English, US history and government. 

After the bill became law, approximately 3.2 million were granted amnesty. How many of them fulfilled their requirement regarding English, history and government of our country? How many paid fines and back taxes? We do know that there was fraud in about a third of the applications according to a New York Times article by Rachel L. Swarns on May 23, 2006. Was anyone prosecuted for fraud?

This was a compromise between the establishment of both parties and those who wanted more strict immigration laws. Few employers were ever prosecuted because they soon were able to circumvent the law by hiring subcontracting companies, who then hired the illegals, not as employees but as subcontractors. The establishment got its way when they were able to legislate amnesty, and then purposefully didn't enforce anything in the bill with which they disagreed. 

Whenever a “bipartisan” bill is passed, it usually involves some compromise. The McCain/Feingold act allegedly reforming campaign finance laws, is such a case. While Senators McCain and Feingold get the credit, the bill that was actually signed into law was a very similar bill by Connecticut Republican Congressman Chris Shays. The main compromise in this bill was by President George W. Bush, who signed it into law despite publically expressing his misgivings about the Constitutionality of parts of the bill. Part of the bill was found to be unconstitutional. Why a president would sign a bill he thought was partially unconstitutional is a question that remains unanswered.

It seems unlikely that with the split in Congress, any of compromise would even be suggested, so there isn't the remotest possibility that the House will fund the border wall. They'll be too busy investigating everything Trump has done, said or thought since birth. Considering the Republicans abysmal record on compromises, this is probably a good thing for them. Without some compromise, nothing substantial will get done. But don't fret. Remember the Henry David Thoreau quote, “That government is best which governs least.