Political Animal


June 15, 2012 11:45 AM The Golden Calf of Compromise

By Ed Kilgore

It’s okay with me that a lot of people didn’t like Barack Obama’s big economic policy speech in Cleveland. But one objection, from WaPo’s Dana Milbank is just maddening.

What Milbank objected to was Obama’s basic framing of the election as a “choice” between two fundamentally different points of view that had brought Washington to gridlock, requiring action by voters to follow one path or the other:

He’s right about the stalemate. But he’s absolutely wrong that November offers an opportunity to break it. No scenario shows either party with a chance of amassing a solid governing majority of the sort Obama had when he took office. The way to break the stalemate is through compromise, not conquest.

Actually, Dana, either party with control of the White House and both Houses of Congress can “break the gridlock” in the sense of charting a fundamentally different fiscal course via the use of the reconciliation process,so long as party ranks hold. Everyone seems to have forgotten that because Democrats chose not to use reconciliation (or, as some would have it, chose to recognize that the use of reconciliation would have required structural changes in the legislation to keep it within the boundaries of the budget process) with respect to the major legislative initiative they advanced prior to losing the House in 2010, health care reform. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have zero intention of “compromising” if they get to 50 votes in the Senate.

But Milbank isn’t interested in just any old compromise: he very specifically wants Obama to compromise on “entitlement reform” as a “solution” to the “debt crisis:”

Despite his claim that “both parties have laid out their policies on the table,” Obama has made no serious proposal to fix the runaway entitlement programs that threaten to swamp the government’s finances….
Undoubtedly, Obama would take heat from his base if he put forth a serious plan along the lines of Bowles-Simpson, whose recommendations he never quite embraced. Doing so would also blunt his political advantage as the defender of Medicare from Republican marauders.
But taking a stand on concrete fixes for the nation’s fiscal problems would get Obama credit for strong leadership — and he would be able to tell the new economic narrative Americans crave. There’s even the remote chance that taking such a gamble would bring Republicans to the table.

So Obama should abandon his own approach to entitlement spending—gradually bringing down the long-term cost of health care (and thus of Medicare and Medicaid) via persistence in health care reform—and embrace reductions in benefits on the “remote chance” Republicans would meet him half-way and accept high-end tax increases. That’s not compromise, of course; it’s surrender disguised as compromise—unless, of course, Obama, like Milbank, actually supports Republican-style “entitlement reform” on its own merits, independently from anything that happens on the revenue side of the ledger.

The very best you can say about this all-too-familiar Beltway advice is that perhaps Milbank thinks Democrats should bear the entire burden of “leadership” insofar as we all understand Republicans are crazy, stupid or just plain irresponsible. Conceding that, of course, means reinforcing Republican craziness, stupidity, and/or irresponsibility. Anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention to events in Washington since 2009 knows that Barack Obama spent years chasing GOPers around the Capitol offering compromise. They refused, won a big mid-term election, and now see themselves as on the brink of a victory that will enable them to achieve destructive policy goals conservative activists have been dreaming about since 1964.

I’ve already expressed my own skepticism that beating them in November will, as Obama sometimes suggests, “break the fever” and bring them to their senses. But offering them further concessions will surely fail to accomplish anything at all other than giving them the opportunity to pocket the concessions and demand total surrender.

It speaks volumes that a major “centrist” columnist either doesn’t understand these very simple dynamics, or doesn’t care, and blindly worships the golden calf of “compromise” when the basic ingredients for it just don’t exist.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on June 15, 2012 11:57 AM:

    Looks like Dana scratched and sniffed the late David Broder's, "Why can't they all just get along - especially the damn Democrats, and comprimise by giving up!" empty seat in DC, and figured his ass will perfume it better than anyone else will.

    Dana, where ya been the last 3+ years?

  • Mimikatz on June 15, 2012 11:59 AM:

    Millbank and the rest just want to protect their high-end tax cuts, identify themselves with "the winners" and appear "serious" by cutting small amounts from millions who can't really afford it. The whole debt debate is a fraud that deserves a burial. The next person who supports debt reduction that is not coupled with high-end tax increases needs to explain how exactly reducing purchasing power of people who spend all or nearly all of their income in any way helps grow the economy. The debt gets worse when revenue drops, whether it is from tax giveaways to the rich or reductions in the incomes of the rest or, especially, both.

  • Ron Byers on June 15, 2012 12:11 PM:

    When is one of these knuckleheads going to write a column wondering why Republicans can't agree to compromise on taxes?

    By the way Simpson Bowles wasn't even approved by the Simpson Bowles commission, why does the President have to sign on to that piece of horse hockey.

  • stormskies on June 15, 2012 12:17 PM:

    Like Elizabeth Warren said yesterday "most people know the game is rigged" ..... for the wealthy, and the corporations ..

    Millbanks just proves the obvious yet again ...

  • stormskies on June 15, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Two simple solutions that the corporate media nor the politicians, including Obama, ever talk about .. creating a 'transactions' tax for the stock market that would literally raise billions of dollars every year, and erasing the the limit on how much social security tax can be collected relative to how much a person makes .. again raising literally billions of dollars and making social security solvent for as far as the eye can see ..

  • Werewolf on June 15, 2012 12:25 PM:

    I just love the zombie lie about "runaway entitlement programs"-it's the !$#%%^ runaway military spending and the !$#@%$# tax cuts that are swamping the economy.

  • stormskies on June 15, 2012 12:29 PM:

    and they are not 'entitlement' programs in the first place .. we pay for those 'entitlements' ..

  • dp on June 15, 2012 12:33 PM:

    I'm near the point of just ignoring anyone who even uses the word "entitlements," as it's becoming a reliable identifier of someone who wants to screw the vast majority of the citizenry for no really good reason.

  • Peter C on June 15, 2012 12:47 PM:

    Milbank is a hack. He KNOWS why there is no compromise. Here it is in a graph:


    When there is a 22% difference between how much the two parties WANT compromise, it isn't really possible.

    When the Republican Senator with the most seniority (Dick Lugar) loses his primary because he compromised just a little bit, it isn't really possible.

    When we adopt their ideas (cap and trade; individual mandate, etc. etc. etc), they abandon those ideas.

    When one side goes for compromise and the other pursues conquest, the conquest side wins. You can't compromise with those who are determined to kill you; they will not settle for just killing you a little bit.

    Dana Milbank can go Cheney himself.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 15, 2012 12:52 PM:

    Explanation: Faux centrist Very Serious Person.

    Bombard his e-mail box. (I already have.) Here's his e-address:


  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 15, 2012 12:54 PM:

    And let him know it's the private health care system that is the country's problem. Solve that and the country has budget surpluses. (See Dean Baker.)

  • kindness on June 15, 2012 1:00 PM:

    Dana Milbank is an asshole and he must be a Republican Manchurian Candidate. All his preferences lead to Republican wet dreams. How this troll ever became known as a 'liberal' can only make sense in that in the Republican Party, he'd be a liberal. A liberal he ain't.

    So when he says stuff like what he said it's water off my ducks back. He is nothing to me.

  • Daddy Love on June 15, 2012 1:05 PM:

    Also, let's not coddle their fantasies. There were no Bowles-Simpson "recommendations." The committee never was able to muster the votes they needed to recommend anything. All that happened was that some conservatives published a "report" without anything resembling a consensus behind it, which we should treat like the toilet paper it was.

  • Citizen Alan on June 15, 2012 1:10 PM:

    Everything you need to know about Dana Milbank's commitment to "bipartisanship" is reflected in his "hilarious" comedy bit with Chris Cilizza the punchline to which was going through verbal contortions just to call Hillary Clinton a bitch. The man is scum; always has been, always will be.

  • low-tech cyclist on June 15, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Nothing but Milbunk.

  • jjm on June 15, 2012 1:11 PM:

    I seem to recall that Dana Milbank had some kind of scandal that caused MSNBC to ban him from appearing back when Olbermann was on. Anybody recall what it was?

    The guy is pure hack, but so is most of the beltway media. I keep being amazed that the Washington Post actually lets Ezra Klein publish there, or even Eugene Robinson and E. J. Dionne the paper has been so in the tank for the GOP and the rich.

  • boatboy_srq on June 15, 2012 1:20 PM:


    The "zombie lie" is window dressing for the goal: reduced receipts (i.e. tax cuts) without reduced expenditures yield (larger) deficits, which the Reichwing translates as a need for further reducing receipts (i.e. more tax cuts) and reducing the expenditures they don't want. THIS is how the social safety net gets shredded and hung out to dry. And because the US electorate has a collective memory of about 30 seconds, nobody will remember that it was the original round of "tax cuts" designed to "stimulate the economy" that started the whole fiasco, not the "runaway spending" that was controlled all the decades before - at least not the "runaway spending" on "[insert social program here] in crisis and facing bankruptcy" (see: Medicare, SocSec, etc). The lie persists because it masks the intents of the people using it and is a convenient justification (along with Othering all Teh Undesirables all that "runaway spending" helps out) for killing programs that people actually depend on which just happen to run counter to the social Darwinism (i.e. survival of the richest) of the GOP.

    Reagan gets far too little blame for this situation: it was his overspending that enabled later Presidents (and one pResident) and Congresses to get away with the cuts made so far and to wail about "overspending" now. Without the first (massive) tax cuts and additional spending, the problem wouldn't have been nearly as bad or would have been eliminated. Yes, I do know that Reagan increased taxes, but his initial cuts coupled with the explosion of DoD and Intelligence spending more than offset any increases he enacted, and the mindset that exists today was spawned at the federal level during his term.

    The problem with "balancing the budget" and BBA proposals is that there is an assumption from those not making policy that spending would remain relatively flat - and the Reichwing doesn't want the spending (at least on programs and people they dislike) any more than they want the taxes, so a BBA could be used to starve the public sector through successive rounds of "tax reform."

    As for "compromise," we've had years now of WM commentary on how that word in God's Own Party's perspective has come to mean "Democrats giving up everything they stand for so we can get our Defense appropriations and kill off all those pesky civil rights / environmental / welfare / retirement / anything-that-helps-the-99% wastes of time and money." Not all that long ago it was understood and had entered the WM vernacular: perhaps some here missed the consensus-building on that point.

  • Patango on June 15, 2012 1:46 PM:

    So we are going to gut medicare so the middle class ,who have little money to spare , can spend it ALL on medical bills , then increase the ss retirement age to 70+ , so all the people who can not afford to see a doctor to reach that age, can kiss all that money they paid into the system good by , all so milbanks and his corporate pals can pay lower rates than everyone else , and get a $2000 tax break ...As Ed says , That's compromise?

    So its allow those who have all the money , to get even more money , or_______?

    Last I checked the simp bowls plan failed because conservatives refused to COMPROMISE

    " The commission was headed by former Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. Their plan did not receive the fourteen votes from the eighteen-member commission that were necessary for Congress to consider it "

    Great post Ed thanks

  • bluestatedon on June 15, 2012 2:39 PM:

    The mere fact that Milbank asserts that Obama had a "solid governing majority" illustrates his willful ignorance of the fact that Obama was significantly hamstrung by members of his own party. Max Baucus is just one example.

  • SecularAnimist on June 15, 2012 2:57 PM:

    There's a lot of money in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

    And the One Percent want it. All of it.

    That is what's behind the bullshit about "entitlement reform" as a "solution" to the "debit crisis" that their bought-and-paid-for stooges in the media and in Congress keep spewing.

    It really is as simple as that.

  • Patango on June 15, 2012 3:19 PM:

    DisgustedWithItAll,, I sent it , thanks

  • ranger11 on June 16, 2012 2:23 AM:

    Great contribution mike!