Washington Puts an End to Crisis Mode

Political self-interest demanded that lawmakers strike a deal.

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House Speaker John Boehner, left, joined by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, takes reporters' questions on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.

Hallelujah, hallelujah! A bipartisan budget deal may just pass Congress before Christmas!

Rather than focusing on the grumbling that has already broken out over the specifics of the $85 billion agreement negotiated by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., we should consider the politics underlying the deal, which were what drove the parties to devise a compromise.

To their core, both sides knew that Americans would not tolerate another round of ideological brinksmanship, partisan blame-shifting and policy instability over the holidays.

The public is not only disgusted with the behavior of those in Washington (i.e., I have to work for a paycheck, so why aren't the politicians?) and distrusting of the promises they make (e.g., "you can keep your health care plan"), but a large majority has been ready for weeks to toss out the entire lot of them. In addition to these abysmal findings, recent polls also show that the approval rating of Congress remains embarrassingly low and President Obama's approval rating looks a lot like (and not in a good way) former President George W. Bush's at the same point in his term.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

The clock is also ticking, which means that midterm elections are fast approaching. With few forecasting that 2014 will bring major changes to Washington, partisans on both sides of the aisle are desperately in search of a robust narrative that will not only affect next year's electoral results, but also provide their party with a political advantage in 2016.

Beltway leaders (e.g., Speaker Boehner and President Obama) understood that they are on thin ice with Americans, and their self-interest demanded that they recognize this reality. So while the deal may be "salted with a variety of good government reforms," doing the deal was all about the "selfish" nature of politics and the structure of our system.

If Americans want to see more bipartisan compromises and a "functioning" federal government, then we have to stop being so predictably partisan in our vote choices (about 90 percent of party identifiers who turn out cast ballots for their party's candidates). In other words, Machiavelli's teachings are not only relevant for today's leaders, but for all citizens in a democracy who would like to keep their democratically-elected politicians in check.

  • Read Pat Garofalo: The Murray-Ryan Budget Deal Does Nothing for the Long-Term Unemployed
  • Read Peter Roff: Kill Paul Ryan's and Patty Murray's Tax-and-Spending Budget Deal
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