The problem for many years in Washington was that lawmakers were always looking to the next election, holding votes meant to burnish their own conservative or liberal credentials or set their opponents up for an attack ad based on that vote. That was an unproductive approach, but it seems downright quaint compared to now, when lawmakers are still fighting the last three elections.
Democrats note that their candidate won the 2008 election, and achieved an agenda – including the health care law – as a result of that win and the wins of Democrats in Congress. Republicans counter that voters overwhelmingly expressed their disgust with the law in 2010, electing scores of new Republicans to Congress and giving the GOP control of the House. Democrats say that voters had a definitive opportunity in 2012 to undo Obamacare, when Mitt Romney ran on a platform of doing just that. Not only was Romney defeated, but Democrats picked up seats in both the House and Senate.
Elections have consequences, as Obamacare foe John McCain reminded his colleagues recently. But too many lawmakers seem to think that elections are meaningless if they don't like the result.
The standoff has resulted in a whole new definition of the word "compromise" on Capitol Hill. It was bad enough when the idea of compromise became equivalent to capitulation. That made it nearly impossible to get an agreement on anything, with lawmakers in both parties declaring to constituents that they will "fight" for them – meaning they wouldn't accept the concerns or needs of any other district. But now, "compromise" has been expanded to re-open settled matters. This was true when Democrats sought (though with much less ferocity than the GOP has displayed with Obamacare) to vitiate the Bush tax cuts for upper-income people before the law's expiration date. And Republicans are doing it now with Obamacare.
If lawmakers want to undo settled law and free and fair elections, why stop at legislation? Why don't the Republicans say, OK, we'll keep the government running, but only if President Obama and the entire cabinet resign. Then they can offer a "compromise" under which they'll accept the early departures of merely Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.
And maybe Democrats could say, sure, we'll delay Obamacare, but only if every single tea party-affiliated member of Congress resigns immediately, and pledges never to get involved in politics or public policy again. Then, they could "compromise" by accepting the resignations of only the most vociferous of the GOP's right wing. If you're going to undo an election, after all, why not go big?
Sports teams and armies have operated under the idea that you fight the battle with the people and the tools you have at that moment. Washington could do the same.