New York Republicans remain, for the most part, a different breed from the radical wing that has captured the soul of a once-great political party. Although Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, is more conservative than his most recent Republican predecessor, Amo Houghton, he is either sensible enough to understand that compromise is necessary to make government work or, if not that, sensible enough to recognize that the voters who populate the 29th Congressional District are, for the most part, centrist.
If only the leader of the House of Representatives were as sensible.
Either House Speaker John A. Boehner lacks the sense to know what makes government work or he has capitulated to the Republican Mad Hatters who will brook no talk of compromise, who reject science, who ignore evidence and who think it is their divine right to run the country -- into the ground, if necessary.
Speaking last week to a Washington budget forum, Boehner said that he will once again insist on big spending cuts before he agrees to another increase in the federal debt ceiling, required this year. In the same breath, though, Boehner insists on continuing the Bush tax cuts that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. It's a promise of the very sort of reckless confrontation that precipitated the first-ever lowering of the federal government's credit rating.
American politics doesn't work that way, and Boehner should either know better or be willing to demonstrate the courage and common sense that Reed did in speaking to the Buffalo News editorial board on Tuesday. Reed is no fan of tax increases. He vastly prefers budget cuts to raising taxes. But he said that he saw the potential for a compromise that could avoid the very crisis that his boss is inviting.
Reed points out -- correctly -- that the nation cannot tax itself out of a budget deficit of about $1.3 trillion. There isn't enough money to do that and retain a functioning economy. What is more, Republicans, who may not agree to anything but massive budget cuts, will certainly not agree to a tax-only solution. The approach loses economically and politically.
Of course, no one is suggesting that approach. Democrats last year offered budget cuts paired with tax increases to deal with the deficit, brought on not just by years of careless spending, but also by two wars and a calamitous economic downtown. Republicans summarily rejected Democrats' overtures, but some version of that approach is the only one that will work. The far-right alternative -- spending reductions only -- carries the same fatal flaw as a tax-only solution: It would be economically disastrous and politically unsalable.
There is some question of whether congressional Republicans really know what they want, other than to serve the tea party. The agreement that avoided a default last summer included a provision for huge cuts, with half coming from military spending, if no deficit reduction agreement was reached by Thanksgiving. It wasn't, and now Republicans are trying to block the military budget cuts they ostensibly wanted last year. Those cuts would, indeed, be dangerous, but then why did Republicans agree to them if they weren't willing to compromise? It's a level of dysfunction that shouldn't be possible -- and certainly is not tolerable -- in the highest echelons of American government.
We hope Reed is right and, more than that, that he will take a leading role in identifying a rational, broadly acceptable solution to a financial crisis that demands attention. There is a way forward, but both sides need to acknowledge it and to be willing to take steps they would otherwise prefer to avoid.
Politicians love to boast about the unrivaled virtues of the American system of government, but it is a system -- whether they acknowledge it or not -- that is built on the need to compromise. This is their chance to prove their love.