The wisdom in times like this is “a good deal today is better than a perfect deal tomorrow.” If that turn of phrase is good enough for families, it is good enough for Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner is not happy with a two month extension of unemployment benefits, and is holding out for a more comprehensive deal. The deal would also carry with it an extension of the payroll tax cuts for middle-class earners.
Normally, this is a slam dunk for the Republicans, but there are reasons for them holding out. First, they are not anxious to allow the president to say that he cut taxes while going into an election year. But that will happen anyway since the payroll tax cuts are inevitable; neither party wants the tax cuts to dissolve.
The second reason for the holdout is more stylistic. Boehner has done this before with the debt ceiling and the budget. He loves to play in overtime. He knows that he is the only rational link between the White House and the more conservative elements of his own party.
To get something done, you need Boehner. He does not give in to the White House easily, but he also has never shut the government down (as Newt Gingrich did when he was speaker). By dragging this out to the bitter end, Boehner shows the conservatives that he can tussle with the executive branch. By actually bringing it to a vote, he shows that he is something of a pragmatist.
Why would the president care about Boehner’s image? After all, the president can let the tax cuts dissolve and blame the GOP if he wants to do so. The answer is that the White House wants Boehner to remain in his role as speaker.
If Boehner gets voted out by Congress, he will almost certainly be replaced by a more conservative voice that will never come to the table with the Democrats. So Boehner is important to both sides of the political spectrum.
The tax cuts are necessary to keep employment from going up. It is not a perfect deal – Boehner is right about that – and it is “kicking the can down the road” as the speaker suggested. But kicking the can is better than crushing it. He needs to get the votes for this, even if it means doing it in the 11th hour.
Vaclav Havel, who become the president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and was the first president of the new Czech Republic in 1993, died last Sunday at 75.
This was the kind of leader our kids need to read about. There is American history, there is European history, and there is the history of the rest of the world. But should there ever be a “history of leadership” class in our school system, Havel is a good study for any lesson in American democracy.
A playwright and essayist, he was jailed for encouraging his country’s leadership to stand up to the Communists. This was a time when the Communist empire was the most feared regime in the world. He refused to flee to the United States, and remained in jail. He was released in 1983.
When the walls of communism began to fall, people like Havel stood up and built durable governments. If you think developing a government in a free society is easy, look at how much trouble the Russians are having with it.
Havel was a unique politician that reflected the ideals that we like in our American leaders. He thought leaders should follow their conscience and not simply tow the party line. This was a disagreement that he had with political adversaries to the very end of his life.
Looking at the polarization in our system, perhaps Havel was right. He was important because he helped develop a democracy in a very small country that had few resources. He belongs in American history books because he reflects more about American democracy in his experience than some of our own (past or present) elected officials.