opinion by Scott Shackelford
Scott Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
Editor's note: Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Compromise is generally defined as an agreement or the settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions. Just two ongoing debates illustrate the petty refusal of federal lawmakers to at least sometimes strike a bipartisan tone, and this despite the size of the stakes.
First, in the aftermath of the heartless school massacre in Newtown, Conn., the time has come for America to deal forthrightly with a series of problems that have been allowed to fester for too long. Such ideas reflect President Obama’s own thinking on the subject, as his Dec. 19 message to the nation included the passage, “This time, the words need to lead to action.”
In addition to Vice President Joe Biden’s task force studying an appropriate federal response, the White House would be wise to appoint a presidential commission to delve into a whole host of mental illness issues, including ways to keep certain kids from slipping through the health system’s cracks before they become a menace to themselves as well as national security in general.
A presidential proposal to ban a variety of assault weapons could prove unpopular with a majority of Americans and would have a tough time passing a GOP-dominated U.S. House. However, other items on the nation’s path to comprehensive reform deserve serious consideration.
For example, according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “current federal law requires criminal background checks only for guns sold through licensed firearm deals, which account for just 60 percent of all guns sales in the United States. A loophole in the law allows individuals not ‘engaged in the business’ of selling firearms to sell guns without a license.”
The CSGV also notes that only six states require universal background checks on all firearms sales at gun shows. Meanwhile, 33 states have reportedly taken no action to close the so-called “gun-show loophole.”
Most Americans cherish the 2nd Amendment, and rightfully so. But the “no background check, no gun” concept is by no means anti-gun rights. It is anti-easy access to firearms for felons and potential felons everywhere. And rightfully so.
Or what about a national version of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “no-questions asked” gun buyback program, which has in recent years removed several thousand firearms from the streets at a time when gang crime and “shots fired” calls face a downward spiral?
The National Rifle Association’s suggestion to place armed guards in the nation’s roughly 100,000 schools isn’t necessarily the worst idea imaginable. But neither is it the comprehensive salve the nation deserves. The NRA’s suggestions, while deserving of study, is at heart an aggressive attempt to block Congress from considering serious gun legislation in the upcoming session.
Lawmakers and statisticians on both sides of the aisle will soon insist that a ban on high-capacity clips and certain military-style assault weapons would surely/will hardly make a dent in our violent (sick?) culture.
I say the time has come to take a chance on comprehensive legislation that touches every face of this social disease. Banning every assault weapon imaginable may not block the madness in some people, but a majority of congressmen should use the aftermath of this month’s incredible tragedy to at least study and closely consider whether some guns should be permanently off our streets.
The 113th Congress may be incapable of preventing future Sandy Hook-style tragedies from ever taking place – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t act. And it certainly doesn’t mean change begins and ends with reforms to the nation’s mental health laws.
A second contentious issue deserving of less talk and more compromise are the ongoing “fiscal cliff” negotiations. By the time you read this, a short-term stop-gap measure preventing massive tax hikes/spending cuts until the principals finally hash out a big-picture agreement may have already been agreed to. And soon enough a deal of some sort will be made – the proposed cuts to several federal programs, particularly defense, are surely too drastic for even arch conservatives to seriously consider any approach that doesn’t begin and end with compromise of some sort.
And yet here we are, at year’s end, and we’re still without even a handshake deal. That partisan politics have allowed the nation’s finances to reach this sad point is, really, its own embarrassing commentary.
President Obama originally proposed spending cuts for a variety of federal programs in exchange for tax hikes on families earning more than $250,000 annually. The White House scaled back efforts seeking $1.6 trillion in higher tax revenues over a 10-year period (the new figure became $1.2 trillion) and began talking up tax hikes for only those families making in excess of $400,000.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner couldn’t get a majority of House Republicans to back his “Plan B” proposal to cap the president’s tax hike plans at taxpayers earning more than $1 million annually.
Stalwart Republicans like U.S. Reps. Steve Womack and Tim Griffin were willing to back the Boehner plan, even if it did mean, gulp, supporting a 4.6% tax hike for the nation’s richest citizens. For some Republicans, even this very minor concession to a president who only a few weeks ago won a historic reelection victory could only be described as unprincipled.
The GOP would be wise to let President Obama have a fair portion of his proposed tax hikes and spending cuts, avoid the fiscal cliff, and regroup in time for spring debates focused on raising of the nation’s debt limit.
For those congressional members and staffers who have spent these last months in pitched battle with one another, and seem certain to press on in this way for the foreseeable future, I quote President Kennedy, who once wrote: “We shall need compromises in the days ahead, to be sure. But these will be, or should be, compromises of issues, not of principles. We can compromise our political positions, but not ourselves. ... Compromise does not mean cowardice.”