The Cloud of Complexity and the Caustic Considerations of Compromise

In no means is this piece intended to be an academic article of any sort regarding previous legislation and current debates.  Any work which even hints at being balanced would necessitate a book length manuscript in just prose without the necessary charts and citations.  The arguments over the Bush era tax breaks and positions of extending or ending the cuts on matters such as the deficit, individuals, business owners, and practically every aspect of the economy cannot be vetted within a short period.  Perhaps the majority, however, can discover one common point upon which to agree.  The tax code with all of its credits, penalties, and multiplicity of provisos and calculations is far too complex.  Without computing the true mathematical possibilities but speaking from a gut feeling, I would consider myself more confident in determining the teams and the quarter by quarter score of the Super Bowl in 2013 at this moment, 31 July 2012, than I would be in finding two honest and highly qualified accountants given the same documents but working independently and in separate locations presenting the exact same figures to the IRS.

This piece is simply an elementary primer on what is a dirty word in Congress, compromise, and an oversimplified recall of what many politicians, media outlets, and “education advocates” consider an unimportant subject, history.  Way back, before televisions not to mention smart phones existed there was a great debate taking place about the year 1850.  There were multiple issues, and a few of the issues discussed in 1850 would later result in the loss of more American lives as a direct or indirect result of combat during a 4 year period than the sum total of American lives lost during every military operation our troops have undertaken during the history of the United States.  The return of an elderly political veteran known for his ability to negotiate helped prevent the bloodshed which began in 1861 from starting in 1850.  While Henry Clay’s huge compromise bill was not passed in part because of the gentleman’s declining health, the various planks were separated, proposed, and passed as individual bills.  Today, if thumbing through a history text, we see the term Compromise of 1850 which refers to these individual pieces of legislation.

In our own time, one side of the aisle is pushing to extend all the Bush era tax cuts for every American.  The other side of the aisle has proposed that because of the country’s economic health; continue the tax breaks for the majority of Americans, about 98 percent by most published accounts, while letting the breaks expire for those households with incomes above $250,000.  A subplot within the Bush Break Debate is that the both branches of Congress are using the other not to find a common ground on the future of the breaks but on promoting their own aisle’s political agenda.  It is do not filibuster in the Senate because we have the majority in the House to prevent passage into law on one side while the other side stands their ground unless the other agrees to letting the breaks for the wealthiest expire.  The message conveyed is that they will let the breaks expire for all, hurting the majority of Americans and transferring the blame to the other side of the aisle.  At least both sides seem to agree that letting the breaks expire for all will hurt the majority of Americans.

There we have it.  Stalemate and nobody is going to do anything against the wishes of others on the same side of the aisle if it means personal harm to them in their bids for reelection or desires to maintain their committee and Super PAC favor status.  Critics of the extension for all but the wealthy typically argue either the trickledown effect of hurting the job creators or argue that many small business owners would actually lose out as their incomes are just slightly above the $250,000 range.  Now in other arenas, I personally have argued against the negative effect on job creators’ position by examining the amount of money these entities donate to individual PACs, Super PACs, and 501c groups to push a specific political agenda.  My own take is that if someone has the available funds to invest in politics, they apparently do not feel they will receive the same returns by investing those same funds into the economy and thereby creating jobs.  The “my way or the highway” ideology on the other side of the aisle simply reminds me of what many of us would term a spoiled brat by the behavior.

The purpose of this piece is a little, and I’ll admit, oversimplified give and take on the art of compromise.  Since home ownership is part of the “American Dream” and many point to the housing bubble for a significant portion of our financial straits today, I thought a quick glance of median home prices might prove interesting.  I simply went to census statistics for the year 2010 and found the median price for new homes sold listed as $221,800.  If you glance at publications from the National Association of Realtors or websites such as Trulia (there site contains the statement:  “Our data provider compiles public record information from local assessor, tax collector, and recorder offices across the United States going back for a period of 10 years.”), you will see variances of the median price according to regions of the country and variables within specific zip codes.

Since neither party in Congress seems willing to act during an election year as the game of partisan politics essentially does not affect their own financial situations to the degree that the issue impacts the vast majority of the working class and small business owners, here is a temporary solution where both sides can claim partial victory.  For a 1 year period, immediately extend the Bush era tax breaks on amounts below $500,000 or roughly double and often more than double the median price of a new home the majority of regions across the country.  With the swearing in of the new Congress in 2013, immediately begin the arduous task of simplifying the tax code and equal out the percentage (not the dollar amount) of rates on income.  Then begin work on issues such as capital gains and estate taxes to present a structure which balances fairness to the taxpayer and the needs of the country.  A bill should be submitted to the President within the fiscal year.

Of course this simple compromise will not solve any of the issues.  It does, however, provide a brief period of consistency for Americans who are not Members of Congress.  It also removes a political stone continuously being tossed back and forth across the aisle.  While the original goal may have been hopes of smashing the other side with the stone, the game has evolved into an attempt to simply keep a volley going to limit the time to take actions on other matters of importance.  Too many of us watching the action from our cheap seats in the nose bleed section are unable to see anything besides the volley regardless of whether our seats are on the left or right side.  Any of our shouts toward the floor are echoed back by the sound barrier established the Super PACs and 501c groups sitting in the premium seats.

Much of the press and sadly much of the populace find it easy to blame the President for the country’s financial situation.  Fortunately, the US Constitution did not grant such domestic power to the Executive Branch in fear of individual totalitarian actions.  They gave that power to Congress and in particular the power of taxation to the House since theoretically that chamber would be the one closest to its constituents.  Unfortunately, the framers of the Constitution who successfully negotiated compromises on the nature of representation balance of powers, and even how a deplorable institution such as slavery would determine population for both tax and representation probably never envisioned the obstructionist partisan behavior of today.  Likewise, those who helped ratify the Constitution, narrowed 200 plus proposals for a Bill of Rights to 17 of which 12 passed House and Senate and 10 of those 12 ratified by the states, and faced such issues as the assumption of state debts, collection of taxes, and just making the government work would be awestruck at the inability of Congress today to take any action let alone discuss legitimate proposals that can pass both chambers.

Actually in today’s world it might be best if the President had the power to institute change.  Regardless of whether that individual was Barack Obama or Mitt Romney something would get done because one individual would never have the time to take in money from the Super PACs as the 535 individuals in House and Senate seem capable of scheduling for meetings. One wouldn’t need any education to know who to blame or credit for decisions made by our Federal Government if the President actually had the authority under the US Constitution to institute the majority of domestic policies.

The following link is only one of many sources available where one can look at the ongoing coverage of the Bush Break Debate over the years.  The opinions in this piece are my own but my references to the Compromise of 1850, writing and ratification of the Constitution of the United States, and to the issues of the Federalist Era can be found in a vast number of historical works by numerous individuals on the respective topics.