Who has a mandate?
That’s the talk in Washington as negotiations start up over how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff — the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for everyone plus deep spending cuts — that was hammered out by President Obama and Congress last year.
(The fiscal cliff was concocted as a doomsday machine for the economy to force both sides into a compromise by the end of the year. It’s sad that our political system is so broken that the only thing both parties could agree to was setting up a time bomb aimed at forcing themselves to behave after the election.)
President Obama swept the swing states, with the exception of North Carolina, and won 51 percent of the popular vote compared to Mitt Romney’s 48 percent. He interpreted the election as voters approving of his plan to end the Bush tax cuts for those who make more than $250,000 a year. The Democrats also gained seats in the U.S. Senate.
But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, points out that Republicans won the most U.S. House seats, all of which were up for election this year. (In an interesting twist, the Republicans actually lost the popular vote in the House nationwide, the fourth time a party has done so but still gained a majority of seats.)
Boehner says that’s a mandate for his approach, which echoes the Romney-Ryan economic plan - cut out loopholes and tax deductions, particularly for the wealthy, and reduce rates overall.
There’s a gray area here. For example, does Rep.-elect Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, have a mandate for his no-tax increases position? Fifty-three percent of voters in the 13th Congressional District voted for a candidate who favored raising taxes. Democrat David Gill favored raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, while independent candidate John Hartman favored the Simpson-Bowles plan, which also contained tax increases on the wealthy.
Davis campaigned as if he was running in a district with few minorities, college students and university employees, one more akin to the one held by his former boss, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, as right-wing an ideologue as we’ve ever seen. But Davis still won a plurality of the votes. What obligation does he have to temper his views to reflect the wishes of the majority?
These remain thorny questions because voters only vote for the man or woman on the ballot. There isn’t a set of subsequent questions to measure whether voters agree or disagree with their chosen candidates on each issue. There are plenty of people who voted based on whether a candidate supported abortion rights or gay rights and who couldn’t give a whit about the economy because their pocketbook happens to be fine.
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As much as the bases of both parties would like it, America does not have a winner-take-all parliamentary system where a party wins an election, enacts its agenda and voters decide whether they like the results at the next election. Because every House member and a third of the Senate face voters every two years, Americans have near-constant input into how they are governed.
While there were clear winners and losers, nobody won enough in the election to dictate terms to the other side.
If congressional Republicans and the president find a way to avoid the fiscal cliff, don’t expect either side to come away with a bargain with which they are particularly happy. The president probably will end up restructuring entitlement programs like Medicare more than he would like. The Republicans will have to swallow the wealthy paying a greater share of taxes, if not higher overall rates.
Any fool knows that’s how compromise works. It’s just too bad it took another election to get our representatives to start thinking about not acting foolish.
— GateHouse News Service