Great political compromises

In 1964, a civil rights bill proposed by congressional Democrats was opposed by Republican senators and led to one of the longest filibusters in Senate history. Eventually, Majority Leader Hubert Humphrey, second from left, reached out to his Republican counterpart Sen. Everett Dirksen, second from right, to put an end to the debate. The bill passed nine days later.

Bipartisanship is a cause basically every politician pledges his or her support for, but how many actually succeed at it? We all love principled, unwavering politicians who stand firm in their ideals, and we love to hate on those spineless moderates and sellouts who give in to the opposition. But could it be that it is precisely because we demand this of our leaders that compromises have become so hard? In this climate, sometimes the moderates are the real heroes. It takes more courage to defy your own party than to resist the opposition. In that spirit, here are some examples of great political compromises:

1787: “The Great Compromise”

In debating the details of how a new create a self-governing country that would become the Constitution, representatives from large, populous states claimed that number of representatives in the congress should be based on the amount of people in each state, so states with more people should have more representation than states with less people. Representatives from small states rejected any plan that gave bigger states an advantage. They demanded that every state be represented equally.

Delegates were so intensely divided over the difficult idea of representation in congress that the very topic threatened to end the Constitutional Convention. No constitution would mean no federal government and each state for itself, a prospect that defiantly would not end well.

t was Connecticut’s well-respected Roger Sherman who proposed a compromise: There would be to houses of congress, a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate would have equal representation which each state sending two senators, and the House of Representatives would have proportional representation.

In American history, this became known now as “the Great Compromise.”


1945: Senator Vandenberg’s Bipartisan Foreign Policy

More recently than the constitutional convention, while Americans were fighting overseas in World War II, many congressional Republicans were increasingly wary of a lengthy American involvement in Europe after the war ended. Among these isolationists, Michigan Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg was the unofficial spokesman. But seeing Democrats and Republicans growing increasingly polarized about America’s role in the world while recognizing the threat a remilitarized Germany and Japan might pose, Vandenberg was moved to address the Senate in 1945, declaring that no country could “immunize itself” from the rest of the world. Vandenberg offered his cooperation to FDR in post-war planning that eventually encompassed America’s role in both the United Nations and NATO. Years later, Vandenberg summed up his view of bipartisan foreign policy: “In a word, it simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage.” Politics, he famously said, “stops at the water’s edge.”


1977: The Food Stamp Program

The United State’s first Food Stamp program—the government assistance plan to provide food to the needy—was created during the Great Depression but phased out in 1943 when it was no longer needed. When the Kennedy Administration reintroduced a pilot test of the program in the early 1960s, it was not universally welcomed back, a division that only increased when the Johnson Administration made the program a permanent part of its “Great Society” a few years later. Though it was a federal assistance program, it was run by the states, which, backed by Republicans in Congress, worried about the administrative costs associated with the rapidly growing program. As various bills were introduced in the 1970s to control costs and refine the eligibility requirements of the burgeoning program, Democratic supporters began to worry too many obstacles were being put in front of families who needed help. But in 1977, Republican Senator Bob Dole and Democratic Senator George McGovern joined forces to support a bipartisan compromise intended to address both sides’ concerns: control costs by more tightly focusing eligibility requirements to the truly needy while also streamlining the program’s purchase processes. In the end, the two senators convinced their colleagues that the legislation they supported could achieve both Democratic and Republican goals—and the 1977 Food Stamp Act became law.

1996: Welfare Reform

Despite a bitterly divided government in 1996, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law one of the most sweeping changes to the country’s welfare system. Welfare programs had long been a political dividing line between liberals and conservatives, but by 1996, the threat of intergenerational dependency on government welfare was clear to members of both parties. The Congress, working with the White House, walked a tightrope that made welfare opponents and supporters alternately elated and enraged. Work requirements and child support enforcement were strengthened (a Republican goal), while spending on education and child care was increased (a Democratic goal). Years later, President Clinton wrote that “I was widely criticized by liberals who thought the work requirements too harsh and conservatives who thought the work incentives too generous.” But sometimes, that’s what compromise is.

2014: Indiana Medicaid

When Medicaid, a federal program that provides medical services for the poor, was expanded in 2014 under Obamacare many conservatives vowed to stand and fight. But the governor of Indiana, future Vice President Mike Pence reached a compromise that Politico says “has emerged as a national model” and “confounds expectations”

The compromise created a system where Medicaid patients pay a very small fee, $25 at most, for Medicaid. This ensured that the service would not be abused, and that patients would be responsible with the free care. According to “By all accounts, the expansion — known as the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 — has made a difference. Health officials in Scott County, Ind., a poverty-stricken community about 30 miles from Louisville, Ky., paint a picture of a program that’s bolstered a patchy social safety net — especially during a major HIV outbreak triggered by the opioid epidemic — without bankrupting the Hoosier State or punishing enrollees.” “I feel that it has been a good success,” said Dawn Sanders, an outreach worker for Covering Kids & Families of Indiana, a statewide consumer group working in Scott County. “It’s working.”

Now, Seema Verma, a Pence ally who helped design the program has been tapped by President Trump to run the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and now has the power to give states greater flexibility to reshape their own programs according to conservative principles.


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