Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Washington must learn compromise is not a dirty word

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
  • Roland Martin says those in Washington must learn to play well with others
  • He says debt ceiling calls for compromise, not digging in of heels
  • Both sides need to give something for the good of the nation, he says

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- When Congressional Republicans, egged on by the boisterous voices of the tea party, vigorously objected to President Barack Obama signing a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia in December, GOP stalwarts were called in to explain why it was necessary to support the effort.

By having the secretaries of state under Republican presidents weigh in, GOP critics couldn't just lay the blame at the feet of Obama without having to trample the integrity of Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz and James A. Baker III.

Once they publicly came out for the treaty and were photographed in the White House, the momentum shifted and the treaty was approved.

No matter how principled someone may be when they come to Washington, they are going to have to learn how to play along with others. That's the rule in the sandbox, and it should be the same rule in Congress.

But we have become a nation where the strong ideologies that the left and right clutch to for dear life don't allow for middle ground. In fact, if you even broach the idea of compromising, activists on both sides will tear you to shreds and make it hard for you to even win a primary.

As a result, we have elected mercenaries to Congress who aren't interested in the well-being of all Americans, just a sliver of the voting public that sent them to the nation's capital. They play to the activists who raise money and turn out en masse at rallies.

The ongoing debate over the debt ceiling is a prime example of this unwillingness to consider an alternative viewpoint that could avert a crisis.

On one side, Democrats didn't want the GOP, or even President Obama, going near entitlement programs as a part of deficit reduction. When the president put those on the table in his negotiations with Republicans, Democrats revolted in anger. Social Security and Medicare have long been strong political rallying points for the Democrats, and they want to keep that edge.

President Obama made clear that revenues had to be a part of any plan. The Congressional Budget Office has been clear that the Bush tax cuts contributed $3.3 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. Talk to conservative activists, TV pundits and members of Congress, and they swear that it isn't true. But it is. Facts simply aren't debatable.

So instead of confronting cuts that adversely affect the national debt, House Republicans saw that as a nonstarter, refusing to allow revenues to be a part of any debt ceiling deal. As a result, Obama's grand plan of a $4 trillion deal was shot down, but Speaker of the House John Boehner's plan came to slightly less than $1 trillion. And fiscal conservatives are happy?

The reality is that President Obama is a Democrat; Republicans control the House, Democrats control the United States Senate. If we are going to move this country forward, both sides can push their perspectives as hard as possible. But unless we stop treating the word "compromise" as a dirty word, we will have endless partisan fights that make ideologues feel good but leave the nation in a worse state than before.

The House has passed Boehner's plan. Senate Republicans are expected to eventually allow the Senate to take up Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid's debt plan. The plans are very different. Let's pray that both parties don't dig in their heals and instead learn to give a little. Otherwise, the nation's credit is jeopardized, and those already hit by the recession will be plunged even further into the economic abyss.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.