The American Constitution, a poorly-designed relic of the 18th century whose every imitator eventually fell apart, is designed to force compromise. Every two years the whole House of Representatives, and one-third of the Senate, is up for reelection — but the president is elected for four years. As a result, it is extremely common for one political party to control one or both branches of Congress while another controls the presidency.
So unless it's one of the rare moments of one-party control, parties have to come to some sort of compromise on key political questions to keep the basic functions of government rolling along. That situation has persisted for all but two years of Barack Obama's presidency, and it's been a terrific struggle.
The reason is that Republicans, and to a lesser extent Democrats, have forgotten what compromise even means. Instead of accepting that partial control of government means accepting tactical partial defeats, and trying to win enough elections to get the full run of things and implement their agenda, Republicans have behaved like a desperado in an action movie, constantly trying extremist tactics to stave off having to meet the other party halfway.
Exhibit A in this effort is ObamaCare, which has been the focus of frankly psychotic GOP hatred since the moment it passed. They have put forward more than 60 repeal bills, shut down the government in an attempt to defund it, and are currently preventing nearly three million of their own constituents from getting ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion — and laying waste to their own states' medical systems — out of sheer spite.
Now, several years into its operation, ObamaCare needs some legislative attention, like any gigantic jalopy bill with a bazillion moving parts. Several insurers have quit the ObamaCare exchanges — one, Aetna, in retaliation for the government rejecting its proposal to merge with another company — and so several rural places are going to be left without anyone offering insurance on their exchange in 2017 if nothing changes.
There are many fixes on offer for such a problem, from merging remote marketplaces with bigger ones to adding a public option to every exchange. Furthermore, most such places are conservative and Republican-governed. One might think this is an opportunity. Democrats can fix up their favorite law while Republicans preserve coverage for their constituents, perhaps with a few extra goodies to sweeten the deal.
Nope! Republicans came up with the same thing they always do, as Simon Maloy notes: a proposal to destroy ObamaCare thinly veiled as one to fix it. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) came up with a bill to repeal the individual mandate and set up some alternative subsidy system. Neither President Obama nor a future President Clinton would possibly agree to such a bill, as repealing the individual mandate would quickly destroy the exchange system.
It's understandable that Republicans would balk at allowing Democrats to fix their favorite thing (though again, it's mainly Republican constituents who would be materially helped here). But what about good old horse-trading? Lots of GOP priorities have been sitting on the back burner for years now. How about a corporate tax holiday? Or a break on the estate tax?
That would be a really queasy compromise for lefties, but it would set up the terms of negotiation on ground amenable to both parties. Instead of trying to force resolution on issues of fundamental disagreement, each faction gets a thing they actually want.
Why this doesn't happen anymore is an interesting question. Probably the biggest factor is the utter intellectual decadence of the Republican Party. Any Republican congressman who voted for such a bargain would inevitably be tarred as a vile RINO sellout and face an immediate primary challenge. Trying to explain "well, we don't control the presidency, so we accepted a tactical retreat in return for some concrete goodies, look at them, they're quite nice," would be drowned out by some Tea Party guy pulling a Medicare-bought oxygen tank and shouting, "He voted for a bad thing!!!"
That same process has badly eroded the strategic thinking — and indeed basic interest in legislation itself — of Republican congressmen. Today's breed of conservative congressman can't even be bothered to whip up a message budget bill; they'd much rather go on TV and shout about Benghazi.
And that has induced a sort of grim despair among Democrats, who end up just waiting for the inevitable Republican overreach and backtrack rather than trying to perform Legislation 101 with a pack of hyperactive children. But it's worth emphasizing we still have many very serious problems, and real bargains are still out there. All we need is a new Republican Party.