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HOW BUSINESS IS DONE 4 May 2017 PDF  | Print |  E-mail


4 May 2017

Dear Friends and Patriots,

                It seems far too few people in the media and even in Congress understand President Trump.  His ways seem strange to those who are not properly schooled.  Indeed, one might need a degree in business from a reputable university to comprehend what he means when he talks about negotiating “better deals.”  He knows what he’s talking about, but Congress has a hard time with it.  Congress doesn’t practice “The Art of the Deal.”  They practice a different art, the art of compromise.

                I’ve written to you before about compromise.  You know I’m not in much of a mood for it, and think it’s done nothing over the history of our nation except to weaken it.   The reasons I believe it is so are found in definitions.  Once again, I turn to my wonderful Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition for answers.  This is what it informs me:

Compromise, def:  1.  a settlement in which each side gives up some demands or makes concessions.  2. a)  an adjustment of opposing principles, systems, etc. by modifying some aspects of each.  b)  the result of such an adjustment.  3.  something midway between two other things in quality, effect, etc.  4.  a)  exposure, as of one’s reputation, to danger, suspicion, or disrepute.  b)   a weakening, as of one’s principles.

Negotiation, def:  1.  a negotiating.  2.  a conferring, discussing, or bargaining to reach agreement.

Do you see the problem?  It should be clear, but perhaps it isn’t.  There’s a vast difference between a compromise and a negotiation.  That’s my problem with it.  I think like a business person, not like a politician.

Definition 1.  of ‘compromise’ informs that both parties in a settlement give up something, or yield in some way.  Definition 3. indicates a truth in that it implies something in between.  A compromise gives a solution that’s not as bad as it could be, but not as good, either.  It’s somewhere midway in “quality, effect, etc.”   When you think of it, because both sides supposedly “give up” something, the implication is both lose.  Instead of both gaining, neither does.  That’s how Congress works.  They believe the best solution is one that doesn’t please either side; one that’s midway in quality or effect.  In other words, the best compromise solution is the one that hurts all sides the least.   That’s the story they want us to believe.  It’s actually as phony as the day is long.  The claims on both sides of the aisle are always suspect, whether good or bad.  Most Congressmen are skilled actors, and we are their paying audience.  Somehow they’ve managed to convince a lot of Americans that this whole idea of compromise is okay.  I say it’s not.

                The biggest problem is in definition 2. a)  and also in 4. b).  They tell the truth.  Often compromise involves the sacrifice of principle.  That’s where our representatives do what we often refer to as a “sell-out.”  Take the Republicans who will swear they believe in balanced budgets, but will vote every time for budgets that incur massive deficits.  The principle is simple.  No individual, concern, or government should spend over and above their income.  Budgets should balance.  The only time they shouldn’t is in times of extreme national need.  Otherwise, debt and deficits should be seriously constrained and avoided.  Yet, our Congress struggles every year to find clever accounting tricks to hide spending and make our nation’s balance sheet look better than we all know it is.  This is the sacrifice of one principle.  When you get into legislative language to see what all the spending if for – that’s where many, many principles are cast to the wind.

                Now, compare compromise with negotiation.  When you look at the definition above it doesn’t seem to tell you much.  Like many word in the dictionary you end up looking for the key word that unwraps the mystery.  In the case of ‘negotiation’ the key word is ‘bargain.’   I won’t trouble you with the various aspects of the definitions, but will fix on the most important.

Bargain, def:  1. a mutual agreement or contract in which the parties settle on what should be given or done by each.  4.  something offered, bought, or sold at a price favorable to the buyer.

So, negotiating is conferring and discussing to reach a mutual agreement or contract, right?  What makes that any different from compromising?  The answer may lie in the other part of the definition, the part about “a price favorable to the buyer.”  The “buyer” in this case is us – the taxpayers.  After all, it’s us who pay for everything.  The government creates no wealth; we do.  We surrender part of our wealth in the form of taxes, and our representatives get together to decide what the nation’s spending priorities and levels will be.  Then, they appropriate tax money from the ledgers of the Treasury and apply it to those ends.  If the representatives do their jobs well, the taxpayers (the buyers) will get something of value at a price that’s favorable.  But, that doesn’t happen very often.  It doesn’t because most Congressmen end up not worrying about a bargain that favors the taxpayer.  Instead, they worry about getting some of what they think we want and often to get it they compromise on one or more principles.

                Deal-making in Congress is often referred to as horse trading.  It’s not, really.  In horse trading people try to assess the value of the horse offered by another compared with the horse they have up for trade.  If one party has a mare that has a bit of age on her he may decide she’s worth an average two-year old unproven and green colt and try to trade for one.  If he succeeds one party gets a mare that might bear two or three more foals, while the other party gets a younger horse with the potential to fill one of several needs.  Both parties can be satisfied with the bargain, and both understand the risks they took.  Congress doesn’t work like that at all.  It’s not about equivalence.  It’s about “the game.” 

Consider this scenario.  One Congressman wants new bridge in his district to replace one that’s 40 years old, but otherwise perfectly adequate.  Another wants a new airport terminal building because the current one is 50 years old and looks it.  Both may want the new immigration reform bill that just reported out of committee, but that doesn’t mean either will vote for it.  This is the point where principles may be abandoned for the sake of getting something that has no broad base of support.  When the party whip comes around asking how either Congressman intends to vote on the upcoming immigration reform bill both may respond that they haven’t made up their mind.  The whip will ask what will help them.  That’s when the principle goes out the window.  Even though both Congressmen are in absolute agreement on the new reform bill they are more likely to try to “sell” their vote to gain support for their pet projects, the bridge and the airport terminal.  They’ll tell the whip they aren’t so sure they like the way the new bill is conceived, but instead of proposing changes or amendments, they’ll respond that if the whip can help generate sufficient support for their district’s need, then they might see their way clear to vote “YES” on the immigration bill.  That places the onus on the whip.  If his count on the immigration bill is close, or he’s short, he may roam around the halls of Congress, buttonholing all the members of his party to pitch the need for the bridge and the airport terminal.  He won’t necessarily tell anyone why he’s doing it, but he doesn’t need to.  There’s enough people in Congress on any given day who are playing the same game they all know two Congressmen have decided to hold the immigration reform bill hostage until or unless they believe they have a deal.  It’s likely there are dozens of such “deals” being worked for every floor vote of significance in every convening of Congress.

When you examine the previous paragraph in light of the definition of compromise you should get a better idea of what’s wrong in Congress.  They don’t really horse trade, because they have little to no personal risk.  Their constituents are the ones with the skin in the game, but most Congressmen know few of their folks back home pay much attention at all.  They know they can bring home a little bacon and be safe in their district.  It’s only a matter of what lengths they have to go to in order to get that bit of bacon.  Bills of national interest and media exposure are where they have the greatest opportunity to get what they want to secure their own positions.  Their votes have a price, but because of the way the game is played, it’s not a true negotiation, but a compromise.  There is a quid pro quo, but sometimes the quid is dramatically more valuable than the quo.  The value of a good immigration reform bill is huge in comparison to a bridge or an airport terminal.  It would appear that the “asking price” to guarantee that immigration bill is very small; hardly a true betrayal of principle at all.  But, when there are dozens and dozens of Congressmen playing the game simultaneously the “asking price” is compounded many times over.  The cost to implement the immigration bill alone may be known, but the added cost of all the “asks” is never added to it.  They become bills of their own, regardless of their actual merit, and many of them make it through the legislative process unchallenged.   This is what is meant by “making the sausage.”  Most people think the reference is to the tortuous path a bill takes before it has its final vote, but that’s only part of it.  The real meat in the sausage is from all the ancillary agreements made to get the vote secured.  The final bill is tainted by all the compromises made along the way to its passage.  The aftermath is a glut of relatively small bills that pay the price for the votes cast.  It’s a system that’s perverse and wasteful.

If you wonder the “why” of this rant, it has to do with those two terms, compromise and negotiate.  If Congress stopped compromising and started negotiating in the best interests of the voters, we’d see a huge change in how things get done.  We’d see them able to achieve financial discipline for once.  We’d see a Congress that runs more on principles than on backroom deals.

During the presidential campaigns last year Donald Trump often railed on about the bad deals American was party to and the bad negotiations that have put the country in dire economic straits.  He didn’t use the word ‘compromise.’  Businessmen negotiate with other businessmen as a matter of course.  Each has a legitimate vested interest in the outcome.  Each has skin in the game.  Negotiations on big projects work almost the same as those on a far smaller scale.  It’s all about the best possible position of each party to ensure the desired outcome of the project under consideration.  Donald Trump built hotels.  To do so he had to negotiate with architects, labor contractors, steel and concrete companies, equipment vendors of all kinds, interior decorators, various trade unions, local commissions and politicians, the US Army Corps of Engineers, state EPA, local law enforcement, and a host of other entities who have a legitimate, if not vested, interest in his projects.  In every case Donald Trump, as well as any other businessman, had to keep the final objective firmly fixed and not relent on any principle involved in seeing a project through to completion. 

Two Trump principles that have been observed regard timelines and budgets.  Trump liked his projects to finish on time or early and he wanted them on or under budget.  That’s probably going to be a continuing sore spot with him in dealing with Congress.  Congress pays far more attention to their vacations than to the legislative schedule.  They set their own agendas, and to Trump it probably looks like a lot of slack is built in.  Trump is not about slack.  He’s about performance.  His greatest challenge is in getting Congress to tighten up their act and learn how to perform.  That’s actually where we come in.

If I had my way the word ‘compromise’ would be banned from use in government.  Trump is right.  We need to win.  Instead of ‘compromise’ the word should always be ‘negotiate’ and the goal of all negotiations should be the best possible outcome for the citizens, not the “best bad” but the “best good.”  Maybe if Congress could learn they’d see their popularity rating go into double digits.

When President Trump refers to “the swamp” a part of it is this game of compromise.  We should hope he can teach them how to do better.  But, at the same time we have to understand Congress didn’t get this way overnight.  They probably started down the road to their present, nearly dysfunctional state, in the 1st Congress.  They’ve allowed themselves to evolve into a body that pretends more than acts in the interests of the people.  They’ve adopted rules and declared traditions that are more meant to exercise control over party members than to get their legislative jobs done.  They’ve contrived an elected royal class that enriches themselves at taxpayer expense and does their jobs so poorly our nation will probably never be out of debt within the lifetime of any citizen born today.

The main takeaway is that Congress routinely violates all principles they pretend to espouse.  As a body Congress is amoral, if not immoral, in the way they conduct the business of the people.  We should demand an end to this travesty of compromise and further demand that our representatives declare their guiding principles, then hold them personally to account for following them.  We should communicate to them our expectation that they negotiate, but not compromise.  They should seek “the win” and not the best loss.   When they win, they win for us all.  When they compromise and lose, the real losers are us.  I’m not sure about you, but I know I’m tired of always being a loser.  If our nation is to be “great again” Congress has to understand how to win for us.  Today, they don’t have a clue.  It’s our job to tell them.

In Liberty,