Compromise is not a four-letter word
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Campaigns are for politics: Somebody runs for office and eventually gets a majority of the votes. There is usually no government shutdown because of an election; the people choose whom they want to govern (executive and legislative) and then expect them to do their jobs. The only compromise permitted is in the mind of the voter as he or she selects the better of two or more choices.


Legislatures, such as Congress, are designed to govern by majority vote, whether it be simple or super. If they fail, governments shut down — pure and simple. Governing in the U.S. is easy if you have 218 House votes, 60 Senate votes and a presidential signature. If not, compromise is necessary.

As Congress reconvenes in September, every member should be required to read Chris Matthews's book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, especially Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.) — and also President Obama. The 97th Congress convened with a 242 Democrat to 192 Republican majority in the House, a 53 Republican to 47 Democrat majority in the Senate, and a Republican in the White House. Our system worked then because our leaders knew it was their responsibility to make it work. The people had just voted for change in an election, and those of us who were elected felt the same way because of those voters. "Compromise" is not a four-letter word in establishing public policy. The alternative to compromise is dictatorship!

Former Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.) and I had our political differences, but he earned my sincere respect for how he led the House under the cards the people had dealt him. Same for President Reagan. They both believed in our system and understood their roles in making it work. As for me, I was a second-term Democratic congressman still learning the ropes, but I suddenly found myself in the role of seeking out the center on a lot of issues that the people of the 17th District of Texas had elected me to handle. They seemed to agree with my actions by reelecting me for 13 terms. Not all of my constituents, of course, but over 50 percent in every election. Right-wing Republicans in November and left-wing Democrats in the primary couldn't unseat me, but not for lack of effort. It eventually took an unconstitutional redistricting to defeat me, and unfortunately, this brand of politics is visible even to this day, as evidenced by the impasse in Washington.

As the 114th Congress reconvenes and begins to address some very important issues concerning the budget, appropriations, highways, the debt ceiling and Iran (to name just a few), it is important for the people and their elected representatives to remember simple math. Without 218, 60 and one, you cannot make things happen the way you want them to or keep them from happening in ways you do not support. With so little time to address so many very serious issues, it is critical that our leaders lead and that bipartisan coalitions and compromises be formed and supported.

Stenholm is a former U.S. representative from Texas, serving from 1979 to 2005. He is currently a senior policy adviser at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC.