Time for Coalition Government in Washington

It Works Everywhere Else — Why Not Here?

By Barry Rascovar

October 2, 2013 — Coalition politics.

In Germany, it’s the norm. In Switzerland, “the Magic Formula” prevailed for 50 years.

It’s a common vehicle for governing in most other European nations as well as Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Ukraine, Ireland and Britain.

Why not coalition government in the United States?

Wikipedia defines it this way:

“A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate, reducing the dominance of any one party within that coalition. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament. A coalition government might also be created in a time of national difficulty or crisis. . . to give a government the high degree of perceived political legitimacy, or collective identity it desires while also playing a role in diminishing internal political strife.”

Gridlock in Washington

This might be the best, and possibly the only, way to resolve what is fast becoming an unresolvable impasse in the nation’s capital.

Republicans and Democrats are in gridlock. One controls the House, the other the Senate and White House. They can’t agree on a budget or almost anything else. They can’t even keep the government open.

House Speaker John Boehner caved in to the far right wing of his party and demanded capitulation from President Obama on healthcare reform in exchange for funding the government for another six weeks.

House Speaker John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner

What ransom demands come after that is anyone’s guess.

All this plays out with a looming Oct. 17 deadline for raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Reneging on U.S. IOUs could cause a financial meltdown. Yet it may happen.

There doesn’t seem to be an exit strategy. Government workers, meanwhile, have become pawns moved about the game board by each side.

Given this near-hopeless situation, it could be time to consider an American-style coalition government. Less ideologically extreme Republicans could strike an accord with pragmatic Democrats to form a ruling majority in the House of Representatives.

Boehner would remain speaker but without the Tea Party support that has turned him into an empty vessel as a leader. Instead, he’d stay in power with support from Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Each side would have to give a little and each side would have to put practicalities ahead of partisan warfare. They’d have to agree on a list of measures to jointly promote, such as immigration reform, and which measures to consign to the junk pile, such as the current effort to jettison Obamacare.

With Congress’ approval rating at 10 percent — and that’s before the government shutdown — the best way to win back public favor is to show you can actually solve problems in this country.

The Tea Party types want to dramatically shrink government and re-shape it in their conservative-libertarian image. Compromise is not in their dictionary.

Their problem is that they don’t have anywhere near the votes to run things. But they do have sufficient numbers to put Boehner’s speakership in jeopardy. He lacks the backbone to take on these absolutists and discipline them.

The House Speaker is fast running out of options.

A  Stark Choice

Democrats repeatedly have made it clear they aren’t going to yield to Republicans on the president’s bedrock achievement. There’s no room for negotiations.

Letting the federal government shut its doors isn’t a long-term answer for Republicans, either. Nor is refusal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Either step contains severe economic consequences for the United States. It could spark a second Great Recession.

So if Boehner wants to salvage his reputation, make it job secure, avoid endangering congressional Republicans in next year’s election and avert an economic meltdown, he should consider a Grand Coalition.

It works in most other democracies when the two major parties are at loggerheads. There’s no better time than now to try it out.