In the Nation's Interest

Fiscal Responsibility Summit

The word "summit" was to some degree a misnomer for the White House event today, because this was not a gathering of decision makers tasked and empowered to change policy before leaving the room. Rather, it was a discussion among people of different minds to try to build the foundation for eventual agreement and compromise.

There were apparent differences of opinion on the event itself. Some Democratic attendees felt compelled to justify the effort to reach out, given the near-party-line votes on the recent stimulus bill. Some Republicans seemed to feel a need to justify their position on the stimulus to a President who had now invited them into his home and offered them fruit juices and soft drinks.

But this summit was never intended to cut a deal. Rather, it was an investment on the part of the President, and also on the part of his guests from the other side of the aisle. It gave the two sides the chance to hear each other acknowledge that the nation has an unavoidable budget problem. It allowed people to learn the extent to which their conceptions of possible solutions are shared. And perhaps after the sharp tones of the final stimulus debate, it helped to cut the partisan tension just a bit.

On one conclusion there was consensus: The nation has a problem much bigger than deciding how to spend $789 billion. When it comes time to address the looming budget deficit and debt problem, there will need to be compromise between the parties. To achieve compromise, there must be a reservoir of trust. Perhaps the President began to build that reservoir today; perhaps not. But for certain, he had to try. That was the purpose and the worth of the fiscal responsibility summit.

 

This column was originally featured in The Hill.

STAY UP TO DATE