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Tanner: Getting to Yes — the Case for a Centrist ‘Super Committee’

President Barack Obama’s signature is now dry on the hard-fought Budget Control Act of 2011. So where’s the victory lap? Where are the pundits jockeying to take credit?

The Budget Control Act was certainly hard-fought, but no one seems to be saying it was hard-won. Indeed, journalists and political observers across the country have noted that no one is clamoring to step to the microphone to claim victory — a sure sign that no one group, individual or political party feels as if it “won” anything.

Having served in the House for more than two decades and navigated a political minefield or two in my time, I can guarantee that few if any of my former colleagues sent out press releases proudly announcing their “yes” votes, using glowing words like “success,” “achievement” and “victory.”

Instead they penned carefully nuanced documents, gingerly explaining their position and the difficulty of the fiscal climate in which we are living to an electorate that had become increasingly hostile to the Congress in which they serve.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in the midst of the debt ceiling debate, two-thirds of the respondents indicated that their Representatives should vote for a compromise bill, even if it was one with which they disagreed. Not surprisingly, the electoral group that felt the strongest about compromise was the holy grail of voters — independents supported compromise by a rate of 72 percent. But clear majorities of both political parties favored a compromise solution, and they got what they wanted. No one’s happy about it, but compromise was the victor. Will it get to take a victory lap?

The key to compromise, and success, is the word “yes.” “Yes, we can agree to that.” “Yes, we can live with that.” America, and the rest of the world that relies on our economy, was saved from the brink of uncertain economic disaster not by partisan ideologues who wake up in the morning finding ways to say “no,” but by the coalition of brave moderate Democratic and Republican Members in the House and Senate who were intent on getting to “yes.”

Now we come to the part of the process where each side gets to pick its members for the “super committee.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) each select three members to serve on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, tasked with returning a legislative proposal to Congress by Thanksgiving that will accomplish the goal of an additional $1.5 trillion trim to the deficit, lest the trigger mechanism is invoked.

The goal of deficit reduction is one with which no one disagrees. Of course, each side has priorities it will vigorously fight to protect and has already claimed are non-negotiable, prematurely hogtying the opportunity for compromise.

Sadly, the partisan priorities that so deeply entrench the left and right wings of the political spectrum will be exactly the force that ends in failure of the super committee.

We already have seen signs that party leaders will go to their bases in selecting the participants of the super committee — people who are hidebound to their ideological beliefs, loyal to the party line, politically unwilling or unable to cross the aisle for a common-sense solution. My prediction, if this is the decision by the leadership, is that this effort will be in vain and we all lose.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The super committee does not have to result in an ideological standoff that will bankrupt our great country and only serve to waste America’s time and patience, leading to future angst in an already unsettled market.

We have dire problems to solve, and we will know how serious our leaders are about solving them when we see whom they appoint to tackle the deficit.

Our legislative leaders should take this crucial opportunity to throw partisanship out the window and appoint those in the sensible center to the super committee.

Qualified Members should have a track record of bipartisanship, be devoid of ideological and inflammatory rancor, and be willing to roll their sleeves up and take some big risks, trusting that the legacy of their Congressional service will be the return to black ink on our federal balance sheet.

If one does not believe in principled compromise, then how can one believe in democracy and freedom? Only in a dictatorship does one have his own way 100 percent of the time. That’s not a country where I or any American I know would want to live. For all of us, and those who will follow, let us look for a way to say “yes.”

Former Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) served in the House from 1989 to 2011. He is a member of the Blue Dog Research Forum board and vice chairman of the Prime Policy Group.

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