Moreover, negotiating tends to prod each side to indicate which demands it really cares about. In the fiscal year 2011 negotiations, for example, it became clear Democrats cared more about funding Planned Parenthood than Republican did in defunding it. So Democrats had to agree to additional cuts in order to keep money flowing to the nation's leading abortion provider.
Some labor-management contracts have provisions to avoid such showdowns. One approach is to require both sides to submit an offer and let the arbitrator choose one or the other -- but not something in the middle. The idea is to give an incentive to both sides to make modest and reasonable demands rather than set out a maximalist position and hope the arbitrator splits the difference.
This works in some situations. But it's hard to set up a procedure that can bind officials separately and independently elected by the people.
The ultimate arbitrators are American voters. The Constitution enables them to choose the political players in a variety of ways.
So in 2006 and 2008 they chose Democrats, and thanks to the Constitution's four- and six-year terms, Democrats have a firm hold on the White House and a tenuous majority in the Senate.
In 2010 they chose Republicans, and thanks to the Constitution's two-year terms, they have a solid hold on the House of Representatives.
The Constitution establishes not a single united government but an arena for conflict. The Founders expected the House, the Senate, the president and the courts to disagree, and they hoped the net result of those conflicts would be good governance.
What we're watching is not children bickering but adults with sharply different ideas trying to shape public policy as much as they can. It's not squabbling, it's democracy.
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