The cake of compromise

Americans got their cake and ate it, too, in Washington this week. Employed Americans will pay the government less. The government will pay unemployed Americans more. All the while, the deficit gets bigger and the dollar gets smaller.

Most people, myself included, want the national debt curbed by spending cuts not higher taxes (see John Zogby’s recent poll on the presidential debt commission report). We applaud keeping taxes low. We question the additional entitlements. It feels like we’ve been force fed the cake of compromise.

We’re a “both / and” society, not “either / or.” We want both career and family. Both athletics and academics. Both marriage and mistress. Restraint just ain’t in our vocabulary. “Working vacations” is.

Peggy Noonan: “The American people are philosophically opposed to big government but have become operationally insistent on it.”

It’s the ole “I hate congress but I love my congressman” irony. It is here where St. Augustine speaks for us all, “Lord, grant me chastity and continence but not yet.”

Hubris, the pride of life, causes each of us to overextend at times. The trick is cutting the superfluous, the extra-curricular, the urgent but not important, before it cuts you.

There will come a time in every overloaded family, in every double-minded man, in every schizophrenic government, when something’s gotta give. The dam won’t hold. Natural laws will prevail. Natural laws like you can’t both spend all your money and have money in the bank.

Or like you can’t print new money and have the old money be worth the same.

What if an umpire awarded extra strikes to batters at will? Competitive players would become less interested, less motivated. The extra strikes would cheapen the game, exactly what “quantitative easing” (i.e., printing money) does to the dollar.

A better approach is to let the chips fall where they may. A strike, like a dollar, is a chance. If you miss or lose a chance, the answer is to learn from it, practice harder and be ready for the next one. The answer is not to modify the rules of play.

Thankfully, the State of Texas doesn’t have the luxury of D.C.-style deficit spending. It must balance its budget every two years.

And thankfully, Texas House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts understands the message sent by voters last month. Regarding the multi-billion dollar tax revenue shortfall facing the state next year, we’re not raising taxes; “we’re making huge cuts.” If only it were so in D.C.

In a conflict between philosophy and operations, operations wins, much like deeds trump intentions when the two don’t align. It matters little that I’m philosophically opposed to fast, fatty foods if I’m operationally insistent on the drive-thru window.

Kevin Thompson is a former chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives and is now vice president of Texas Heritage Bank. He can be reached at

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