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To avoid fiscal cliff, Obama and GOP should compromise like Founding Fathers (+video)

President Obama and John Boehner express optimism that a budget deal to avoid the fiscal cliff will be reached, but gridlock threatens. Politicians would do well to remember that America was established by men who sorely disagreed. Consider the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

COMMENTARY: Harvard Kennedy School Professor Linda Bilmes discusses the US national debt and deficits.
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Looming weeks away is America’s “fiscal cliff.” President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are both optimistic that a deal on spending cuts and taxes can be reached. But Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the former bipartisan deficit commission, says there’s only a one-third chance Washington will reach an agreement in time to avoid the fiscal precipice.

What Washington seems to have forgotten is that America was established by men who disagreed sorely, but created a government founded on the philosophy that varying views could be coalesced for the common good. As challenging as these modern issues are, consider the questions grappled with by the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The delegates were faced with deciding the composition of the House and Senate, the method of electing the president, the structure and jurisdiction of the federal courts, and whether to count slaves for the purpose of representation and taxation. They had to agree on a tariff policy, the slave trade, the assumption of state debts, the admission of new states, the procedure for amending the Constitution, the control of the militia, and restrictions upon the states, and general relationship of the national and state governments.

A majority quickly decided that the Articles of Confederation (the precursor agreement to the Constitution) needed to be replaced by a new document that ensured a stronger national government. But there were conflicting opinions over how the new government should look. This was to be expected given the divergent economic and geographic circumstances of the states the delegates represented. On many of these issues, a resolution came only after a long and bitter debate. The Constitution was born only after a series of imaginative compromises were agreed upon.


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