Budget Stalemate: Any good news here?

I know it sounds crazy, but I’m actually starting to think the current budget stalemate in the nation’s capital has some positive sides. Where this battle ends up is anyone’s guess – and I hope it’s not with a government shutdown. But let’s look at the plus side of the ledger for a moment.

As I write this, the president and congressional leaders are meeting at The White House. It’s not clear if they will make progress. Until yesterday, it looked like a deal might happen. But, then, House Speaker John Boehner said of the Democrats’ latest offer, “I’ve made clear that their $33 billion is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors.”

Of course, to say the budget debate has turned ugly at times is an understatement. As I listen to many political leaders on both sides, I find myself shaking my head and asking, “Who are these people? And who gave them the right to hijack this debate for their own political gain?”

The extent to which many political leaders are taking an “all or nothing” position on budget matters – whether they’re in Washington, D.C., statehouses, or local municipalities – is wrong-headed and dangerous. As they dally about, and put their political goals first, they’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives. Their actions reflect a certain kind of self-centeredness – a belief in being all-knowing and in seeing themselves as the point of reference rather than the country itself.

Still, this growing impasse has some brave leaders on the “Right” who are putting forward various ideas in trying to find a solution (Boehner, Congressman Paul Ryan, and Senator Tom Coburn) and others on the “Left” as well (Senators Mark Warner and Chuck Schumer).

The “Gang of Six” in the U.S. Senate, made up of Republicans and Democrats may be the best collection of leaders in some time. During a recent radio interview, I heard Senator Saxby Chambliss, one of the most conservative members of this group say that all options must be kept on the table, including tax increases! He readily acknowledged that his conservative allies would not be too happy with his analysis.

In these individuals, we can see people trying to put forth reasonable ideas, all-the-while they take risks and attempt to honor their personal convictions. Their goal is not simply to cut a deal made up of make-believe cuts or to find the easiest solution, call it a day, and go on their merry way.

Indeed, there’s a kind of welcomed “accountability” that is slowly emerging form this stalemate. Part of this accountability is the push to craft a doable deal that delivers for the country. Another is a kind of give and take. And still another is to keep in check those on either extreme of the discussion – those who insist on an all or nothing solution – the “My way or the highway!” crowd.

The result of this growing dynamic is that it might actually prompt a genuine discussion about the nation’s priorities, the investments we believe moving forward are vital to make, and the supports we want to provide to the less fortunate among us. At issue is what kind of country we want to be.

As I type out these paragraphs, I can hear many of my colleagues and friends screaming at me, “What are you nuts?! There’s nothing positive here!”

But I don’t see possibility out of some naïve notion, or because I am wearing rose-colored glasses, or that I simply hold out “blind hope” that something good will emerge from the stalemate. Rather, it’s clear that we are in a tough bind, and I see that some leaders are stepping forward and making room for progress to occur. Maybe they’ll lead the way for others.

That’s at least some good news.