Hardcore Republicans and Democrats won't like this, but the rest of us could come down in a good place after last week's election. No one party can get its way in Washington because there is so much tension built into the new arrangement.
Democrats still control the White House. Republicans overwhelmingly control the House. And Democrats barely hung onto the Senate. This is a checks-and-balance heaven that could lead to a greater equilibrium in our policies. That's what happened when divided governments under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton led to bipartisan deficit reduction and both parties backed education reform under George W. Bush.
The White House can try to set the agenda, but the House Republican majority will keep that from happening. And neither party has the votes to ram legislation through the Senate.
As a result, each side at least must consider the other's priorities if lawmakers expect to pass anything. If we had such an arrangement the last two years, perhaps we could have gotten a health care bill that was adequately financed and that could better control costs.
With this new setup, we could re-do the financing and cost control parts. That's different from trying to rip up the entire bill, which would be a huge mistake for Republicans to try.
For one thing, the president won't approve killing his signature legislation. For another, if Republicans try to uproot the health care bill, they will unleash a series of paybacks that make the Borkization of judicial nominations look like child's play.
After Democrats tore into Ronald Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, Republicans turned around and tried to tear apart some Clinton nominees. Then Democrats went after George W. Bush's judicial selections. We now have a judicial appointment process largely driven by gotcha politics.
Think what would happen if Republicans tried to sink the entire health care bill. The next time Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, they would go after pet GOP causes with a vengeance. And Republicans would respond in kind when they got back on top. And then Democrats would ... well, you get the picture.
Payback, in perpetuity.
That doesn't mean some parts of this bill can't be reworked. The financing clearly needs more attention. About $500 billion of its $900 billion cost depends on Congress making cuts to Medicare. Legislators have shown zero interest in trimming Medicare so substantially.
It would be better to finance the bill through reducing the tax break that employers get for offering health care. That costs the treasury billions each year and creates a subsidy for larger employers.
Why not go down this route? Instead of washing away the entire bill, improve the parts that need it.
True, Washington's new triangular relationship could spark a partisan bloodbath. You wouldn't be crazy to put some money on that outcome.
But if those of us who are not solely in either camp keep pressing for action, as the tea party expertly did, we could box the partisans into a corner. They need our votes, after all.
And believe it or not, there are players who could work through this balance of power and reach compromises. New GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, along with such go-between senators as Republicans Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut know how to defuse tensions.
The place we need them most is on the deficit. The triangle won't allow Republican ideas about spending cuts or Democratic ideas about tax hikes to prevail. We will need some combination of changes to work ourselves out of a $13 trillion debt.
Washington's new arrangement won't satisfy those at party headquarters. But divided government could end up being a blessing.
William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.
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