Thursday, July 31, 2014

Common sense plentiful -- and so rare -- July 31, 2014 column


Common sense is the mantra of the moment in the nation’s capital.

The other day, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio accused Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada of “making a deceitful and cynical attempt to derail the House’s common-sense solution” on dealing with the border crisis.

Almost every group from President Obama and proponents of gun control to those who think fast-food restaurants shouldn’t have to list their calorie counts seek support by appealing to “common sense.”  

But as members of Congress -- Democrat or Republican – present their legislative proposals as common sense, likely as not an opposing Republican or Democrat quickly will warn that the proposal is anything but.

Common sense is something we used to assume all Americans have. Since Thomas Paine published his famous “Common Sense” pamphlet in January 1776 and sparked a revolution, we’ve been enamored of plain talk and level-headedness.

That paragon of American inventiveness Thomas Alva Edison said the three great essentials to achieving anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.

Last Wednesday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced a bill to “restore common sense to the classification and security system.”

Most people didn’t know that more than 5 million people hold security clearances and that the system is cumbersome, costly and potentially intrusive. Call in common sense reform!

In 2010, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) introduced the first new rules in nearly 40 years for heavy equipment operators. The White House called the rules a “common sense approach to cranes, derricks and the safety of American construction workers.” After complaints, OSHA later agreed to delay the certification period for operators until 2017.

Many people thought that the time for “common sense” gun control had come after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. And yet, the proposal to require background checks for all gun sales has languished on Capitol Hill. 

On July 10 in Austin, Tex., President Obama reviewed his campaign-year agenda -- reforming immigration policy, expanding early-childhood education and launching bridge and highway construction projects. 

“They are commonsense things,” he said. “They’re not that radical. We know it’s what we should be doing. And what drives me nuts – and I know drives you nuts – is Washington isn’t doing it.”

The president put his finger on something. Just because you tie your idea to the wings of the bird of common sense doesn’t mean it will fly. Most so-called common sense proposals never get off the ground.

Which brings us to one word that’s rarely mentioned in connection with common sense: compromise. Most people would agree that compromise is part of common sense, but it’s in short supply in the capital. 

 Perhaps we all should take a lesson from Andre Davis, senior judge in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. wrote

The court upheld in the July 22 King v. Burwell decision tax credit subsidies for people who buy health insurance on federally-run health exchanges through the Affordable Care Act. At issue: whether Congress had intended to limit subsidies to people in states that ran their own exchanges, excluding states where the exchanges are run by the federal government.

Davis wrote in his concurring opinion:

“If I ask for pizza from Pizza Hut for lunch but clarify that I would be fine with a pizza from Domino’s, and I then specify that I want ham and pepperoni on my pizza from Pizza Hut, (and) my friend who returns from Domino’s with a ham and pepperoni pizza (she) has still complied with a literal construction of my lunch order.

 “That is this case.”

There’s common sense in action.
©2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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