Hillary Clinton told the New York Times last year that she can be caught in front of the television watching Love It or List It. She has company, at least around our house. The HGTV series features Hilary Farr, a designer, and David Visentin, a realtor, competing for the affection of homeowners. Hilary remakes their current house. David searches for a new place to buy. In the end, the couple must answer the question: Will you love it or list it?

My wish recently has been that members of Congress spend part of the current recess watching the show. Although a product of Canada, the program amounts to a timely civics lesson for those of us south of the border.

Many on Capitol Hill like to equate running the country to operating a household, especially when the conversation turns to the federal budget. They breeze past the stark differences, for instance, the federal government now into its third century, with its own currency, plus the capacity to levy taxes and borrow money at low interest rates. Much of its debt the government owes to itself.

Watch Love It or List It, and you catch a look at what household decision-making really has in common with the business of the capital.

Almost invariably, the couple disagrees, one leans toward staying in their house, the other wants to move. Hilary and David receive their orders, say, add a bedroom, expand the kitchen, make the basement habitable, or find something larger, with additional bathrooms and an “open concept.”

Soon, the difficult choices arrive.

The contractors, Fergus and Eddie, or the bad news boys, make some alarming and costly discovery in the old house, a faulty heating system, a leaky foundation, ancient knob-and-tube wiring, all requiring big repair or replacement. Hilary must adjust the plan, the now glum owners giving up the master bedroom sanctuary to keep the updated kitchen.

David encounters the same, informing the couple that if they want something affordable that meets their wish list, they must abandon their favored neighborhood. All the participants clash, even sparks of anger and insulting words. In the end, they confront and make tough compromises. That goes for the couples, in particular, each usually getting part of a wish list, together embracing the possible.

This is how most households operate. No one gets their way entirely. It isn’t enough to stick with the subjects in which there is easy agreement. At some point, the couples swallow hard, weighing the disappointments against the achievements. It is an education in governing, or something done at home that Washington would do well to try.


Editorial page editor