Chasing the bipartisan myth

Democrats must recognize that Republicans have rendered bipartisanship impossible

Over a year into the Obama presidency, the transformation of the American political system he sought in his historic campaign has not only remained elusive, but the gridlock and electoral posturing have amplified.
Much of this rests at the feet of a Machiavellian Republican Party, fixated on capturing and retaining power rather than solving problems. Blame should also be directed, however, at their Democratic enablers âÄî the President and Congressional leaders âÄî for chasing the myth of bipartisanship rather than fixating on creating good policy. Most Americans simply want an effective government that helps solve pressing problems and donâÄôt care a whit for daily procedural wrangling or how many members of which party support the policy. Simply put, bipartisanship for its own sake is not an inherent good. It depends upon good-faith negotiation and flexibility in means so long as ends can be agreed upon. By staking it out as a de facto requirement for major legislation, however, Democratic leaders gave effective veto authority to Republicans, who haven proven to be predictably intransigent. The RepublicansâÄô maximalist approach to opposition has centered on an unprecedented use of the Senate filibuster. Their refusal to allow up-or-down votes has spread to nearly every matter of business before Congress. Worse, countless proposals have been kept from a vote altogether by the mere threat of the filibuster. Despite RepublicansâÄô wishes, presidential elections with large electoral mandates really do have consequences, particularly when the same party holds legislative majorities in both chambers. Even so, Congress and the President extended extraordinary effort to include Republicans in policy-making and incorporated many of their ideas from the beginning, including heavily weighing the stimulus with tax cuts rather than direct spending. Throughout Congressional health care negotiations, Republicans were invited into a series of gangs, groups, and committees to try to hash out common ground, only for them to drop out one-by-one as the Tea Party protests grew and their base moved rabidly rightward. By feeding off of this vocal, hard-right minority, Republicans have painted themselves into a political corner where President Obama is portrayed as ushering in a Bolshevik revolution and trying to kill off grandma. And this is supposed to be the loyal opposition with whom to forge grand bipartisan compromises? Democratic leaders need to stop deluding themselves and move aggressively to tackle the countryâÄôs problems. In the greatest roadblock, the Senate, the Democratic caucus has proven up to the challenge of rigorous internal debate, with ideologies stretching from Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist from Vermont, to Jon Tester, a farmer from Montana, to PennsylvaniaâÄôs pro-life Bob Casey, and John Warner, a successful entrepreneur and former governor of Virginia, and many shades between and beyond. With their loss of a seat in Massachusetts, Senate Democrats should bypass Republicans and move toward passage of critical legislation via the reconciliation process, where a 51-vote simple majority is all thatâÄôs needed for passage. Reconciliation is a fairly standard procedure designed for use to balance the budget and reduce the deficit. Important components of the DemocratsâÄô agenda, from a public option to hold down health care costs to selling carbon credits in a cap-and-trade system, certainly serve these purposes. While they will no doubt howl in protest, RepublicansâÄô crocodile tears will be pure hypocrisy. They used reconciliation to pass four bills âÄî including massive tax cuts that expressly unbalanced the budget âÄî during the Bush administration. After they took control of Congress in 1995, Republican Senators also used reconciliation to pass much of their so-called âÄòContract with America.âÄô All told, reconciliation has been used 21 times since 1980. Ultimately, Democrats must stop fearing their own shadows, vigorously define issues, and push back against inflammatory, baseless opposition. They need to reframe the discussion around solving problems and getting things done. Selective âÄî and effective âÄî use of the Senate reconciliation process and ending the deification of bipartisanship for its own sake would advance that goal. RepublicansâÄô all-or-nothing approach has rendered them incapable of honest compromise. Kyle Weimann welcomes comments at [email protected]