Politics & Media
Feb 05, 2009, 08:08AM

Sinking Bipartisanship

What's the point of bipartisanship when both parties (particularly Republicans) are acting as juvenile as possible? (Correction appended)

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Photo by truello

During the campaign I took to heart President Obama’s message of looking toward bipartisanship as a means to an end, the ideal end resulting in better governing. No one was going to simply stand in the middle of the aisle, throw his or her arms out, and bring Democrats and Republicans into a self-congratulatory huddle on day one, or day 1,095, for that matter. But it can’t be overstated that the current climate in DC has been, for many years, one of entrenchment and gridlock. That’s part and parcel of a two-party system, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating all the time.

There are cracks in the President’s veneer of change he championed on the campaign trail. A friend and colleague of mine was quickly disillusioned with the Administration, and we proceeded to trade off news clips: She started with the unilateral strike within Pakistan’s borders (which Obama had said he’d do), I countered with the lifting of the Gag Rule; she came back with the hiring of a Pentagon lobbyist to a key post, I responded with the signing of the Lily Ledbetter Act. For all the talk of Obama’s “team of rivals,” it seems that Sen. Judd Gregg, President Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary (to replace embarrassed New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who in hindsight was the tip of President Obama’s troubled-nomination iceberg), is the only Republican in a major position in the administration one of three Republican appointees (which pretty much negates this point).

The domino display of Obama’s pending appointees’ tax problems was and is both grueling and embarrassing. This really couldn’t be a worse time to not pay the government what you owe. We’ll probably never know if Obama talked to former Sen. Tom Daschle and asked him to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Nevertheless, Obama had to look American in the eye of a camera and say, “I screwed up.”

That mea culpa, in and of itself, is a break from the politics of the last eight years. So was Obama’s trips to the Hill to negotiate terms on the stimulus package that, despite a good chunk of tax cuts, didn’t garner a single Republican vote in the House.

A more intolerant liberal than I could argue, “Well, Obama could have put together a package that had no tax cuts and was all domestic spending and we’d have the same result.” That might be true, but, like Daschle stepping down, the Obama Administration needs to practice what it preached.  It has, and the Republicans are quite possibly digging themselves into an even deeper hole than they were before.

No one in his or her right mind believes a perfect bill is going to be passed that saves the economy in a year and we can all go back to our fat, over-consuming lives. Obama’s stimulus bill is a hodge-podge of short- and long-term initiatives. And that’s because it’s not just about tax cuts; it’s not only focused on spending; it doesn’t ignore health care and environmental initiatives.

Take a look at this mild tantrum of an op-ed from The Wall Street Journal (which is only getting snottier by the week):

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with an apparently recession-proof cash hoard, is running radio ads against 28 House Republicans. The theme of the ads is "Putting Families First."
Families first? The only family standing at the front of the stimulus pay line is the federal family. Read the bill.
Check your PC's virus program, then pull down the nearly 700 pages of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Dive into its dank waters and what is most striking is how much "stimulus" money is being spent on the government's own infrastructure. This bill isn't economic stimulus. It's self-stimulus.

The op-ed goes on to turn up its nose at the thought of the Fed spending money on itself (because God forbid our government takes the initiative to bring its buildings and property up to a 21st century, environmentally sound standard, which would save billions of dollars annually). Overall, the various expenses the op-ed deems frivolous add up to a few notches below $30 billion. Thirty billion dollars comes out to a whopping three percent of the now $900-plus-billion dollar package. Just as Republicans scream to high heaven when they see any mention of condoms, the WSJ is pulling a “gotcha!” on an irrelevant point and patting itself on the back.

This isn’t the President’s fault. You can’t change people’s stubborn views, only show them a better way. But I don’t think Obama and the Democratic Party should tack hard to the left on this bill or even on future bills because the Republicans are too arrogant, too blind and too ideological for their own good. I still hold Obama to his word that it’s time to ease some of the bitterness from our politics. Republicans bring home the bacon with divisive politics, but that will only keep them spiraling, as the Democratic majority isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Senate Republicans were able to stick their $15,000 housing credit into the bill. The credit gives 15 large to anyone who purchases a new home—despite the fact that their previous home isn’t going to rise in value anytime soon, and despite the fact that if either spouse loses their job in this economy that credit becomes irrelevant. One hopes that credit gets dropped in the final package, but you can’t blame the attempts at bipartisanship from the President and his party. This bill is starting to reflect the shades of gray in our two-party political system—and it also needs to be passed, and passed soon.

The Democratic Party is already running ads in the districts of those House members who voted against the bill, which seems a little soon to my eye but that’s how politics work. The Republicans need to figure out just what it is they can expect to get out of this bill, as it will be a bellwether for what they can expect out of this Administration.


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