For some period after every election we like to hear about, talk about, read about, and write about that wondrous notion, bipartisanship. Of course, not long after the dust settles (and the last loser gives up the last recount lawsuit), bipartisanship becomes a lost, lamentable notion of a better time. The hue and cry for cooperation has gone up again this year, and all of the usual suspects have embraced the challenge. But what happened last time?
President Obama spent his entire first term in search of bipartisanship, the liberal blogosphere spent his entire first term criticizing his search for bipartisanship, and conservatives spent his entire first term accusing the President of walking away from bipartisanship. There are some who say there is a fundamental disagreement on what bipartisanship is, and the disagreement isn’t ending soon. If it is fundamental, it is a one-sided disagreement. With one exception, every piece of legislation passed in the last 20 years that featured any partisan conflict has been resolved and passed with Democrats making all of the concessions.
Conservatives, you may argue the point, but only for effect. You know it to be true, and you are happier for the knowledge. The simple fact is that conservatives have convinced liberals, for years, that to be reasonable one must be less liberal. With the notable exception of Lilly Ledbetter, everything passed during the Obama Presidency has had a decidedly conservative tilt. Let’s take a look at the various policy issues.
- Defense spending- Compromise? Yes, President Obama and the Democrats compromised by raising defense spending by 19.7% over the last 4 years.
- Health care reform- Compromise? Yes, in an issue that existed on both party platforms in 2008, President Obama compromised by passing (over universal Republican obstruction) a law identical in almost every respect to the bill proposed by Republican John Chaffee in 1993 as an alternative to the Clinton Plan.
- Taxes- Compromise? Yes, Democrats and the President have compromised by allowing the temporary Bush tax cuts (they were passed via budget reconciliation with the promise that they would expire) to continue, and indeed to be fodder for more compromise this winter.
- Stimulus- Compromise? Yes, the President compromised with Republicans by making a full 40% of the Stimulus tax breaks, even though tax breaks have far less effect on demand (via a lower multiplier) than pure spending. For this display of bipartisanship, the President received the votes of 3 Republican senators.
- Environment- Compromise? Yes, the President compromised with Republicans by not addressing the environment via legislation. And while the EPA has taken limited action on carbon dioxide, this administration has presided over the largest expansion of oil wells since Rockefeller and Standard Oil.
In the mainstream media, just as in conservative circles, bipartisanship and compromise has come to mean Democrats and liberals giving in to every conservative demand. Even limited re-regulation of Wall Street, in the shadow of the Great Recession and the light of scandalous financial mismanagement, was itself compromised in favor of conservatives.
The President gave a press conference today in which he outlined his goals for the coming negotiations; happily, “responsible debt reduction” took its place behind jobs, education, and infrastructure. But Republicans, committed to debt reduction as they are (wink), want cuts from programs liberals like (like those that encourage jobs, build infrastructure, and educate children), and new revenues from folks in the lower third of household income (that is what Mr. Boehner means when he utters the phrase base-broadening).
Let’s see just how familiar the compromise is, and whether the President turns out to be bipartisan enough for conservatives.
The Rational Middle is listening…