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The Difficulties of Bipartisanship

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Matt Yglesias has some smart thoughts on bipartisanship. In particular, he notes that there's no such thing as a "bipartisan vote." It's a moving target. The more seats a particular party has, the harder it is to achieve a bipartisan outcome. When you're dealing with 48 Republicans, including six moderates, it's fairly easy to find a couple willing to deal. When you're dealing with 40 Republicans, two of whom are moderates, it gets harder.

That's to be expected. A party's most moderate members are generally its most vulnerable members. Smaller minorities tend to be more ideologically rigid, because the minorities got smaller when the moderates lost their elections. That means that a real attachment to bipartisanship could lead to Democrats offering more conservative legislation even as the country moved further to the left with each successive election. Which would be a bit perverse.

(Photo credit: Mara Melina - The Washington Post)

By Ezra Klein  |  June 11, 2009; 4:22 PM ET
 
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Comments

This post is certainly true. But the lack of bipartisanship in legislation is not necessarily a reflection of Democratic legislative dominance. It is also possible that the legislation is simply left-wing. It may also mean that the legislation is outside of the mainstream of the polity, or it advantages Democratic party special interests. As an example of the latter, the Democratic "stimulus" bill sent billions to union-supported causes.

Either way, the ideal of bipartisanship is partly Obama's making. One of the key things Obama promised from the get-go in 2004 was bipartisanship. Thus far, he is failed to deliver.

Obama would reasonably respond that it takes two to tango. The Democrats were of course singing a different tune when the Republicans controlled the presidency and Congress between '01 and '06.

Either way, I would hope that Mr. Klein would at least agree with me that the Republicans have a few good ideas on health care reform, and the Democrats have a few bad ideas. Surely we can all hope that a final bill will include some Republian and some Democratic ideas.

Posted by: Dellis2 | June 11, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Dellis2, exactly what are the "good ideas" that Republicans have about health care? Because I haven't heard any (or at least any that are specifically or quintessentially "Republican ideas").

In fact, on the issue of bipartisanship, I'd go Ezra and Matt one further: The people have chosen to be represented by Democrats. The people have rejected the opportunity to be represented by Republicans. Since the citizens have rejected Republicans at the ballot box, why should they get a seat at the table now?

Posted by: JEinATL | June 11, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Yglesias starts with the premise that governing in a bi-partisan way strictly entails both parties passing legislation. Although I agree more moderates would make it easier to achieve a bi-partisan outcome, the framing needs to change.

Granted bi-partisanship requires both parties to contribute ideas and show a willingness to compromise, but that is not happening. Republicans have not only rejected every bill, they continue to (ab)use the filibuster to block legislation which means the Democrats need 60 votes, not 50 as Yglesias suggests, to get anything passed.

Republicans still insist their policies are best, despite having been tried and failed. Take for example:

Their idea of a stimulus plan, with the economy rapidly contracting, was more tax-cuts and a 5-year spending freeze. They offered two ridiculous budget plans -- one of which did not even contain any numbers -- and an energy plan that states 'there shall be no consideration for Global Warming.' The latter is also the exact same energy plan Bush offered in 2008. And claimed they could cut the budget by $375 billion over the next 5-years, but in reality those numbers were greatly inflated. Their plan amounted to about $5 billion per annum -- less than one-third of Obama's $17 billion proposal.

Under the aforementioned circumstances passing bi-partisan legislation is next to impossible. So Obama resorted to the next best thing and appointed more Republicans to his administration than his predecessors in recent history.

Therein Obama kept his promise to govern in a bi-partisan way; it is just different from the way most imagined. That is how the bi-partisanship issue ought to be framed. IMHO

Hopefully sooner rather than later Republicans will see the folly of their ways and begin contributing sound ideas with workable solutions -- which is unlikely until more moderate Republicans are elected.

Posted by: serena1313 | June 11, 2009 10:56 PM | Report abuse

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