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Posted at 12:35 PM ET, 12/ 1/2010

Republicans give their definition of 'bipartisanship'

By Ezra Klein

bipartisanpartisans.JPG

Here's the story of bipartisanship since the election. President Obama asked the House and Senate Republican leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, to the White House on Nov. 18 to talk through a compromise on the Bush tax cuts and other pressing agenda items. Two days before the meeting, McConnell and Boehner said they couldn't make it because of "scheduling conflicts." They asked for a two-week delay. The White House agreed.

The night before the meeting, White House officials capitulated on a longtime GOP demand and froze pay for federal workers. They did not do this in consultation with the GOP, which blunted its worth as a token of bipartisan good faith. But most Republicans nevertheless understood it as a nod to their priorities and momentum. "The President has done the right thing today by taking steps to check the explosive growth of government," said Rep. Paul Ryan, who is set to chair the House Budget Committee. "This is the kind of cooperation we were hoping for when we advanced this proposal last May, and we’re glad to see the President embrace this spending cut proposed by House Republicans."

The morning of the meeting, Boehner and McConnell did not respond with the kind of cooperation the White House was hoping for. Instead, they published a joint op-ed in The Washington Post. "We made a pledge to America to cut spending, rein in government, and permanently extend the current tax rates so small-business owners won't get hit with a massive tax hike at the end of December," they said. "That's what Americans want. And that's the message Republicans will bring to the meeting today." So much for compromise.

The meeting didn't end with an agreement on the tax cuts, but it did end with a process to work toward an agreement: The White House would dispatch Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to negotiate with two congressional Republicans and two congressional Democrats until all sides settled on a deal. The process seemed to be moving forward.

Late that same night, McConnell sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers." That is to say, Republicans will filibuster any extension of unemployment insurance, consideration of the DREAM Act and anything else Democrats want to pass until the tax cuts are finished. "With just a few weeks to go before the end of the session, Democrats continue to place their own priorities over the priorities of the American people," McConnell said. He neglected to mention the GOP's two-week delay in sitting down with the White House to negotiate a compromise on the tax cuts, which is why there's no ready compromise this late in the session.

The Democrats deserve their share of blame for this situation: They've known about the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for, well, 10 years. An extension, reform or expiration could've been pushed long ago. The White House, too, has kept asking for meetings and processes rather than simply using its leverage -- the veto pen -- to set a clear line in the sand and let Republicans decide how to respond. Despite controlling all branches of government and having the more popular position on the tax cuts, the Democrats have acted like a minority party in disarray.

But the Republicans have also made their approach to bipartisanship clear: It's a useful tool in service of their agenda, not in service of compromise. They used meetings to delay action on the tax cuts and are now using the time they wasted as a reason to obstruct action on everything else. They have prioritized shows of power and partisanship over negotiations and governance. The best you can say about this strategy is that it is, at the least, transparent. Democrats can't say they weren't warned.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  | December 1, 2010; 12:35 PM ET
 
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Comments

...and Obama won the Presidency with a plan that the public supports. Why not stick by it and veto anything else? (The Democrats who betrayed him on it mostly got defeated.)

The "worst" that can happen is that he closes most of the projected deficit over the next ten years when nothing passes and it's the Republicans fault. If he has the sense to get 40 Senators to not vote for cloture he doesn't even have to veto it.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | December 1, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

This dynamic has been blatantly obvious to any sentient person since the stimulus vote -- a full eighteen months ago -- when the President's approval rating was hovering around 70%. Are you just cluing in now?

As Krugman shrewdly notes, what passes for Beltway bipartisanship is a compromise between the center-right and the hard right. In this case the White House has assumed the policy positions of the (largely) vanished moderate Republicans for reasons that are pretty clear: in their hearts and minds they're, well, moderate Republicans masquerading as Democrats. And to what end? For all their rhetorical and policy betrayals of their own party they'll get the Tea Party treatment. And David Broder will write yet another op-ed lambasting the President and his party for pure partisanship.

This pay freeze could mark a tipping point, though, and any capitulation on Bush tax cuts will all but guarantee a primary challenge. Frankly, the only reason there's not more open talk about a primary challenge is because progressives don't want to upset African-American voters, who remain overwhelmingly lyal to the President. But that could change, and soon.

Posted by: scarlota | December 1, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Eric Cantor, number three for the GOP in the House said he had one (1) 30-second meeting with Nancy Pelosi.

ONE

So, NOW, the liberals are complaining that they are not being capitulated to.

Waaaaaa.....Waaaaaa......Waaaaa.....

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | December 1, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Why not, Hopeful? Because Obama is clearly as naive as Charlie Brown dealing with Lucy.

Scarlota is right. Democrats -- especially Obama -- really are too stupid to govern.

We -- myself included -- doomed this country when we bought his flowery words and didn't nominate a real fighter like Clinton.

Posted by: AZProgressive | December 1, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

"We -- myself included -- doomed this country when we bought his flowery words and didn't nominate a real fighter like Clinton."

Let's face it. Both parties offered up the worst of their candidates for the general election.

McCain - Too old, cancer survivor, wishy-washy on issues.

Obama - No executive experience at all. Baggage with all of his radical socialist buddies and a worldview that holds America as the world's problem.

But, HEY!, we elected a black president!
How do you like him now?

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | December 1, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

"The best you can say about this strategy is that it is, at the least, transparent. Democrats can't say they weren't warned."

But Obama's new age post partisan, he's going to spread around his magic fairy dust and make Republican's compromise and act for the good of the country. After all he gives you such heebie-geebies when he speaks, and the superficial is the most important thing when electing a president, not what they will actually do that will greatly affect hundreds of millions.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | December 1, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Obama can't help who he is. He's a dreamer, and a collegial guy. That's who we elected. Ezra, quit this handwringing over his fetish for bipartisanship. That's the man you voted for.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 1, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I dunno.

The elections are over. No immediate political price will be paid by anybody for the actions of this lame duck session. By 2012 voters will have forgotten anything that happens now.

It stinks that Republicans are going to sacrifice benefits to the unemployed. It really does. But that and every other democratic priority is chump change compared to the tax cuts in terms of impact on the country.

I think the president is holding the better hand. I wouldn't bet against him right now.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | December 1, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Democrats ignored THE AMERICAN PEOPLE for the past 2 YEARS! Remember Obamacare !!!?
Obama/Democrats focused on:
1)their own little "liberal entitlement agenda" to buy votes;
2)they focused on Campaigning

Democrats saved the important stuff for the last minute... because they either didn't know what to do; or, they're playing politics and trying to "create a crisis, an emergency"
Democrats, we've GOT YOUR NUMBER, you've done this before, and you're not fooling anyone with these games!

Posted by: ohioan | December 1, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

What moronic crap.

Democrats dumped a year on the abysmally foolish goal of universal health care. It's their fault.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 1, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Newsflash Klein ... you guys lost ... elections have consequences so man up and take your medicine ...

Posted by: cunn9305 | December 1, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

BHeffernan1-

I really don't see how Obama holds the upper hand on the tax cut vote. But I agree that this isn't just Lucie pulling the football away again and again. There's something else going on here. My guess is that Obama is betting that the Republicans will begin to look like fools if they just reflexively block everything he wants to do. This will get especially bad once Boehner is speaker. He will have to explain his position. Honestly, once Republicans explain their position, they lost half of their power. The problem now is that they just aren't even participating at all.

Posted by: klautsack | December 1, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"Democrats ignored THE AMERICAN PEOPLE for the past 2 YEARS! Remember Obamacare !!!?"

The liberal position on bipartisanship is that they throw the GOP a small fragment of a bone (remember the 'test program' for tort reform), while full blown enacting their crap in a 2000 page law. No test program needed!

Same thing here. $2 billion or something trivial of cuts, and it apparently matters.

The Democrats need to put up or shut up. Cut education and health care spending along with military spending. Dollar for dollar.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 1, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

"The Democrats need to put up or shut up. Cut education and health care spending along with military spending. Dollar for dollar."

1) One of the major goals of health care reform was, in fact, to restrain the growth of health care spending. This blog has made that point literally hundreds of times.

2) The approach taken here seems to be "liberals care about some stuff, conservatives care about some other stuff, each group should feel equal pain." But the goal isn't to make one's political opponents feel pain, it's to secure the long-term security and prosperity of the country. Any given cut to education, health care or military spending might or might not be justified (for example, I'd happily chuck out most of the modern standardized testing regime), but indiscriminate "dollar for dollar" slashing seems almost guaranteed to be counterproductive.

Posted by: Coatlicue | December 1, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

In a Sean Connery accent, "Losers whine about fairness. Winners go home with their tax cut and F* the prom queen"

Posted by: cdosquared5 | December 1, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"The liberal position on bipartisanship is that they throw the GOP a small fragment of a bone."

With the caveat that I've voted Democrat about 75% of the time since Clinton, I don't see the above as being accurate. After 2008 the stimulus bill was 30% tax cuts to appease Republicans and still got no Republican votes. Every attempt to get Republicans involved in health care seemed to fail for political reasons, despite much of the plan including ideas similar to past Republican proposals. I can't think of a single example of Republicans trying to meet halfway, although if you've got one please bring it up.

I think anyone who honestly cares about the debt has to focus on revenue and entitlements, and the fact that Republicans are refusing to compromise on something that generates $700 billion, even when Democrats have implied some willingness to negotiate, strikes me as extremely partisan.

Posted by: rholliday | December 1, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans didn't run on bipartisanship. They ran on their record of No and obstruction. The Democrats were very foolish to leave all these items until after an election where they were expecting significant losses.

Lecturing the Republicans about holding up the process for two weeks after the election while they sort out their leadership issues when the Democrats had two years to address the tax cuts on terms more favorable to them is disingenuous.

There's nothing that prevents Pelosi and Reid from bringing bills to the floor and letting the chips fall where they may.

As was pointed out in the NYT:

"Democrats have left themselves in a tough spot on the Bush tax cuts. After delaying the issue until after the election and then being trounced in that election, they find themselves with little leverage.

If they cannot come up with a plan that can win 60 votes in the Senate, which means at least two Republican votes, Republicans can filibuster any bill. All of the tax cuts would then expire on Dec. 31. When the new Republican House majority arrives in January, it will be able to make its first order of business a retroactive tax cut — forcing President Obama and Senate Democrats to choose between a purely Republican plan and an across-the-board tax increase.

So the big question is whether Democratic leaders can come up with any compromise that centrist Democrats and a couple of Republican senators — Scott Brown, who represents liberal Massachusetts? George Voinovich of Ohio, who is retiring? — are willing to accept.

Much of the recent commentary about the tax cuts has skipped over this political reality. It’s instead focused on how tough the Democrats should be and whether they should insist on the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts on income above $250,000 a year. But that’s no longer one of their options. Unless they believe they will benefit more than Republicans from a standoff in which taxes go up, which is hard to believe with a Democrat in the White House, their only choice now is among various versions of retreat. "

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/business/economy/01leonhardt.html?hp

Posted by: jnc4p | December 1, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

"The best you can say about this strategy is that it is, at the least, transparent..."

Very true, Ezra, although I'm pretty certain this isn't quite the 'transparency' the American people wanted from their government! It certainly isn't the kind of bipartisanship I want to see from congressional leadership.

Posted by: hcrzealot | December 1, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

By having the upper hand policy wise, I meant if Obama and the Dems do nothing, the tax cuts expire. And, if Congress came up with a crummy deal to extend the cuts, the President could veto it.

People may think the politics of either situation is impossible because it will be perceived as a tax raise. But, if you have the guts to play that game, you hold the cards. The policy cards that is. They may not hold the political cards, but in terms of creating impact on the country, they can do it.

And once it's done, and there is a movement to cut taxes, they have the same 40-vote majority that the Republicans have used for the last two years.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | December 1, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The only job in the world where you can defiantly refuse to work - and still get paid in full.

Posted by: jack824 | December 1, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The GOP ran on reducing the deficit and now want to balloon it with tax cuts for Wall St.

NEWSFLASH: Teahadists, you've been had!

Posted by: Garak | December 1, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Tax cuts for the poor and middle-class (and not for the very wealthy) is a traditional values Democrat issue. Instead, they waited until Cinderella turned into a pumpkin of an issue after the election to address it.

Gridlock may not be what most Americans want but it is apparently what those who were motivated enough to vote in the 2010 mid-terms want. So keep traditional Democrats discouraged and let Republican voters stay energized and 2012 will be 2010 all over again. Like the old tune goes, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you." The Dems are in need of their DiMaggio.

Posted by: tuber | December 1, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

It looks like they're going to shut the government down before they even take over the house. I have to admit, I'm impressed.

Posted by: zosima | December 1, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

The party of NO! has no interest in governing. No interest in Government. No interest in forming a more perfect Union.

They have fabricated anti-government hostility by a classic, subversive propaganda effort funded by anonymous corporate entities in order to destroy the duly elected Government.

Why do they hate America??

Posted by: thebobbob | December 1, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

The phrase 'I won' comes to mind.

Posted by: MrDo64 | December 1, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans definition of bipartisanship:

I won't kick you in the nuts and knee you in the head if you do everything I want.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | December 1, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

The use of bumper stickers instead of policy ideas on here is rather stunning. The Honeywell CEO was right today, about all of you.

Posted by: bennettj72 | December 1, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"1) One of the major goals of health care reform was, in fact, to restrain the growth of health care spending. This blog has made that point literally hundreds of times."

Too bad they miserably failed. Team Obama and company have already admitted that national health spending and government health spending will both be higher with the PPACA than they would be without the PPACA even according to their own rosy projections.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 1, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

"2) The approach taken here seems to be "liberals care about some stuff, conservatives care about some other stuff, each group should feel equal pain." But the goal isn't to make one's political opponents feel pain, it's to secure the long-term security and prosperity of the country. Any given cut to education, health care or military spending might or might not be justified (for example, I'd happily chuck out most of the modern standardized testing regime), but indiscriminate "dollar for dollar" slashing seems almost guaranteed to be counterproductive."

BS. Government education spending has skyrocketed over the last couple decades with limited to no appreciable results.


Same thing with Medicaid. Obama and company have doubled Medicaid spending from the Bush years, and tripled it from the Clinton years, driving our deficit up, up, and away.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 1, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

"With the caveat that I've voted Democrat about 75% of the time since Clinton, I don't see the above as being accurate. After 2008 the stimulus bill was 30% tax cuts to appease Republicans and still got no Republican votes. Every attempt to get Republicans involved in health care seemed to fail for political reasons, despite much of the plan including ideas similar to past Republican proposals. I can't think of a single example of Republicans trying to meet halfway, although if you've got one please bring it up."

There was no real reason to mess with health care in the first place, other than to indulge the ideological views of some partisan liberals.

Of course, what you forgot to mention is that Obama and company carved out those tax cuts to head predominantly to his base and/or to lucky chosen individuals. Normal hard working Americans didn't get much of anything.

Then again, he did also direct billions of dollars in spending to preserve the massive excess glut of teachers and teachers unions that we have and do not need. Why? Because they voted for him.

Posted by: krazen1211 | December 1, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

"Then again, he did also direct billions of dollars in spending to preserve the massive excess glut of teachers and teachers unions that we have and do not need. Why? Because they voted for him."

I am confused. When has there ever been a glut of teachers other than in elite suburban districts that are funded through high property taxes that their otherwise conservative citizens are happy to pay to make sure their own children "get ahead"? (Even if it's by doing their homework for them and insisting they're gifted when they can barely tie their own shoes--good thing those kids are going to EARN their future riches, btw!!)

Where I work (and where federal dollars mostly go), we have to claw and scrape to get and keep good teachers, because sorry, but who in their right mind wants to earn a masters and take endless continuing ed classes so that we can work 70 hours a week for $35K for the privilege of being told we're worthless and should be fired because our poverty-stricken students aren't scoring high enough on standardized tests fast enough? Oh, and of course the delightful privilege of having to hear that we do not qualify as "normal, hardworking Americans." Argh. And ugh.

Posted by: whathewhat | December 1, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Here's my definition of bipartisanship: Democrats go away forever, and Republicans and Libertarians figure out how to compromise with each other.

The "progressive" agenda has had a century of eugenics, socialism, Jim Crow, radicalism, and forced multiculturalism - and has proven itself a failure.

Real progress means individual human rights, free markets, equality before the law, moderation, and cultural blending within the principles espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Posted by: MKS1 | December 2, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

We would believe anything cantor and comrades say WHY? tHE CONSTANT LIES AND DISTORTIONS ARE ONLY FODDER FOR THE REPUBS TO SUPPORT THEIR POWER AND CORPORATE OWNERS!

dISGUSTING --NOT EVEN PRETENDING TO BE FOR THE PEOPLE--UN NECESSARY AND SHAMEFUL!

Posted by: jetlone | December 2, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

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