According to Webster’s dictionary, the meaning of bipartisanship is “of, relating to, or involving members of two parties; specifically marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties.”
The new Obama Presidency struggled with the concept of bipartisanship in Washington this week and to the new President’s credit, he stood by his words and promises and did his best to include the members of both political parties in the discussions of the day – specifically, how to craft the President’s $800 plus billion dollar economic stimulus plan.
On the heels of the inauguration of our new president, Congress set about doing its business by crafting an $825 billion stimulus bill. As you have heard before, watching legislation go through its process is like watching someone make sausage. If you have ever watched someone make sausage, you know it is not a pretty site. And this was no exception.
While the GOP has been trying to define their role in the new environment, I believe many members of the party were relieved to hear President-Elect Obama earlier this month state that he welcomed Republican ideas on the stimulus. More importantly, this week, he responded to GOP requests to be heard on the stimulus and said he thought some of their ideas had merit.
To stick with the analogy, this was probably the gathering of ingredients we need to actual begin making sausage. Then the grinding began…
House Democrats unveiled their version of a $825 billion dollar stimulus, drafted without Republican input. Speaker Pelosi stated that “Our Republican colleagues had some constructive suggestions which we will review,” and she continued after the meeting with the President by stating “I have a very good feeling coming out of this meeting that we’ll be able to reach more bipartisanship.”
There’s that word again!
As the week progressed, the majority was frustrated with the minority and the minority felt like they were only getting lip service, and not much more. So where does the bipartisanship that everyone mentions come into play? Is it the act of listening or is it something more?
Without listening to the other side, two opposing views can never reach compromise. Obviously, hearing proposals with thoughtful attention and consideration are at the very core of listening. But the word “bipartisan,” by its very definition, implies moving beyond the act of listening. Bipartisanship includes action, like involving, cooperating, agreeing and compromise. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be what happened this week in Washington. Our leaders stopped at the “listening” phase.
The House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey let Republicans offer amendments to the plan’s $358.1 billion that falls under the jurisdiction of this committee and then proceeded to explain why none of them were worthy of passage – and none of them did. The committee approved its bill by on a strict party line vote of 35-22. Democrats warned that action is needed soon to help the struggling economy, while Republicans questioned both the size and content of the package.
Over at the Ways and Means Committee (the other committee with jurisdiction), members met to mark up the plan’s $275 billion tax portion of the economic stimulus bill. After turning back Republican attempts to change it, the panel approved the tax section of the broad draft legislation on a party-line vote of 24‑13. Republicans unsuccessfully offered amendments that would have further reduced income taxes, eliminated taxes on unemployment benefits, “patched” the alternative minimum tax for 2009 and expanded tax incentives for home purchases.
The actions this week on the Hill hardly rise to the level of bipartisanship. Listening is important, but without any commitment or willingness to move past listening, we cannot reach the goal of bipartisanship.
According to the Wall Street Journal, during the meeting with the President this week, one Republican Senator questioned the President over why Congress should accept a certain piece of the package. According to the account, participants said the new president replied simply, “I won.” Based on what I have learned about this President so far, I find it difficult to image that he actually said this, but making sausage is difficult work. Nevertheless, the American people want the hope and promise of this new Administration to rise above comments like the alleged one reported by the Journal.
2009 presents what I believe is a monumental, and perhaps a once in a lifetime, opportunity for a truly bipartisan discourse in government. Republicans failed to engage to do so, which is why they were “unelected.” However, less than one week into our new government, it pains me that our new leaders appear to be heading down the very same path yet again.