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Is Bipartisanship A Good Thing?

by David Teitelbaum (Principles: It all begins with Respect. ) - 6 month ago

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The little that gets done in Washington DC is like sandcastles on the beach - wiped away with the tide of the next Administration. That needs to change.

Throughout the hyper-partisan years of the Obama and now the Trump Administrations, there has been a lot of nostalgia for bipartisanship. For example, we look back with envy at how the 1986 tax reform act under Ronald Reagan was developed by Democrats and Republicans working together and was ultimately passed with votes from both parties.  Similarly, in the 1960’s when Lyndon Johnson counted votes for his Civil Rights bills, he quickly realized that he needed Republican support. His call to the “Party of Lincoln” was heeded and the United States took an important step forward.

Bipartisanship also played a key role during the 45 year Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.  U.S policy under both Democrats and Republicans from Truman through George HW Bush was consistent and tough. We increased defense spending, drew and enforced our red lines, and always kept open the lines of communication so as to avoid catastrophic misunderstandings. The ultimate result was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consignment of Communism to the scrap heap of history. 

When you compare these generational achievements to what counts as “victories” today, it becomes easy to understand the appeal of bipartisanship.  In early 2010, the Affordable Care Act, revamping our entire health insurance system, was passed without a single Republican vote. Republicans, therefore, had no stake in the success of the law and, in fact, had every reason to hope it would fail. Accordingly, they have launched one attack after another looking to either repeal the law completely or create instability in the market which they hope will be blamed on Democrats. Good for America? Certainly not but it has helped Republicans win countless elections.  

We can expect the same pattern to play out with the Tax Cut Act recently passed without a single Democratic vote. Rather than helping Republicans patch the many holes in this law, Democrats can be expected to gleefully sit back and cheer as tax professionals expose loophole after loophole in this hastily constructed and poorly researched bill. The idea that the tax cuts for corporations are “permanent” is patently ludicrous as all that is needed to reverse them is a Democratic takeover of the White House and Congress in 2020.

Meanwhile our foreign policy careens recklessly from too hot under Bush to too cold under Obama to Trump's "we'll see" approach.  Our prestige in the world, which was sky-high under George HW Bush, has gone downhill with every subsequent administration. Countries understandably are now hesitant to negotiate with us because they have no assurance that the next administration will stand by any agreements that are reached. How much better would it be if we could reach a bipartisan national consensus on America’s role in the world so that the rest of the world could have confidence that what we say today will be supported 4 (or 8) years fromnow. 

Similarly, how much better would it be if the two parties could work together to deal with critical issues like Social Security?  The latest Social Security Trustees’ report shows that as the law stands now, the program will add $2.85 trillion to the U.S. debt over the next 17 years and that it will run out of money in 2034.   Most Americans realize that the only sound economic and ethical approach is to reduce projected Social Security benefits while increasing Social Security taxes. Yet Democrats reject cuts and Republicans reject new taxes. A bipartisan approach could provide cover for both sides to make the hard choices needed to preserve this critical program for generations to come

I recognize that bipartisanship is not the solution to everything. Bringing members of Congress across to the other side can involve payoffs which may be good for that particular member of Congress, or his constituents, but not for the country as a whole. Bipartisan legislation can also become overly complicated as both sides look to include provisions for which they can claim credit. There are also issues, like abortion, which don’t readily lend themselves to bipartisan solutions.

These are real problems but the biggest problem with bipartisanship is us, the voters. We are the ones demanding ideological purity from our representatives and encouraging primary challengers if thoswe representatives even hint that they are willing to work with the other party. This approach is not only bad for the country, but it is self-defeating. It virtually guarantees that very little can get accomplished and that whatever is accomplished will be washed away with the next administration.

Count me as one of those people looking nostalgically back at past bipartisan accomplishments and hoping that we can end the zero-sum mentality that permeates Washington today and forces our Representatives to put party over country. 

Comments and Responses (3)

INFORMATION used
By  Jayef Kennedy - 6 month ago
You are falling into the standard trap of equating the two parties and blaming both equally for the lack of cooperation. That is simply not true. Republicans were invited from the start to participate in the process of developing the ACA and, in fact, may ideas proposed by Republicans made it into the bill. Heck, the whole idea of a "mandate" was a Republican idea. Hearings for the ACA began in June 2009, the House bill was initially introduced in July and final passage did not occur until March 2010. Compare that to the tax cut bill which was introduced in November of 2017 without any input whatsoever from Democrats and was passed a month later. Democrats have reached out their hand to Republicans only to have it slapped away. Republicans haven't even made an attempt. They are not equally at fault.
Discussion Leader's Response : This comment is relevant to the discussion. (Commenter's rating is increased.)
Discussion Leader's Explanation : If I came across as blaming both sides equally, please tell me where I need to change the text. That was certainly not my attention. I agree with you that the Republican Party is far more responsible than Democrats for the lack of cooperation in DC. However, it is us the voters who have allowed that to happen. Many of your Bernie Sanders supporters, for example, stayed home in November because the Democrats running weren't ideologically pure enough. You know how that story turned out - Trump, a Republican Congress, and possibly an ultra-Conservative Supreme Court for the next generation. Democrats need to vote the way they did in Alabama and Democrats must reach out to their Republican friends and family members to get them to demand that politicians on the right stop serving corporate interests and start serving the interests of their constituents.
General Comments
By  Facebook Commenter - 6 month ago
The GOP just passed a tax bill which greatly tilts the economic playing field toward the wealthy and powerful. What is the use of bipartisanship when one of the major US political parties is against the people?
Discussion Leader's Response : This comment is relevant to the discussion. (Commenter's rating is increased.)
Discussion Leader's Explanation : If the American people demanded bipartisanship from their representatives, the Republican tax bill would never have passed. Instead, Republicans demand that their representatives sign a pledge to never raise taxes while enough Democrats stay home to allow those Republicans to be elected. Democrats will have a very important choice to make over the next several months. Do they sit back and cheer on the collapse of our health care system and our economy or do they reach out to try to find solutions. The first approach may get Democrats elected but then they will be blamed for everything that follows. The second approach might allow a few more Republicans to stay in office but the country will be better off and perhaps Democrats will do better in the long run. The time to choose is coming.
Reasoning used for ARGUMENTS presented
By  Facebook Commenter - 6 month ago
In regards to paragraph 8, I disagree, I feel that most voters do want both sides to be able to work side by side for the good of the country. Unfortunately, for many years that has not been the case. Bureaucrats on both sides tend to forget "we the people" and seem to only remember us when there's an election coming up. They issue regulations like they're candy, to be freely given out to benefit the highest bidders. Courts with judges who judge using their political leanings. But provide safeguards for themselves and their inner circles, while everyday Americans are forced to follow rules they, themselves are exempt from. It's the bureaucrats and lobbyists who force ideology politics down our throats. Activists who under the disguise of teachers brainwash our children, to train them that feelings matter and that different opinions are bad. Communism is far from dead and is trying to make a comeback and they're using our children to do it.
Discussion Leader's Response :
Discussion Leader's Explanation :