Bipartisanship is dead.
For the time being, at least. It really shouldn’t be. In fact, Democrats have done a lot to try to keep it alive. They left single-payer healthcare off the table, ultimately voting on a plan that was very similar to a Republican Senate bill of 1993, with certain passages nearly identical to the Massachusetts law signed by Mitt Romney and bearing elements of a strategy co-authored by Bob Dole. The plurality of the stimulus package that Congress passed consisted of Republican-friendly tax breaks.
The President, meanwhile, has made so many calls for bipartisanship that it would be pointless to quote him here. During debate over the health care bill, he signed an executive order preventing federal dollars from financing abortions. While pushing for immigration reform, he ordered an unprecedented increase of security at the U.S.-Mexico border, deploying 1,200 National Guardsmen to the area and requesting an additional $600 million in security funding. These steps reduced the number of illegal immigrants in the United States by 1 million by the end of 2009.
But the right is dead-set on keeping bipartisanship as dead as possible. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell demands that if Obama wants cooperation, he’ll have “to move in our direction.” Speaker-elect John Boehner has made it clear now that he’s on top that “now is not a time for compromise.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has said the GOP is “not going to compromise on raising more debt.” Simply put, the Party of No isn’t out to change their image, especially not after such an electoral windfall.
A quick review of the past several decades reveals what’s going on. Every time Republicans are in control of government, they defund it and run it into the ground; be it Reagan’s tax cuts for the rich and military spending sprees or Dubya’s, well, tax cuts for the rich and military spending sprees, the GOP has consistently been the most fiscally irresponsible party in Washington. Their recent proposals to extend $700 billion in tax cuts to the richest Americans are made all the more negligent for their only token budget cuts — such as ending promotional signage for projects financed by the stimulus and cutting the petty $2 million in federal funds NPR receives annually. Despite their ambiguous calls for fiscal responsibility, it looks like the batch of Republicans that took power last week is no different.
Of course, when they aren’t in control of government, the right kicks, screams and drags its legislative feet. As the minority party, the GOP applied an unprecedented number of filibusters and one-man legislative holds, decrying the legitimately elected Democratic majorities as some socialistic “tyranny.” What no one is saying is that this behavior is entirely in keeping with a tradition of right-wing obstructionism. From Strom Thurmond’s speech against the Civil Rights Act that lasted more than 24 hours to the 1995 federal government shutdown orchestrated by Newt Gingrich, the current Congressional GOP is simply maintaining a longstanding tradition of tantrum-throwing and nay-saying.
So, expect another shutdown of government. Don’t be surprised if Joe “You lie!” Wilson has another outburst during the State of the Union address, and don’t hold your breath for censure from his fellow Republicans. If you’re gay, shelve your hopes for equal rights. If you’re poor, give up on a higher minimum wage. If you’re old, I certainly hope you weren’t expecting an increase in your Social Security payments. If you’re still unemployed, 99 weeks is all you’re getting.
It’s going to be a long two years.
Jack Newsham is a freshman in Morse College.