By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
Let’s be honest. Some things just aren’t what they’re cracked up to be: luxury cruises, family reunions, blind dates, Twitter — and bipartisanship.
Poor Barack Obama. Nobody has strived so much for bipartisanship and accomplished so little.
He was doing his best again this week, hosting a meeting of bipartisan leaders at the White House. Afterward, he rhapsodized about a new spirit of bipartisanship alive in Washington. This was just the first of many joint meetings, he promised. He even invited John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to join him and Democratic leaders at Camp David.
Yet, less than 24 hours later, Mitch McConnell sent Obama an ultimatum signed by all 42 Senate Republicans saying they would block all other legislation pending before the Senate — until Obama agreed to extend tax cuts to America’s millionaires.
It’s the new mantra of the party of, by, and for plutocrats: “Tax Cuts for Millionaires.” And so much for bipartisanship.
Once again, McConnell demonstrated his definition of bipartisanship: You buy what my party wants. Period. But what do you expect from a man who declared that his number one legislative goal over the next two years is to deny Barack Obama a second term?
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, bipartisanship is a good idea. In theory. But that assumes both sides are willing to compromise. Which was the case with Senate leaders like Bob Dole or George Mitchell, Tom Daschle or Trent Lott. Both sides fought like hell to win an election. But, after the election, leaders of both sides sat down to solve problems.
That’s the way things used to work. But no longer. Not with this gang. Not with Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. Which President Obama should have learned early on in his presidency.
On Jan. 9, 2009, before he’d even taken the oath of office, Obama received a letter from John Boehner inviting him to meet with House Republicans to discuss his proposals to stimulate the economy. Boehner told the president-elect he was reaching out “in keeping with your campaign pledge to work in a bipartisan manner and change the partisan tone in Washington, D.C.”
Much to Boehner’s surprise, Obama responded with an enthusiastic yes. The meeting was set for Tuesday, Jan. 27, and Boehner told reporters he was looking forward to hearing the new president’s ideas.
That’s what he was saying in public. But behind closed doors he was singing a different tune. The morning of their meeting, before Obama had even climbed into his car for the drive to Capitol Hill, Boehner told his 178 Republican colleagues that he was going to oppose Obama’s plan, no matter what it contained — and they should, too.
And that flat-out rejection of Obama’s bipartisan outreach continued for the next two years. After compromising on the public plan option, how many Republican votes did he get in the Senate for health care reform? Zero. On equal pay for women? Four. On his economic recovery program? Three.
Actually, cooperation was even worse than that. Because, in most cases, Republicans saved themselves from having to vote against Obama by invoking a filibuster. Under Republicans, in fact, use of the filibuster has become the rule, rather than the exception. By demanding a filibuster before every vote, even on procedural matters, they’ve made 60 the new 50. McConnell set a new record with 61 filibusters in the last session of Congress. This session, he’s already surpassed that record.
Obviously, under those conditions, it’s impossible to get anything done in a bipartisan manner. The only question is: Why doesn’t Obama get it? He’s sincere in wanting to govern as a post-partisan president, but McConnell and Boehner will never let that happen.
Take ratification of the New START Treaty. There’s no more important issue before the Congress. It’s a continuation of nuclear arms reduction treaties begun under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Several former Republican secretaries of state have endorsed it. It’s been subject of 18 Senate hearings. But Mitch McConnell won’t even let it come to a vote. Because its ratification would be perceived as a victory for President Obama.
Obama has no choice but to forget about working with Republicans and ram through middle-class tax cuts, extension of unemployment benefits, repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, and the New START with Democratic votes only.
Bipartisanship sounds good. But as long as McConnell and Boehner are in power … fuhgeddaboudit!
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