Bipartisanship

BIPARTISANSHIP…. Noting the conduct of House Republicans during the debate over an economic stimulus, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said, “It’s almost ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ You’d never know there was a major election with a huge shift and a clear mandate for a different direction.”

That’s plainly true. Congressional Republicans aren’t acting like a chastened minority with the smallest caucuses in a generation; they’re acting like, well, pretty much as they’ve acted for years. The election results have had no discernable effect — the rank-and-file GOP believes the way to recover as a party is to be more rigidly conservative, not less.

The key difference: now they love the notion of “bipartisanship.”

The problem, of course, is how they define the word. On Tuesday, Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Ensign, the fourth-ranking Republican in the chamber, held up Bush’s push for tax cuts in 2001 as the example of “bipartisanship” Obama and Democrats should be following. Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell believes Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005 in a “bipartisan” way.

Today, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) offered his understanding of the word.

“[If the Ledbetter and SCHIP bills] are any indication, we’ll get votes on amendments, they’ll all lose, and the bill will then pass, and we end up with a totally partisan package. I don’t think that’s what the president had in mind when he talked about putting legislation together in a bipartisan way.”

So, the appropriate way to put together legislation is for Democrats to vote for Republican amendments. If GOP measures win, it’s bipartisan. If not, it’s antithetical to Obama’s approach. Got it.

The president and Democratic lawmakers can obviously speak for themselves about how they interpret a “bipartisan” approach to governing, but my sense is, it’s built around the notion of an open process. Republicans may have failed spectacularly at governing, and may have been handed devastating electoral defeats that left them as a regional party, but the White House and the Democratic majority are nevertheless willing to hear them out. Their ideas are welcome. Their amendments will be considered. The president is willing to engage them directly, and make some policy concessions to address their concerns. There has been and will be an exchange of ideas, in good faith, and proposals with merit will advance, no matter which party recommended them.

That’s what’s happened, and that’s what Republicans don’t believe is good enough. As Kevin Drum noted last night, the GOP apparently “really has decided to blindly stonewall everything Obama wants, no matter what.”

The president pledged to work with everyone with a sense of common purpose, and he’s demonstrated a commitment to the principle. But politics is adversarial, and Republicans reject the direction Democrats want to take the country. That is, of course, fine. It’s what the loyal opposition is supposed to do.

But for this minority, “bipartisan” necessarily means getting their way. And that’s not going to happen.

What’s that phrase? “Elections have consequences.”