Bipartisanship And The Stimulus, Take 2

I am, as most of you know, generally in favor of reaching out to one’s opponents, trying to understand why they take the positions they do, and seeing whether their reasonable points can be accommodated. And I dislike trying to undercut one’s opponents just for the heck of it, when there is no good policy reason to do so.

But there are limits. Sometimes your opponents are just not willing to compromise. When this is true, I believe that you should make it clear that you are willing to work with them, but you should not make your own goals hostage to people who refuse to work with you. Moreover, sometimes, your opponents’ concerns are not reasonable. It’s always worthwhile to think twice, and then think again, before concluding that this is true, but sometimes it is. In such cases, while you might give way on minor points, it would be a terrible mistake to compromise on important ones.

At the moment, Barack Obama is facing opposition that is both unwilling to compromise and fundamentally unreasonable. Taking these points one by one:

First, during the debate over the House stimulus bill, Obama tried repeatedly to reach out to Republicans, and accepted changes to the stimulus bill to meet their concerns. This got him precisely no Republican votes. He might be able to peel off a few votes in the Senate, but the majority of Republican Senators do not seem to be open to the idea of any kind of compromise. It’s always worth reaching out, but it’s also important to recognize that it takes two parties to be bipartisan, and sometimes the other party just won’t cooperate.

When that happens, you face a choice: either you adopt their position, or you do what you think is right without their cooperation. Despite your best efforts, reasonable compromise is not an option. If you have the power to get your own views enacted, I think that’s always the right way to go, not just because, after all, you think it’s right, but because giving in to thugs is generally a bad idea. And when one party refuses all support unless the other concedes entirely, and then tries to cast the fact that you didn’t get their support as your failure to be bipartisan, they are acting like thugs.

Second: the position of most Republicans in Congress is fundamentally unreasonable. We are, after all, talking about a party whose new chair says that “Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job”, which would, I’m sure, come as a surprise to this country’s roughly 20,000,000 government employees, of whom Michael Steele himself was one not that long ago. We are talking about a party one of whose Senators said that the bill currently making its way through Congress is “not a Stimulus bill. It’s just a spending bill.” Which is, of course, like saying “That’s not a mammal; it’s just a horse.” We are talking about a party whose House members invited Joe the Plumber to advise them on the stimulus bill.

One might hope that these displays of complete economic illiteracy were isolated cases. But last night the Senate considered an amendment to strip all the spending out of the stimulus bill and replace it with tax cuts, most of them permanent. (And ‘spending’ here includes direct transfers.) As Josh Marshall said:

“This approaches flat earth territory in terms of where the economy is right now and what conventional macroeconomics suggests about how to combat the problem.”

How many Senate Republicans voted for this piece of idiocy? 36. How many voted against? Four.

At a time when the economy seems to be falling off a cliff, Republican politicians cannot come up with anything but the very same policies they have advocated year in, year out, in good times and bad — and have enacted, with results that we can see around us. They show no signs of being interested in figuring out what will actually help the country, at least in any sense that involves canvassing the views of people outside their own echo chamber. They show no interest in any sort of compromise.

I’m glad Obama reached out to them. It was the right thing to do, both morally and tactically. But there are limits. And we have reached them. If there are enough votes to defeat a filibuster in the Senate, well and good. If not, Harry Reid should do one of two things: (a) reintroduce the bill under reconciliation rules, which do not allow filibusters, or (b) force any Republicans who want to filibuster the bill to actually stand up in the Senate chamber and talk.

If the Senate Republicans want to hold the American economy hostage to their idiotic ideas, they should at least have to suffer some sort of inconvenience for it. It would be much better, though, just to defeat them.

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