President Obama listened to Republican gripes about his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning – but he also left no doubt about who’s in charge of these negotiations. “I won,” Obama noted matter-of-factly, according to sources familiar with the conversation.
I suppose that’s one way to let them know that the GOP might be heard, but that there may not be a lot of credence put into what they say.
Thing is, IMHO, there’s more to bipartisanship than just letting the loyal opposition into the room.
As long as I’ve been paying attention to the sausage being made … at least on the federal level … it seems that which ever party is in power rides roughshod over the other, at least in the House of Representatives. That may be the way the founders conceived it, but since many of them thought political parties were anathema in the first place, maybe not so much. I wonder if the founders would recognize what they created these 110 congresses or so since their inception. I’m betting not.
I recall Republicans decrying their treatment in the House of Representatives under Speaker Tip O’Neal. There was precious little power or prestige for Republican Congressmen. I lived in what was then the 8th district in Indiana, which has since been re-drawn, during the 1984 election between Frank McCloskey of Bloomington and Rick McIntyre of Bedford. From the Wikipedia (I know, but I’ll take it for a source on this) entry on the eventual winner, McCloskey:
In the 1984 election, McCloskey faced conservative state representative Rick McIntyre. Buoyed by President Reagan’s strong coattails, McIntyre trailed McCloskey by only 72 votes after the initial vote count. A tabulation error, however, resulted in an undercounting of McCloskey votes.
Indiana’s Secretary of State (a Republican) certified McIntyre as the winner by 34 votes. After a recount, Mr. McIntyre was up by 418 votes. The Democratic-controlled House refused to seat either McIntyre or McCloskey and conducted their own recount. In the end, the House seated McCloskey after declaring him the winner by just four votes (116,645 to 116,641). The vote was largely along partisan lines and in response every Republican House member marched out of the chamber in protest.
I’ll take Wiki as a source because I remember exactly that’s the way it happened. So partisan was the House that they seated the Democrat, even though he was not the clear winner of the race. I’m not sure how any recount conducted by such a partisan body could be trusted, but the Constitution does give the Congress the right to select it’s own members. McIntyre never ran another race.
So, ever has it been thus in the U.S. House. When the Republicans came to power behind Newt Gingrich and under the banner of The Contract With America in 1994, which ousted McCloskey among many others, they talked about bipartisanship, and treated the minority Democrats at least as poorly as they’d been treated for the 40 years of Democratic control. The Senate is a little less polar, simply because the minority has at least some power in the Senate.
It is my observation that Republicans squandered their opportunity to truly show the nation they could lead when they controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. And for some reason, as effective as they can sometimes be as campaigners, they can’t seem to go toe-to-toe in the trenches. Bill Clinton was every bit as much to blame for the Government shutdown as was Newt Gingrich … but Clinton won the media war and Gingrich “closed down the Government”. No bipartisanship there. I was in DC for that one. Democrats were every bit as much responsible for the meltdown of Freddie and Fannie, and blocked legislation offered by Republicans to re-regulate those institutions before the housing meltdown … but Democrats managed to pin it all on Republican deregulation. Plenty of Dems were in favor of the looser lending rules that allowed more people to buy homes they couldn’t really afford, but that was rarely mentioned.
So now, 3 days after his historic inauguration and a speech saying it’s “time to put away childish things” … President Obama basically tells Congressional Republicans “I Won … Nanny-nanny-boo-boo”.
I’m reminded of President Bush saying “I earned political capital, and I intend to spend it”. Same concept.
Bipartisanship doesn’t mean “Do things my way or you’re not being bipartisan”. That’s just bullying. Both parties are terribly, terribly guilty of it. But if anyone’s truly interested in moving the country forward, then let’s stop worrying about who won, and start being concerned about what’s good policy. Make your arguments. But make some allowance that the other guys just might have an idea too.
I won’t hurt, I promise.