Instead, the sides have underlined and re-underlined their contrasting sets of big ideas. That pulls them further and further away from real compromise — since each side’s philosophy holds that the other’s is essentially bunk.
For the GOP, the big idea is that government is the main problem.
Republicans have proposed to stop new environmental and financial regulations, and lower corporate taxes. Then, the logic goes, a liberated private sector will pull itself off the mat.
For the Democrats, the idea is that government can be the main solution.
Democrats have also called for increases in government spending on roads and bridges, teachers and firefighters. This money, the logic goes, will spark the private sector to begin hiring workers again.
In both cases, these are old beliefs about government’s role in society, dressed up as answers to a new crisis of employment. For both parties, this is a chance to demonstrate that they have been right about something basic, all along.
“President Obama and my friends on the other side of the aisle of the Senate believe that they can create jobs through government spending,” said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), as he and other Senate Republicans outlined their jobs proposal on Thursday.
There have been some compromises on jobs measures this year, as both parties have sought small wins. On Wednesday, Congress approved new trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, lowering barriers to American exports.
And on Thursday, a House committee approved a small piece of the president’s plan. That was a proposal to repeal a 3 percent withholding tax on some payments to businesses that do work for state and local governments.
But the list of compromises is not much longer than that.
“The fundamental difference is, Democrats see government as a partner in progress and growth. The Republicans — at least those that have been elected recently — see it as the impediment to growth,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
Many common Republican ideas were included in the bill that McCain and other Senate Republicans introduced Thursday, called the “Jobs Through Growth Act.”
It would impose a temporary moratorium on new government regulations until the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate drops to 7.7 percent. That was the level when President Obama took office in January 2009.
Beyond that, any regulation projected to cost businesses $100 million a year would require congressional approval. Also, the plan would repeal the 2009 federal health-care law and the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed new rules on the financial sector.
“Washington should be pursuing a policy of ‘do no more harm.’ Stop doing stuff. Stop trying to meddle [in] the economy,” said Curtis Dubay, a senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.