Well, you’d probably start with quiet negotiations to give both sides maximum room to compromise. And then you’d go back to what Republicans had said about deficit reduction in March, which is that a successful plan would be about 85 percent spending cuts and 15 percent tax increases, and you’d offer them that. Your base wouldn’t like it, of course, but hey, you want a deal.
And let’s say you wanted to cut a deal on health-care reform. Presumably, you’d go back to past health-care reform plans the Republican Party had offered and try to craft something similar. You’d notice that Republicans particularly seemed to like the individual mandate — no surprise, given that they invented the thing — so even though you opposed it during the campaign, maybe you’d add that. Sure, liberals wanted Medicare for All, or an employer mandate, but hey, you want a deal.
Global warming? Well, Republicans came up with cap-and-trade in the 1990s, and in 2007, Newt Gingrich had said he’d “strongly support” extending it to carbon emissions, so that’d be an obvious approach.
It’s possible that none of this would work, of course. Perhaps coal-state Democrats would join with denialist Republicans and fight cap-and-trade. But at least you’d get points for being bipartisan, right?
Wrong. What I’ve described is, of course, the Obama White House’s agenda, which borrows many ideas from the Republican Party of the mid-1990s and early-Aughts, and has not been treated as particularly bipartisan. In my column this week, I wrote that this was, in part, because bipartisanship doesn’t mean what Democrats think it means. A “bipartisan bill” isn’t a bill that includes ideas from both parties. It’s a bill that includes votes from both parties. That’s what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell means when he says “President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit.” A bill that includes ideas from both parties won’t be bipartisan, because Republicans won’t vote for it. A bill that only includes Republican ideas can be bipartisan, because Republicans will vote for it.
But after writing this morning’s post on the Republican report that recommended the exact deficit-reduction package that the Republican leadership ultimately walked out on, I realized that even that definition of “bipartisan” doesn’t quite get it right. Rather, a “bipartisan” bill is a bill that the opposing party treats as bipartisan, while a partisan bill is a bill that the opposing party treats as partisan. That puts the agency where it belongs: on the minority party. The idea that the president can “be bipartisan” is dead wrong. He can be partisan, designing bills that the opposing party would never want to vote for, but he can’t be bipartisan unless the opposing party lets him. And knowing that any reputation he gets for bipartisanship will be used in his reelection campaign, why would they do that?