For those claiming that Washington, D.C., is “gridlocked” and that lawmakers are polarized as never before, this yarn is proving to be nettlesome. Lots of bipartisan agreement is springing up, not simply in the form of an agreement to end the so-called “nuclear option.”
A bipartisan deal was struck to utilize market-based interest rates for student loans. As conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin put it in an e-mail: “Given
the staggering level of debt already incurred by the U.S. Treasury, shifting to
a market-based borrower interest rate is an overdue solution to the ongoing
student loan interest rate drama. The change would reduce interest rates for borrowers in the short-term, and simplify the federal student loan programs, all while removing government bureaucracy from the rate-setting process.” In other words, far-left lawmakers caved after trying to hold up a deal on a proposal that originated with the White House.
The Senate passed immigration reform, making good on the Gang of 8’s promise to present a bipartisan solution to a broken immigration system.
This week, a large bipartisan majority in the House voted to delay Obamacare’s employer mandate as well as the individual mandate. Earlier in the year (albeit on a symbolic vote), 79 senators agreed the medical device tax should go. Democrats and Republicans alike are investigating the Internal Revenue Scandal.
On foreign policy, Democrats and Republicans have agreed to ratchet up Iran sanctions. There has been bipartisan condemnation of Russia’s actions.
This doesn’t mean right and left agree on everything, or even most things. There are sharp philosophical divides on taxes, energy, the budget and more. But bipartisanship can properly be seen as the ability to work together when interests coincide or are reconcilable.
Considering we have a divisive president, GOP control of the House, and a Democratic majority in the Senate, there has been more agreement than you might think. A few points on bipartisanship are worth noting.
First: The Supreme Court, by essentially sending gay marriage back to the states, eliminated a hot-button issue on which there has been much heat and little light. Sometimes sending issues out of D.C., in this case to state capitals, can promote deal-making.
Second: Bipartisanship is not an unalloyed benefit, or even a good unto itself. We can have rotten bipartisan agreement from the conservative perspective (e.g. slash the defense budget in sequestration) or from the liberal vantage point (e.g. slash domestic spending in sequestration).
And finally: When President Obama is scarce, bipartisanship increases. When he has been front and center (the grand bargain, gun control), nothing gets done. But when left to their own devices, Congress manages to hash out agreement here and there, as they did on immigration reform and student loans in the Senate. This is partially because the president insists on demeaning his opponents, but it is also true that Senate Democrats are generally more moderate than the president. This makes deal-making easier than when the president is involved. (We saw in the budget negotiations of 2011 that Obama became paralyzed by his base and frittered away a tentative deal with the House speaker.)
Bipartisanship is too often what one side demands of the other when it won’t agree to go along. But in fact it is one aspect of our political system that is working better than most people think.