The 10-minute segment was just the latest proof that, when it comes to the most important issues, bipartisanship is all but dead in today’s Washington. And Democrats who place their hopes in it are fooling themselves.
As Wallace noted, Democrats’ hopes to pass a bipartisan China bill have looked increasingly precarious in recent days. When asked why, Cornyn blamed “30 executive orders and a partisan $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief bill.” You’ll notice none of that had anything to do with China-U.S. relations. This is in fact the first part of the GOP shell game when it come to bipartisanship: Opposition to a Democratic bill doesn’t need substantive reasons or counterproposals. We saw a similar example this past week from Cornyn’s fellow Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. On Wednesday, the West Virginia senator said $600 billion to $800 billion was a reasonable figure for an infrastructure deal; the next day, she admitted that number was “just a ballpark figure.… I just kind of threw that out as a talking point.”
Another part of this shell game is preserving an pretense of bipartisanship. In that spirit, Cornyn continued: “Having said that, Chris and I are working together to try to come together on some bipartisan bills.… And I’m encouraged that Chris is a good partner and willing to work with me to try to accomplish some important things.” At this point, Wallace put up a graphic of bills the two senators have worked on this Congress:
That’s hardly an extensive list. Yes, both bills are more substantive than renaming a post office. The NICS Denial Notification Act would require federal law enforcement to notify their state and local counterparts if a would-be gun buyer fails a background check. The Corps Act would expand AmeriCorps and other national service programs.
But both are a drop in the bucket compared to something like the White House’s infrastructure package, for which Coons attempted to negotiate a bipartisan deal last week. The Delaware senator proposed splitting the $2 trillion package into two bills: one with $800 billion in funding for roads, bridges, broadband and anything else that, in Coons’s view, might get 60 votes in the Senate, and the other with the rest of the funding that needs to be passed on a party-line vote. “If we come together in a bipartisan way to pass [the first bill],” he told Wallace, “then we show our people that we can solve their problems.”
Cornyn kept up appearances before plunging in the dagger. “I’ll agree that Senator Coons is half-right. There is a core infrastructure bill that we could pass,” he said, “with appropriate pay-fors.” Of course, those last three words give away the whole game: When it comes to pay-fors, Democrats won’t back large spending cuts, which would undercut the package’s boost to the economy. And Republicans won’t accept tax increases on the wealthy or corporations, despite inequality levels not seen since the 1920s.
To be fair to Coons, while he may persist in this flawed quest for bipartisanship, he won’t hold up major Democratic initiatives to do so. Far worse are senators such as Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and especially Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who indulge Republicans’ games and either water down important initiatives (pandemic relief, infrastructure) or block them entirely (a $15 minimum wage, filibuster reform). This is all the more aggravating when you consider that a clear majority of voters back a $15 minimum wage, a big infrastructure package and so on.
Manchin and Sinema have incentives to do this. As the Daily Poster reported, corporate lobbies have been generous to the senators. After opposing a $15 minimum wage, both have been added to the speakers list of the National Restaurant Association’s annual lobbying conference. Their obstruction to filibuster reform similarly means no major health-care or climate-change legislation has any chance of passing, which keeps big businesses happy.
But beyond that motivation, Manchin really seems to believe, as he wrote in The Post early this month, that “the issues facing our democracy today are not insurmountable if we choose to tackle them together.” That’s a nice sentiment, but he also called on the GOP “to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats.” Cornyn’s appearance should be proof enough, if it was needed, that Republicans have no interest in compromise. It is long past time to stop pretending otherwise.