Democrats and Republicans talk a lot about bipartisanship, about “reaching across the aisle” to build coalitions for legislation that puts the country’s needs above political agendas but, in the end, is mostly talk.
Neither side has any real interest in bipartisanship because working with the other side does not fit the political agendas of either party.
Democrat Steny Hoyer admitted recently he intentionally voted against a Bush administration proposal during the previous administration not because it was the right thing to do but because it would help put Democrats back in power.
Now Democrats are back in power and Republicans pull the same stunts in the hope that their efforts to undermine bipartisanship will restore the party of the elephant to the top jobs in Congress.
It’s an old game that puts politics first and the country second.
It was a startling admission. A top congressman revealed that he had voted against an administration priority as a way to score political points as his party battled to regain power.
The penitent was not a Republican confessing to a political stance against the health care overhaul or the economic stimulus measure this year. It was Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the House majority leader, conceding that he had irresponsibly opposed increases in federal borrowing authority during the Bush years in order to impugn Republicans while Democrats were fighting to regain the majority.
Mr. Hoyer’s frank acknowledgement that he had “demagogued” Bush-era debt-limit hikes, like the intense partisanship that has surrounded virtually every major Congressional matter this year from the stimulus plan to the health care overhaul, was illustrative of how the running battle for control of Congress is impeding cross-party cooperation.
Keenly aware from recent history that political missteps can cause big swings in the make-up of the House and Senate, members of the party out of power increasingly see little advantage in working with those controlling Congress to help them achieve victories that could come at the minority’s expense.
Republicans have dug in almost unanimously this year against legislation that at least some should have been able to vote for, whether it was the economic stimulus, health care changes or a crackdown on Wall Street. Democrats did the same thing in the run-up to the 2004 and 2006 elections, with a new Medicare drug benefit providing an example of a policy many backed but did not support with their votes.
“Once you get in these battles where you break into camps, every vote is about the next election,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who occasionally works with Democrats on difficult issues. “As soon as the last election is over, those who lost are thinking, ‘What can I do to get back in power?’ and those who won are thinking, ‘What can I do to stay in power?’
“When you try to solve problems from the perpetual campaign mind-set, it is very difficult,” he said.