With Senator Evan Bayh's surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection because of "too much partisanship and not enough progress" this week, there's a Greek chorus decrying the inability of the parties to work together as evidence of a failed system. His abdication was widely read as proof positive that Washington cannot solve the problems that Americans face every day and that bipartisanship is the solution.
But is bipartisanship a means or an end? And is bipartisanship really the reason Bayh and others were sent to Washington?
A growing number of us are stepping forward to say no.
Don't get me wrong: the American people want and need the best ideas from both parties. They want to see Congress have an honest debate on those ideas, vote on those ideas and pass bills that reflect those "best" ideas.
But make no mistake about it: Americans are deeply invested in results.
Just look at the polls. Americans want their elected leaders to work together but not at the expense of governing. The reality is Americans really want solutions that will save their jobs, their homes -- their security.
Bipartisanship can lead to great legislation, but the pursuit of compromise should not come at the expense of sound public policy and progress. And the public won't let Members of Congress hide behind bipartisanship as an excuse for not getting things done.
If the Republicans, who developed a new-found appreciation for bipartisanship around November 2008, really cared about bipartisan solutions as much as they did political gamesmanship, there would be a lot more progress made to get our country back on track.
The truth? Much of the legislation passed last year had input from both sides of the aisle. From the American Recovery and Restoration Act to jobs to healthcare, representatives from both parties worked together to craft bills that reflected the ideas of both parties.
Then what happened? The GOP voted no. They voted no on bills they helped draft. They voted no on ideas they once championed. They said no to moving this country forward.
After collaborating with the Democrats on the essential American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and contributing a number of proposals reflected in the bill, three Republican Senators gave the final bill their support. But even as the Act created and saved more than two and a half million jobs throughout 2009, Republicans in Congress did all they could to discredit it. The irony, of course, is that these same Republicans showed up at a number of ribbon cuttings in their districts to celebrate the creation of good jobs they voted against.
Then you have the upcoming jobs bill. Contrary to Senator Bayh's example of stalled progress, the bill that Majority Leader Reid will take to the Floor on Monday is a100% bipartisan bill. What about the Baucus-Grassley proposal that Bayh criticized for not being brought up? Well, every single piece of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act was taken directly from it; including the main component -- the Schumer-Hatch Payroll tax exemption. He simply took out all the stuff not related to jobs; i.e. a lot of pork for corporate lobbyists. No matter the bipartisan nature of this legislation and helping to draft it, Senator Hatch has already announced he will not vote for it. Most Republicans will likely follow. Hopefully conservative Democrats will not shy away from supporting bipartisan policies simply because their Republican colleagues do.
And then there is health care. Much of the Senate bill that passed without a single Republican vote was based on the bipartisan Senate Finance Committee's bill. A bill, I might add, that was developed through months and months of negotiations with the infamous, bipartisan "Gang of 6." To the chagrin of many progressives, that bill was chock-full of Republican ideas like selling insurance across state lines but lacked core progressive ideas like a public plan option. Despite over a year of negotiations, the bill's inclusion of many of their ideas, Republicans once again chose to abandon a bill of bipartisan ideas and chose to obstruct in the hope of political gain.
And even after the President makes clear he invites their best thinking that he welcomes their ideas AND their participation in a health care summit to do what is right for the American people, the GOP cries foul and threatens to stay home.
This, quite clearly, has little to do with what's right and everything to do with what's politically expedient.
So the question remains: what will Republicans do now? Will they follow the same course they've been on -- negotiate a bill, add in amendments and changes and then walk away -- choosing to block legislation from passing at any cost while making the laughable claim that they weren't involved?
Republicans seem to prefer that Congress achieve nothing in the hopes that they will gain more seats in November. They want to hide behind bipartisanship. But what Republicans are making clear is their undying commitment to winning at all costs. Ignoring the American people's desperate need for jobs, for health care, for banks that work for Main Street and not Wall Street, for a sensible immigration policy. For progress.
It's not always the journey. Sometimes, it is very clearly the destination. Congress cannot abandon their principles, and Congress cannot abandon the needs of the American people. It is their job -- their responsibility -- to govern.
So, for the people who get up and go to work every day -- or increasingly, those who get up and look for work every day -- Congress needs to remember why they were sent here. It wasn't for bipartisanship. It was to take action. It is time Congress restore America's hope for a better future.
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