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Robert R. Hoopes, Jr.

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Governing Together: The Debt Limit Is an Ideal Opportunity

Posted: 07/29/11 07:20 PM ET

There is a saying that is widely popular among conservatives: "The government that governs least governs best." The current class of Republican legislators in Washington is taking it to a whole new level: "The government that doesn't govern at all governs best." John Boehner has tried his best to govern, but as he told his Conference in locker room language, you can't lead without any followers.

So, with the leadership of both parties backed into a corner, we are left with one option to end the impasse and avert untold and unknown consequences on Tuesday, an option that would be a first of its kind event in this Congress and a first of its kind event in the Obama Presidency: a bipartisan vote in the House for a major piece of legislation.

To date, Democrats and Republicans in the House have not joined one another in a single major piece of legislation since President Obama took office. Not one. Stimulus package? No Republicans. Health care reform? No Republicans. Dodd-Frank? Hardly -- Snowe and Collins from Maine (outcasts to their party) and Brown from MA. There is no shared ownership of any work of the last two years.

When the two parties don't share in the passing of legislation, they don't share the responsibility of governing. Governing is hard; saying no to everything is easy.

As Tea Party Republicans dig in their heels against his plan -- or any plan -- Boehner must look across the aisle, and his Democrat brothers and sisters must do the same. Bipartisanship is no longer just a word that members of Congress can throw around and then ignore. It is the only option. And that's a good thing. (The Founders warned us about Parties.)

If Boehner and Nancy Pelosi are able to lead their caucuses to a bipartisan vote, it would be the first time in years that the two parties have shared responsibility for running the country. Leaders from either party could no longer hurl insults and slogans at each other; talking heads would be forced to drop the partisan talking points for bi-partisan talking points; Mitt Romney and the rest of the presidential candidates (and Sarah Palin and the rest of the non-candidates) would not be able to attack the vote on partisan grounds; and, most of all, members from both parties would get to go back to their districts for the August recess and tell their constituents how they worked together to address what is widely seen as a consensus problem. Shared governing results in shared responsibility.

A bipartisan vote might actually lead to an intellectual conversation instead of a partisan shouting match. That would be a welcome change.

As the debt ceiling looms, Congress has to govern. There is no better way to do that than to ensure that both parties are held responsible for the choices the Congress makes.