When people see the word "bipartisan," they seem to think that it's synonymous with "apolitical." This is because that's how bipartisan agreements are explained to voters; lawmakers put politics aside, got serious, rolled up their sleeves, and got stuff done. Yay!
But the truth is that compromise is an intensely political process. I always say that a compromise is an arrangement in which both sides agree to be equally unhappy, but the truth is that both sides try to make sure the other party is a little more unhappy than they are. They don't join hands and sing "We are the World," they argue, they fight, they maneuver for position. If the final agreement looks good, they try to shoulder each other out of the way when the news cameras start rolling. If it's not so good, they try to push each other to the front and blame someone else. A good argument can be made that a bipartisan approach practically guarantees the sort of one-upmanship that we're told that compromise avoids.
Another thing I always say is that when you meet someone crazy halfway, the result is halfway crazy. As you've probably guessed, I'm not a big fan of bipartisanship or compromise. If we want a demonstration of everything that's wrong with bipartisanship, we can find it in the instructional case of Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.
Grassley has turned his back on bipartisanship. Once the GOP's lead man in compromise on health care reform, he saw the town hall protests, did a little back-of-an-envelope calculating, stuck his finger in the wind, and declared Senate Democrats' health care reform ideas the worst thing ever. Unlike Democratic leadership, Grassley understands that bipartisanship is a good thing only when it's a necessary thing. On discovering that enough fools in the GOP base want insurance companies to continue reaming them, he decided that bipartisanship was no longer necessary. A bill wouldn't have to be passed and he could just go ahead and be as obstructionist as his little Republican heart directed him to be.
[Greg Sargent, Plum Line:]
If there were ever a day where Dems had an opening to argue that Republicans are the ones responsible for putting hopes for a bipartisan health care compromise on life support, today would appear to be it.
A day after Patron Saint of Bipartisanship Chuck Grassley seemed to lend support to Sarah Palin's "death panel" claims, the Senator confirmed that the end of life provision has been dropped from the Senate Finance compromise bill because, he said, it could be "misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly."
Not only that, but he also directly attacked the House Dem proposal by floating the idea that it leaves end of life issues "open to interpretation"...
"Grassley's Iowa road show shows just why Democrats feared this August recess," writes Politico's Lisa Lerer. "If the Democrats lose Grassley, the top Republican negotiator on the Senate Finance Committee, they very likely lose any hope of a bipartisan bill. Even worse, if Grassley bails, then conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson may follow."
So who do we blame for the death of bipartisanship here? Certainly not Grassley. He's only obeying his jerking Republican knee. It's just his nature. The problem isn't in Grassley's fecklessness, but in trusting a Republican to be guided by concern for the health care crisis. Republicans have been offering only criticism and no solutions of their own; by default, the GOP is arguing that there is no health care crisis. If they do admit to a crisis, they stand against every single proposal to change the industry. I'm in danger of abusing my own cliches here, but when a Republican talks about change, it means they want to change things back. But there is no "back" here. This is pretty damned close to the way things have always been. So they're changing the health care system back preemptively, by working to make any change impossible. That way, they won't have to change it back.
We can't blame the Grassley or the GOP for this, anymore than you can fault water for flooding your basement. It's just what they do if they have any chance at all to do it. No, we have to look elsewhere for a culprit here...
[Associated Press, July 23:]
Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday abandoned plans for a vote on health care before Congress' August recess, dealing a blow to President Barack Obama's ambitious timetable to revamp the nation's $2.4 trillion system of medical care.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delivered the official pronouncement on what had been expected for weeks, saying, "It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through."
His words were a near-echo of Republicans who have criticized the rush to act on complex legislation that affects every American.
There we go. It's almost a lead pipe cinch that everything that's happening now wouldn't be happening if Democrats had stuck to their guns and worked through the recess. People call this a "health care crisis" for a reason; it's happening now and it was happening then. How's that "thoughtfulness" working for you now, Harry? Seeing a lot of deep thinking in the current screaming non-debate? Man, I sure am glad we had this month to sit back and think it through, because all this lying and vitriol has just been so damned constructive. I'd hate to think what would've happened if we hadn't taken a time-out to "discuss" things.
Of course, Nancy Pelosi also bears some fault here. The war on reason is happening in house members' town halls, too. In fact, more so because there are so many more representatives than senators. But Pelosi was set on working through the recess and it was the senate that knocked the wind out of the sails of that plan. There's no point in producing a bill right away when it'd have to wait a month for a senate version anyway.
No, we can pin the bulk of the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Harry Reid. At the time he made the announcement, I wrote, "Harry Reid needs to be fired as senate majority leader -- preferably out of a cannon into the Atlantic Ocean." Reid seems to believe that the purpose of democracy is to pass law unanimously and someone who's so terrified of debate has no business running the senate.
If he comes back from recess and starts yacking about bipartisanship again, I'm going to... I don't know. Get hammered, I guess. Get hammered and curse Harry Reid's denial. Bipartisanship is dead, Harry. Dead as freakin' Shakespeare or Alexander or Cleopatra. Long, long departed. Gone. A memory.
Ask Sen. Charles Grassley, he knows. If you need to work through the stages of grief, then you need to get a move on. We need you to be at acceptance by September.
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