What really is bi-partisanship?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted March 12, 2001

When the Bush Administration came into office, there was a great deal of talk about bi-partisanship. But now after a couple of months of the Bush Presidency, Democrats are complaining bitterly that Bush doesn't really believe in bi-partisanship. Meanwhile, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay says that the Democrats' definition of bi-partisanship is to cave in to what they want or they don't want to deal.

Well, what is bi-partisanship? Was it bi-partisan when Ronald Reagan got conservative Democrats to sponsor his tax and spending plans during his first term in the House so he could override the liberal Democratic House leadership? Is it bi-partisan when George Bush gets Zell Miller and Ben Nelson and some others to join him in the Senate to sponsor his tax cuts?

DeLay says he and Speaker Hastert have offered to sit down with the Democratic leadership to negotiate over taxes and spending but the Democrats would not hear of it because they were not interested in real compromise.

The Democrats say that the Republicans just want to rush through the Bush programs and they don't want Democratic input, and they point to the vote in the House on the first part of Bush's tax plan which was passed mainly by Republicans with a few conservative Democrats tagging along.

So what really is bi-partisanship? Apparently beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Given the ideological divisions in the Congress these days there is no chance for the sort of bi-partisanship displayed on foreign policy following World War II in the United States Senate. The Senate isn't just divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. It is nearly as divided ideologically. So the chance of much bi-partisanship in the Senate over Bush's tax bill is very limited. The Majority Leader's best vote counter said he could count only six Democrats under the best of circumstances who are even possibilities to sign on to the Bush plan. So should Bush sacrifice his principles and give up the essence of his program to reach a compromise with the Democrats? If he did that, chances are he would lose a Republican vote for every Democrat vote he picked up if he did. So what would he gain in that case?

Bi-partisanship is one of these ideas that is nice in theory. Editorial writers and columnists love the idea. But in practice bi-partisanship is going to amount to whatever the sponsors can put together. You know, like McCain-Feingold supposedly being a bi-partisan campaign reform bill. Well, now it turns out that perhaps the majority in both parties may have reservations about the legislation. So perhaps we could say the opposition is bi-partisan. Or perhaps we could just forget the concept altogether.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

Current Issue

Archive Main | 2001

E-mail ESR



1996-2023, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.