For the past few months, there has been a lot of talk about the lack of bipartisanship in the past few years. I have to admit feeling dread at the new Republicans that are coming to Congress this January. There are issues that Democrats will have to fight the Republican Party tooth and nail on, like the Republican promise to try to repeal last year’s health care bill and the attempt by some Republicans to reverse the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. There are some issues, though, that Democrats could possibly collaborate with Republicans on. These collaborations will result in piecemeal, incremental reforms, but in my view, even incremental change is good. I read two articles, Brian Riedl’s November 29, 2010 article for the National Review titled What to Cut and Daniel Stone, Eleanor Clift and Andrew Romano’s article for the November 1, 2010 edition of Newsweek called Yes, They Can to try to find some possible areas of common ground that the Democrats and Republicans can work on. Admittedly, there isn’t much common ground between the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans that dominate the Congress right now. I don’t yet know the tendencies of the few remaining moderate Republicans in Congress. Perhaps though if we find some areas of common interest to work at, maybe these next two years in Congress won’t wind up just being two years of gridlock.
One surprising area in which conservatives and liberals may agree upon may be on cutting corporate welfare. Progressives for years have been decrying the influence that corporations have in Washington D.C. and since the Supreme Court decision CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, progressives have been especially keen to reign in corporate power. Groups like the Public Campaign Finance Fund have sought to limit the reach of corporations in our elections. Another way to limit corporations would be to cut corporate welfare. I was surprised to find in the National Review that conservatives share a desire to limit corporate welfare. In Brien Reidl’s article, Reidl writes:
Even before bailing out Wall Street, Washington spent more on corporate welfare than on homeland security. The public will not trust conservatives to reform middle- and lower-income entitlement programs unless they are also willing to stop granting special favors to their friends in business. A free market means that businesses rise and fall on their own, without politicians’ picking winners and losers.
Most corporate-welfare spending is buried in obscure projects with harmless-sounding names like the “Technology Innovation Program.” Rather than terminate each program individually, Congress could ban subsidies for (but not contracts with) businesses that have gross revenues above a certain level.
Though many Republicans are sceptical of climate change science, they have over the years been keen to wean our country out of its dependence on foreign oil. Last year, Senator Lindsey Graham partnered with Independent Senator Joe Lieberman and Democrat John Kerry in a failed attempt at a bipartisan energy bill. The November 1, 2010 edition of Newsweek stated:
Compromise isn’t off the table. While still skeptical of climate change, Republicans have been warming to the idea of energy independence in recent years. Several senior members, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, may continue to call for an expansion of nuclear power, and Democrats, lacking the votes to act alone on anything stronger, will be inclined to play along. Would-be House Speaker John Boehner may also put together a package that couples subsidies for solar and wind development and funding for electric cars with new drilling in Alaska and the gulf. Several energy analysts say they expect Democrats to push back with demands for new regulations on oil companies—then ultimately strike a deal.
After last year’s oil spill in the Gulf, I wish the Republicans well in trying to pass legislation to open up the region for more oil drilling. I’m wary about nuclear power, but read an article last year in the New York Times of smaller nuclear facilities that produce less energy than the nuclear plants of 30 years ago, but are also easier to contain in case of an accident. It’s an issue I don’t have enough knowledge of. I got into a conversation last year with a Republican friend who talked about natural gas being a cleaner form of energy that could be used to replace coal and oil and to maintain our energy needs until alternative sources of energy could take up more of the slack. Energy is an issue I have to do more research this year to be better informed.
Immigration is one issue that conservatives and liberals once had some common ground, but the common ground has shrunk due to a recent wave of anti-immigrant feeling from the Tea Party and the far Right. Last December’s failed vote on the Dream Act is a case in point. Several conservatives who once supported the Dream Act voted against it last December. Orrin Hatch was an original supporter of the Dream Act. Senator John McCain cosponsored the DREAM Act in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Senator Chuck Grassley cosponsored the DREAM Act in 2003. As the pressures from grassroots conservative activists grew, these Senators switched their positions on the Dream Act.
I still hope that another attempt is made to pass the Dream Act. While a comprehensive immigration law is probably out of the question, more incremental measures like the Dream Act may have a better chance of passing. The November 1, 2010 edition of Newsweek states:
But while the sweeping, comprehensive legislation once backed by George W. Bush may be dead, some lawmakers are still holding out hope for a piecemeal approach: start with increased border security, then follow up with a pathway to citizenship. The business community supports such a strategy, and given that it’s underwriting many of this year’s likely Republican winners, it should have some sway with the next Congress.
I wasn’t expecting much common ground between liberals and conservatives on the war in Afganistan, but the November 1 Newsweek article speculates of a potential partnership of convenience between anti-war Democrats and libertarian Tea Partiers. It states:
As the so-called Age of Austerity begins, some observers have speculated that Tea Partiers and antiwar Democrats could make common cause by calling for withdrawal as a way to cut the deficit. But only the most libertarian of the Tea Partiers put fiscal responsibility before national defense.
I remember during the 2008 Republican primaries how Representative Ron Paul stood out for his strong condemnations on the war in Iraq. This is admittedly slim, but perhaps the anti-war sentiments among progressives and libertarians could perhaps have some grassroots influence when the debate on whether to withdraw from Afganistan takes place.
With all the talk about bipartisanship, I’ve actually been pessimistic these past few months about the likelihood of an sort of bipartisan actions in Congress. I hope I’m wrong though. If liberal Ted Kennedy and conservative Orrin Hatch were able to pass many pieces of legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, perhaps there is some hope.
I think the key to bipartisan legislation is when there is a sizable number of moderates who can bridge the gap between the liberals and conservatives. Many years ago there used to be liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, which I think was good. Most people that I know are not uniformly liberal or uniformly conservative; they’re liberal on some issues and conservative on other issues. I think it’s healthy for both parties to show some of the diversity of political thought that is found in most Americans. It really bothered me to see the Tea Party have some sort of conservative litmus test to weed out the moderate Republicans from the GOP. If there were more moderate Republicans, I’d have more confidence that more bipartisan legislation could be passed on more important issues.
I think the best way for liberals and progressives to influence our country is to stay active in the grassroots and move the political center of the country leftward. If the political center moves leftwards, the moderates will follow suit. We just need to keep arguing our points, being involved in rallies and vigils, write letters to the editors, be involved in progressive groups. Progressives do not have the option of giving in to disillusionment over the frustrating political process. If progressives stop participating in the political process, there is no one to fight for the poor, the working class, and the marginalized in our society.
Ever since Ted Kennedy died in 2009, I’ve been reading about how he was able to pass legislation. He was a stalwart liberal, but he was also a legislator who was able to get bipartisan legislation passed. From looking at his record in the Senate, I think it is possible to be both a strong Progressive and be bipartisan. In these next few years, we should stand strong against bills that harm the poor and working class and fight the rising prejudices against beleaguered groups. But on those issues where we can work with this new Republican group, let’s work on those issues and get some things done for our country.