It’s become increasingly obvious that bipartisanship in the current political climate, particularly in the U.S. House and Senate, is fast becoming a pipe dream.
With Democrats not securing a single Republican vote in either chamber for the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a bill beneficial to the majority of Americans, irrespective of party affiliation, Biden’s expressed desire to work in a bipartisan way seems dead in the water.
The obvious hardline stance taken by the Republican Party in Congress has transformed any previous semblance of bipartisanship into a rabid parliamentary system, where most legislation can pass only with votes from the party that holds the majority in Congress.
It would seem that a bill to rescue residents enduring tremendous hardship due to COVID-19 should attract bipartisan support.
In fact, several national polls revealed some 56 percent of Republican voters support the ARP—a fact that doesn’t seem to sway Republicans in the House and Senate.
Historically, bipartisanship hasn’t been a regular feature in the U.S. governing system. There were actually violent fights in Congress in the decades before the Civil War, as the parties jostled for bipartisan support for either pro-slavery or anti-slavery measures.
However, during the dark days of segregation from the 1930s to the mid-60s, there was more evidence of bipartisanship as Democrats from the South voted with Republicans to impose laws that supported the dreaded Jim Crow system.
Both President Franklyn Roosevelt and President Lyndon Johnson created what appeared to be miracles when, respectively, they secured bipartisan support for the Social Security Act in 1935, and that of 1965, which created Medicare and Medicaid.
Since then, bipartisan approval of major legislation has been few and far between. Exceptions include in 1997 when Republicans supported Democrats in approving the Children Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), 2006, when Democrats voted to support President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, and 2020 when bipartisanship was attained in approving the CARES Act.
But, in 2009 when President Barack Obama took office, several major bills, including the 2009 America Recovery Act, which pulled the nation from economic disaster, didn’t garner one Republican vote. Neither did the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), which benefits Americans irrespective of party affiliation.
The Trump Administration also didn’t get any Democratic support when Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Over decades, the Republican and Democratic parties have developed stark differences in policies. While, in the past, skillful congressional leaders could broker agreements around the differences, today, the differences are cemented by deliberate political strategies designed to defeat the other party when it attempts to pass major legislation.
When Obama proposed the ACA, the administration made attempts to get Republican support. Even though the model used in drafting the ACA was the Massachusetts healthcare plan implemented by then-Republican Governor Mitt Romney. Obama did not get Republican support. Obama’s attempt at immigration reform, despite general bipartisan support in the Senate, died in the Republican-led House.
The Democratic Party also has its share of liberal, progressive members not easily willing to vote with Republican colleagues.
Therefore, to get major legislation passed in the U.S. Congress, it’s incumbent on either party to win large majorities in both chambers.
With tiny majorities in the Senate and the House, unless the Democrats upend the 60-vote filibuster in the Senate, Biden’s agenda for immigration reform, restoration of voter rights, and even a nationwide infrastructural development plan are at risk.
This lack of bipartisanship is no good. It is strangling our democracy. The only way this can change is to elect courageous people to Congress—those who put the interests of those who elect them above potential vengeance. But in the modern-day USA, this seems Utopian. Doesn’t it?