GOP rolls the partisan dice
February 22, 2009
Whatever happened to bipartisanship, anyway? Why did all but three Republicans vote against the stimulus bill? What could Republicans hope to gain politically by butting heads with a popular president and an electorate that polled 60 percent in favor of the Obama plan?
I have some theories. One is ideological. Republicans wanted to define their role as a minority party. Another is gerrymandering ,which protects House members from further election losses. I suspect the overriding reason is a gamble by the Republican Party, which finds itself with a significant loss of power it would like to reverse in mid-term elections in two years and in the next presidential race in four years.
The gamble, as I see it, is the following: A Republican Party revival depends upon the failure of Obama’s recovery plans. It is not in Republican Party interest to see Obama succeed. That would mean long term domination by a popular party, as happened with the perception of the success of the New Deal. The mean spirit of such an approach is that if Obama’s plan to rescue the economy fails, there are disastrous consequences to constituents of both parties.
The success of the Republican Party’s gamble depends on keeping all of the Republican votes in Congress in their fold and on message. Bipartisanship is the direct enemy of that approach. That explains why Republican leaders claimed victory when Republican Party discipline held on votes against the stimulus.
I suspect the Republicans never intended to vote yes on the stimulus, regardless of concessions.. Their strategy was unmasked during Obama’s first week in office. Remember when the president paid a visit to the Republican caucus? Before that meeting, a reporter asked one of the House Republican leaders what he thought. The answer, “Well, we are going to vote against it anyway, but we appreciate his willingness to meet with us”. Of course, Republican leaders were quick to pay lip service, expressing hope that a stimulus package would succeed, but only if it met their criteria.
Since a Republican National Committee meeting held in early January, Republicans have been advocating a return to their traditional ideology of small, inactive government, minimal government spending, tax reduction for corporations and the richer, and low government debt. Their alternative proposal to the Democrat’s bill reflected this: Cut the amount in half by eliminating spending and instead, depend nearly completely on tax cuts. Every mainstream economist, left or right of center, and even economists advising congressional Republicans, dismissed this approach as the wrong one for the dire, pre-depression condition we are in now.
The Democrats did not embrace it either, though over 30 percent of the bill that was passed consisted of tax cuts, a significant bow to Republicanism. Undeterred by expert opinions, Republicans persisted in hoping their message would drown out suspicions that they are a party of hoping hope fails.
Republicans’ stated rationale for voting against government spending programs was also ideologically based. Any stimulus money directed to education, the arts, public employees, environment, energy efficiency, science or health was criticized as being pork that would not create jobs. It appears that the Republicans think teachers, first responders, actors, home improvement contractors, or scientists and information technocrats are not real people holding real jobs that don’t deserve to be saved or created. Republicans have a long history of limiting or opposing taxpayer spending in these sectors. Spending $500 billion on an unnecessary war and nearly $800 billion on a Wall Street bailout was just fine with most of them, though.
With the Gallup Poll showing an approval rating of congressional Republicans at 31 percent, House Republicans have little to lose. Also, thanks to the gerrymandering of the past 20 years, boundaries of congressional districts have been drawn so that each is dominated by like-minded voters. An incumbent is likely to be re-elected, regardless. The outcomes in the House in the near future will be hopelessly predictable and partisan on most issues.
The action will be in the Senate. The Senate Democrats are two votes shy of being filibuster proof. A filibuster is a way the minority in the Senate can talk a piece of legislation to death and 60 votes are needed to close off a filibuster . Gerrymandering is not a factor since Senators must run statewide. One pocket of like-minded voters might not dominate the entire state, and independent voters could swing the election one way or the other. Colorado is a classic example of that kind of a state. This could partly explain why President Obama visited Colorado last week, to keep our Senators blue.
Can bipartisanship ever rise Lazarus-like from the dead? Yes, it can if Obama can drum up sufficient popular support so that enough Republican senators feel the heat. That also explains why he has been taking his show on the road to swing states. Smart man.
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