Ron Brownstein had a story in the National Journal over the weekend, pointing out exactly how much the Republican Party’s position on immigration has moved since the good old days of 2006, when lawmakers from both parties actually worked together constructively even on the thorniest of issues, and obstructionism manifested itself not in the Senate but in the House:
Just four years ago, 62 U.S. senators, including 23 Republicans, voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens. That bill was co-authored by Arizona Republican John McCain and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy. President Bush strongly supported it. The Republican supporters also included such conservative senators as Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The 39 Democratic supporters included a freshman senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.
That bill offered a three-step approach to reform that remains the most plausible template for consensus. It would have toughened enforcement of immigration laws, devoting additional resources to guarding the border and policing employers who hire undocumented workers. It established a guest-worker program to regulate the flow of immigrant labor. (Under an Obama amendment, that guest-worker program would be suspended whenever unemployment reached 9 percent.) And it provided a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who pass a background check, pay a fine, and learn English.
The bill attracted substantial support from business, religious, and civil-rights groups. The measure almost certainly could have attracted the necessary 218 votes to pass the House. But it died when House GOP leaders refused to bring it to a vote because they concluded that it lacked majority support among House Republicans.
Since 2006, Republican support for comprehensive action has unraveled. In 2007, Senate negotiators tilted the bill further to the right on issues such as border enforcement and guest workers. And yet, amid a rebellion from grassroots conservatives against anything approaching “amnesty,” just 12 Senate Republicans supported the measure as it fell victim to a filibuster. By 2008, McCain declared in a GOP presidential debate that he would no longer support his own bill: Tougher border enforcement, he insisted, should precede discussion of any new pathway to citizenship.
That view has since solidified among Republicans. For months, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have been negotiating an enforcement-legalization plan that largely tracks the 2006 model with some innovative updates, including a “biometric” Social Security card to certify legal status for employment. On balance, their proposal appears more conservative than the 2006 bill.
Yet it has been stalled for weeks because Graham had demanded that a second Republican sign on as a co-sponsor before the legislation is released, and none stepped forward.
It’s a very telling narrative. But what struck my eye was this incidental observation: “The measure almost certainly could have attracted the necessary 218 votes to pass the House. But it died when House GOP leaders refused to bring it to a vote because they concluded that it lacked majority support among House Republicans.”
This was what liberals like to call a bipartisan bill. The very epitome of bipartisanship, actually, according to us. Neither party could have passed it on its own. Yet, it passed in the Senate because 39 Democrats and 23 Republicans came together. And it was poised to pass in the House too, due to a similar coalition of both parties. Yet, House Republicans smothered it in its cradle without any qualms at all.
As I read this passage, all of a sudden a lot of things clicked into place, and started to make sense. We’ve obviously been wrong all along about what Republicans mean by bipartisanship.
Since January 2010, Republicans have been shouting themselves hoarse about the lack of bipartisanship displayed by Barack Obama and Democrats. There are a lot of things Obama can be rightly accused of — and we haven’t exactly flinched from the task here at 1115 — but accusations that he has not displayed bipartisanship have always seemed utterly ludicrous. But that’s because we simply didn’t understand what bipartisanship means to Republicans.
Bipartisanship isn’t lawmakers from both parties coming together to support and pass a bill that reflects a pragmatic fusion of ideas from both sides of the aisle. No, bipartisanship is graciously allowing the other party to vote with you when a bill reflects your party’s agenda closely enough that it commands majority support within your own party. And the real proof of bipartisanship lies in pulling the plug on any bill supported by both parties if it doesn’t command majority support within your own party. That’s what demonstrates real commitment to the idea that bipartisanship only consists of allowing the other party to support your party’s agenda.
Now by this definition, you will note, Obama and the Democrats can indeed be said to have simply not demonstrated bipartisanship. Since January 2010, they never once pulled the plug on any significant piece of legislation that didn’t command majority support among Democrats in either the House or the Senate. Of course, that may have been because that situation never arose; there was no significant piece of legislation that didn’t command majority support among Democrats in either the House or the Senate. But that’s just a matter of detail. The fact, the incontrovertible fact, remains that not once did Obama and the Democrats show us real proof of bipartisanship.
And they have repeatedly been guilty of bending over backwards to incorporate Republican ideas into their bills, when what they’re supposed to do is graciously allow Republicans to vote for purely Democratic bills.
(Of course, it can look a little confusing at times. For example, even though Democrats have consistently engaged in long and exhausting negotiations with Republicans, and bent over backwards to incorporate Republican ideas into their bills, Republicans have consistently accused Democrats of crafting bills all on their ownsome, with no input from Republicans, and then inviting Republicans to vote for the bills. This, of course, is precisely the Republican definition of bipartisanship. And yet, every time the Republicans accuse Democrats of such behavior, they claim that Democrats are not being bipartisan.
You’ll notice that I said “can look a little confusing”, not “does get a little confusing”. Because the explanation is perfectly simple. From time to time, Republicans show their love and respect for Democrats by using their definition of bipartisanship.)