Opinion

There is no bipartisanship because Republicans don't want it

All they want is for Biden to fail

President Biden met Monday with several Republican senators, supposedly in the interest of exploring the possibility of getting 10 Republican votes in the Senate to pass a coronavirus relief bill. If Biden knows what is good for him, this will be a simple feint to get some positive press. He almost certainly would not be able to get 10 votes even for a pared down version of his bill, which is already a compromise from what is needed. Among the group are several hard-right conservatives who will be extremely reluctant to vote for anything that Biden supports — so if he agrees to it, to them it will become bad by definition.

Nevertheless, this meeting brought out many hopeful comments from reporters and Washington D.C. grandees who pine for the days when the parties could come together. "How serious is Biden about bipartisanship? We're about to find out," wonders Politico. He should "choose compromise," writes Michael R. Strain at Bloomberg.

It is therefore key to understand that Republicans are not actually trying to negotiate in any kind of ordinary sense. They are trying to sabotage Biden's presidency and manipulate the media. So long as the GOP remains a party of conspiracy-mongering insurgents trying to overthrow democracy, there can be no real bipartisanship.

Consider a common type of negotiation: haggling over a price. Suppose I want to buy a used car for $1,500, but its owner wants to sell it for $2,000. We thus meet in the middle at $1,750. Now, in order for this to happen, I must express a preference so we can figure out an acceptable compromise (or decide we're too far apart to agree).

These Republicans are not carrying out their half of the negotiation ritual. They simply took what Biden wants and lopped off more than two-thirds without so much as a whisper of serious justification — cutting the $1,400 direct assistance checks to $1,000 and further limiting who would receive them, cutting the boost to unemployment insurance by $100 and making it three months shorter, and slicing out the $15 minimum wage and aid to state and local government entirely. (This latter omission should be a complete deal-breaker by itself.)

Whereas the Biden administration has a lengthy justification for every item in its package (and again, if anything, it is too small), these Republican senators have only expressed some vague, phoney-baloney worries about the deficit. "The additional stimulus checks that the president is proposing are not well targeted," complained Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) — a sentiment that was oddly absent when she voted for Trump's deficit-exploding tax cuts for the rich in 2017.

A real negotiation would start with Republicans' actual substantive objections to specific parts of the bill, or some kind of trade they wanted to make. They might say they want even more tax cuts for the rich, or a particular piece of pork for their home states. In the latter case they would probably get what they wanted — Biden would no doubt be more than happy to hand out some highway funding or whatever to get that shiny bipartisan imprimatur.

But that is completely impossible so long as Republicans don't say what they really want. And they don't do that because their political goals, insofar as they have any at all, are purely destructive. Even the minority of Republicans who are willing to concede Biden legitimately won want to stop him from doing anything that would help suffering Americans, or resolve the pandemic more quickly, or kickstart the economy once mass vaccination takes hold, so that they can ride the wave of frustration and disillusionment in the 2022 midterm elections. Of course, this can't be admitted out loud.

As a result, most Republican members of Congress could not articulate clear, logical objections to Biden's bill if their lives depended on it, nor come up with a list of reasonable legislative priorities they actually support — and even if they could, trying to actually get half a loaf as part of a good-faith bargain with Democrats would instantly cause right-wing media to brand them as sellout traitors. What this group is doing is trying to trick Biden into cutting down the size of his pandemic rescue package, so he cannot get credit for fixing the economy, and trying to trick the media into blaming their inevitable refusal to compromise on Biden instead of themselves. Even better if it distracts from the ongoing plot to rig future elections with extreme gerrymandering at the state level.

It is somewhat mysterious why bipartisanship became a sort of fetish object for some D.C. lifers. It probably has something to do with how it obscures responsibility — if you are some kind of lobbyist or part of the imperialist foreign policy "blob," bipartisanship can facilitate financial deregulation, or yet another pointless increase in the military budget, without it being clear who is to blame. A proper democratic system has clear lines of accountability, so it is obvious what the people's representatives are doing with their power. Bipartisan compromise is the exact opposite.

At any rate, for whatever reason Biden felt the need to pander to this sentiment during the campaign by promising a return to bipartisan comity that was absolutely never going to happen. He duly gave Republicans their opening, and now that they rejected the offer it's on them. But perhaps now Democrats can try the novel strategy of trying to do a good job all by themselves, and allowing voters to judge them on their performance.

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