Well, maybe if they’d practiced more of it in the last four years, they wouldn’t need to have that strategy forced on them now. The Washington Post reports on the extremity in which Congressional Democrats find themselves:
Democratic leaders say they could take up the cause of deficit reduction, urge a free-trade agreement with South Korea and advocate for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
All of these issues have something in common: They will require support from lawmakers in both parties to have any hope of passing. Each of the measures stalled during the previous Congress, as Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to advance health-care reform, Wall Street accountability and other priorities over the objections of Republicans.
They no longer have that luxury.
Democrats presided over one of most productive congressional sessions in decades, but the brisk pace and their strategy of rolling over Republicans instead of engaging them came at a heavy cost. Many voters thought Democrats had overreached and were governing by fiat, and they responded in November by giving Republicans control of the House and narrowing the Democratic hold on the Senate.
Now, Democrats will try a different approach – attempting to re-create the unexpected cooperation of December’s lame-duck session, in which the parties got beyond their rhetoric to pass a tax-cut bill, extend unemployment benefits and ratify a nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Lawmakers approved more bipartisan legislation last month than at any other time in the long stretch since President Obama took office.
First, you have to love Shailagh Murray’s framing of this as a strategic move. Democrats have no choice. They can no longer rule Capitol Hill by fiat because their authority for governing by diktat evaporated. Even Harry Reid, who will still run the Senate majority, has nearly half of his caucus (23 seats out of 53) up for re-election in 2012, and no small number of those in red or purple states. Their agenda disappeared, although again contra Murray, they still tried to ram it down the throats of the Republicans in the lame-duck session. Murray seems to forget about the DREAM Act, the omnibus spending bill with the ObamaCare funding folded into it, and so on.
Claiming bipartisanship while out of power is the easiest thing to do in the Beltway; it requires no work at all. Especially in the House, the Speaker has all the power, as Democrats repeatedly demonstrated during the four years of Nancy Pelosi’s dictatorial power, where the GOP got blocked from offering amendments and participating in the writing of bills, where the committee process got routinely subverted, and where 3000-page bills only saw the light of day mere hours before Pelosi demanded votes on them.
In fact, had Pelosi and Reid adopted a bipartisan approach from the beginning — or even after Barack Obama’s election — they might not find themselves on the outside looking in now. Pelosi locked the GOP out of the stimulus package, even though many in the Republican caucus clearly wanted to vote for some sort of ill-advised adventure in government intervention. Had she allowed it, both parties would have taken the blame for the failure of Porkulus, not just Obama and the Democrats. The Tea Party would have targeted a number of incumbent Republicans in the House and Senate as well as Democrats. Instead, Pelosi managed to hang all the blame on her own party.
If Democrats were serious about bipartisanship, they would have adopted it when they had the power to allow it, as John Boehner appears prepared to do with his proposal for new rules this week. But even if they were serious about their sudden revelation about bipartisanship now, they would have chosen a different set of leaders for their caucuses on Capitol Hill, especially in the House. Putting Nancy Pelosi in charge of bipartisanship is somewhat akin to putting PETA in charge of the all-you-can-eat buffet at Outback Steakhouse.