A lot of Democrats in Washington have genuinely persuaded themselves that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats made extensive, good-faith efforts to bring Republicans into their legislative process back then. Republicans who were in or around the policy process then genuinely remember it very differently. They may be wrong, of course, or may have misread the Democrats’ intentions at the time. And don’t get me wrong: Republicans were not eager to cooperate with the Obama administration either. But clearly this circumstance is altogether different: The policy arena in question has been the scene of more bipartisanship in the past twelve months than any we have seen in two decades. And maybe even more important, the Democrats had 60 Senate votes in 2009 and have only 50 today. The House is also much more narrowly divided.
So the Democrats have much less of a shot at getting a partisan bill enacted, and much less to gain if they did. The advantages of bipartisanship in this case, on the other hand, would be much greater. The coming months are likely to be very frustrating — even if the pandemic-response and vaccine efforts are ultimately going to be judged successes, which I believe both will be. Sharing the response, and giving Republicans some buy-in and fewer excuses to complain, would serve Democrats well. It would also be awfully good for our political culture and the sort of turning down of the temperature that President Biden has said he wants. And proving their willingness to bargain in an area where a deal could be both achievable and reasonable would give Democrats a much stronger case to make when they try party-line bills on more controversial issues later.