1982 – With the nation still reeling from high inflation and unemployment, an unusual alliance formed between two senators, who worked together to author and successfully usher through Congress the Job Training Partnership Act.
Those senators were Dan Quayle, a conservative Republican from Indiana, and Edward Kennedy, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat.
1992 – After the breakup of the Soviet Union raised disturbing questions about the nuclear weapons left in its member states, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn worked together to win passage of a bill that provides money and technical support for nations such as Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan to dismantle nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
2002 – Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold worked together to attempt to put the brakes on the vast sums of money pouring into political campaigns.
2012 – A decade after McCain-Feingold, bipartisan efforts in Congress seem weaker than ever. Indeed, Richard Mourdock – in challenging Lugar in the GOP Senate primary – has this to say about the problems with bipartisanship: There’s too much of it.
Bipartisanship is part of the problem, Mourdock said, an opinion sharing the views of many of the conservatives to whom Mourdock appeals.
Indeed, the Mourdock-Lugar race in many ways reflects the dismal state of bipartisanship in Washington. In years past, for a senator in the minority party to have the ear of a president in the majority party was not a bad thing. Now, Lugar is running away from any friendly connection with Barack Obama.
When at least one house of Congress is controlled by a party opposite that of the president, adopting laws and budgets by very definition must be a bipartisan effort. And some of the nation’s best years in the past half-century came as a result of such bipartisanship.
Democrats, for example, controlled the House throughout the Reagan presidency, a time conservatives cite as among the greatest in the nation’s history. Republicans controlled Congress for all but the first two years of the Clinton presidency, and the nation saw unparalleled world peace, widespread economic prosperity and full employment in the mid- to late 1990s. President Richard Nixon was disgraced by corruption, but his administration actually saw a number of major advances, including creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress.
On the other hand, Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress during Jimmy Carter’s economically disastrous presidency. George W. Bush enjoyed GOP control of both houses of Congress during half of his presidency, a time when the nation engaged in a questionable war and the bottom fell out of the economy. President Obama did not exactly have a stellar track record for his first two years in office, when Democrats controlled the House and Senate.
Mourdock and many Republicans believe the answer is to sweep control of the presidency and both houses of Congress into GOP hands. Many Democrats doubtlessly believe all-Democratic control would produce the best outcome.
It doesn’t help that commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and others push a take-no-prisoners mentality, equating compromise and bipartisanship with weakness.
If Mourdock has his way, if conservative Republicans sweep everything in 2012, the results will most likely produce enough problems that Democrats win back at least some control in the 2014 congressional election. The pendulum will swing from one extreme to the other.
What many party stalwarts and ideologues fail to consider is that compromise, when done right, can accomplish common goals while avoiding extreme positions. Neither side is 100 percent right.
Perhaps, for example, Democrats should pay more attention to the tax burden on small businesses and the need to control spending on safety net programs. Republicans need to realize that cutting taxes for everyone – especially the rich – is not the sole answer to the nation’s economic woes, and wide-scale elimination and cutbacks of safety net programs would only worsen the economy.
And nearly everyone believes the nation’s tax code needs to be reformed. What if a Democrat and Republican worked together to make some common-sense adjustments, reducing the number of tax brackets, increasing the standard deduction to help lower- and middle-class workers, and simplifying business taxes?
Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats and Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden hope to overcome resistance to bipartisanship and compromise by proposing a bill that would take those very steps.