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Editorials

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Bipartisanship in action
Bipartisanship efforts often bring much attention, but they aren’t always successful. Here’s a look at a how a few fared:
SUCCESSES
Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Expansion Act, 1992
After the fall of the Soviet Union, some of the former Soviet states were politically unstable. This made the Soviet nuclear arsenals in those states susceptible to theft or purchase. The bill by Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sam Nunn, D-Ga., provided money and expertise to dismantle those weapons.
Since then, more than 13,000 Soviet-era warheads have been deactivated.
Tax Reform Act of 1986
Though President Reagan received all the credit, a Democratically controlled Congress changed the tax code in a bill sponsored by Democrats Richard Gephardt in the House and Bill Bradley in the Senate.
Among other results, it reduced the top tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent and reduced the number of tax brackets from 15 to four. It also increased the amount of income subject to the lowest tax rate, effectively reducing taxes for many low- and middle-income workers. And it removed many tax shelters.
TOSSUPS
Kennedy-Quayle Job Training Partnership Act of 1982
The previous job-training law, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), had been heavily criticized for its make-work projects and relatively low pay, and a lack of oversight led to numerous examples of the money being misused.
Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Dan Quayle, R-Ind., partnered to create the JTPA. It placed workers in private-sector jobs and offered a job skills training program for youths and created Private Industry Councils to oversee local programs.
But it suffered some of the same criticisms as CETA. It was replaced by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996
Often called the Welfare Reform Act, it replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The new program had a focus on “temporary,” limiting the number of years people could receive assistance and requiring them eventually to get jobs.
The act was hammered out by President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Though praised by many, critics have said the change decimated the safety net welfare offers and made it more difficult for recipients to complete college.
FAILURES
McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002
Concerned about increasing amounts of money being poured into elections, Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and John McCain, R-Ariz., sought to reduce the influence of organizations that spent money to influence elections in ways other than contributing directly to a candidate.
But the law had the opposite effect of its intentions when the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling, opening the floodgates to allow vast amounts of money from corporations and unions and making donations more difficult to trace.
Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, 2011
Better known as the supercommittee or Gang of 12, six congressional Democrats and six Republicans were appointed to identify $1.5 trillion in federal budget cuts.
They didn’t.
Illustration by Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette

Bye-bipartisanship

Cooperation discredited, but achievements are undeniable

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.

Good luck.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by email, twarner@jg.net.

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