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Gridlock or bipartisanship in 2011?

Those seem to be the choices facing our representatives in Washington during this coming year of divided government. Ben and I contemplate the possibilities in our Scripps Howard column this week. My take:

 

During Obama's first two years in office, it became apparent that each party had its own definition of "bipartisanship." For Democrats, it meant trying to adjust their governing priorities to address Republican concerns -- which is why the stimulus was smaller than proposed, the health reform bill included no "public option," and why the recent tax bill included unnecessary tax cuts for the rich.

For Republicans, however, "bipartisanship" has clearly meant that Democrats should completely abandon their projects and principles and adopt the GOP platform as their own. Even when that has happened, though, Republicans have abandoned their previously held positions in order to deny Obama a political victory of any sort -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was an ardent proponent of a deficit-reduction commission right up to the moment the president backed the proposal. Then he became an opponent.

Such attitudes are a recipe for gridlock. Any sane definition of the word "bipartisanship" includes some mention of compromise. But it's clear that Republicans intend to continue their "Party of No" strategy.

On election night, incoming House Speaker John Boehner told supporters that "it is the president who sets the agenda for our government." That's not exactly true -- Congress, after all, is a co-equal branch of government. Constitutional illiteracy aside, the goal is clear: Republicans plan to prevent government from getting anything done for two more years, then hope the voters blame Obama in 2012.

Gridlock, it is clear, is the last refuge of the cynical and power-hungry.

Americans should hope for some bipartisanship, if only because the challenges facing the nation are so huge that they won't be met by only one party working to craft solutions. Unfortunately, it's probably more realistic to expect gridlock.

Ben, meanwhile, praises the possibilities of "gridlock, sweet gridlock."

 

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