Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bipartisanship, One-Way

At a meeting on February 3 with the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, President Obama, even-handed to a fault, commented

People out there watching us, they see us [as] nothing more than Democrats and Republicans up here fighting, fighting only to win a few political points, not to get the problem solved.

At the National Prayer Breakfast the next day, the President remarked

There is a sense that something is different now, that something is broken, that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should. At times, it seems like we’re unable to listen to one another, to have at once a serious and civil debate. And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens. It poisons the well of public opinion. It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other. It makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong, when in reality neither side has a monopoly on truth.

Presumably, the President understands the difference between his own party and The Party of No which gave him few votes for his stimulus plan and no votes for his signature legislative issue, health care reform. If not, apparently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained it in a closed-door meeting of legislative leaders and White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod in late April, with one participant noting afterward

If the president is going to go out and talk about how Washington’s broken, he’s got to include a strong contrast with congressional Republicans, or else we’re going to get blamed for it.

That seems pretty simple. Nevertheless, on May 18, responding to Republican obstruction of Wall Street reform, Obama maintained

For all we've gotten done despite the unified, determined opposition of one party, just imagine how much farther along we could be if we worked together. And I truly believe it's not too late for us to work together.

It's not too late for us to work together. How long would it take the GOP to respond to the President's entreaties, a profound willingness to compromise, nay accomodate, the party intent on "breaking him?"

Not so long. The very next day, a press release from the office of Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan would tell the story:

Today, Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote on a long-anticipated amendment to the Wall Street accountability bill that will ban the high-risk trading that brought our economy to the brink of meltdown. The amendment’s chief sponsors, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Michigan Senator Carl Levin, today called on Republicans to stop protecting Wall Street lobbyists and allow the amendment to come up for a vote.

“We got into this financial crisis because Wall Street set the rules to benefit itself, and now with an assist from Senate Republicans, they’re doing it again,” said Merkley. “Obviously the lobbyists are afraid they’ll lose this vote, and in typical Wall Street fashion their solution, with help from Senate Republicans, is to rig the result. Main Street is being shut out of this debate. It is time to stop letting Wall Street call the shots – let this amendment have a vote.” “The long arm of Wall Street reached directly into the Senate chamber today,” Levin said. “By blocking us from even debating this amendment, the Republican leadership is carrying Wall Street's water and standing in the way of real reform.”

Despite repeated efforts by Dodd to reach agreement on a vote on the amendment, Republican Leadership refused to agree to even a 60-vote supermajority requirement on a day that two Democrats are absent. Under Senate rules, votes on amendments must be agreed to by unanimous consent. For weeks, the Merkley-Levin amendment has been one of the handful of amendments expected to be at the center of debate on the legislation.

The Merkley-Levin amendment, implementing the so- called “Volcker Rule” named after the former Fed chairman, would restrict proprietary trading at banks and other large, important financial institutions. By keeping our banks and other large, complex financial institutions away from these risky activities, the bill will help protect taxpayers from bailouts and the damage to the economy that comes from the failure of critical financial institutions. At the same time, the bill leaves plenty of space for smaller firms to do speculative trading, but outside of taxpayer- supported commercial banks.

It's bad enough that one of the two major political parties in the U.S.A. would cheer on the financial industry, encouraging the risky economic ventures that sent the country into a financial tailspin, later mitigated by the stimulus plan it tried recklessly to block. It's quite another to block an amendment even if it has approval of 60 members.

That is the Republican response to President Obama: show weakness, we will take advantage.

The response from the White House is awaited. No assumption should be made, however, that the President actually is displeased. Following that telling meeting in early February

The members made it clear that it was a problem. [Axelrod] disagreed; he thinks the message still works,” one Democratic aide said. “They said they would take it under advisement, but my guess is, nothing will change.”

Oh, the message works alright. The American people will cozy up to a chief excecutive who preaches bipartisanship, as Senator Obama did during his winning campaign. Either the Democratic Party retains control of both houses of Congress, saving the country from rule by a party Dwight Eisenhower wouldn't recognize and which wants to destroy the President of the United States; or the Democratic electorate (maligned in the mainstream media as "the base") becomes discouraged, the GOP takes over the House, and Barack Obama runs against Congress in 2012. The message does still work for someone.

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