He seemed to be considering it in speech Thursday
WASHINGTON – The problem with bipartisanship is that it has no bipartisan definition.
On a day when United States senators invoked burning-house metaphors for the economy, the idea of Democrats and Republicans traveling the same road to a massive injection of new federal debt into that economy seemed as elusive as ever.
The long-term question for President Obama: Should he abandon bipartisanship? Some are urging him to, and he seemed to be taking a step that way Thursday night in a campaign-style speech to Democratic members of Congress.
Speaking at a retreat in historic Williamsburg, Va., Obama said he valued “constructive criticism and healthy debate” on a package of tax cuts and spending approaching $1 trillion. But he attacked what he called “the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis.”
Republicans accused Obama of abandoning his promise to seek bipartisanship. And so it goes in a city where Democrats and Republicans often operate from different dictionaries.
Obama will take his case that the economy urgently needs his plan directly to the American people next week, with an appearance Monday in Elkhart, Ind., a nationally televised news conference Monday evening and a town-hall meeting Tuesday in Fort Myers, Fla.
The threat of filibuster – on which the Republicans have a tenuous grip, but a grip nonetheless – still hangs over the Senate. The Democrats are currently two short of the 60 senators necessary to ram through legislation against a united Republican front. Almost certainly, Democrats will need a handful of Republicans to pass a compromise House-Senate bill, if the stimulus gets that far.
An Obama governing template has been laid.
Democrats claim they have acceded to some Republican ideas but say they won the 2008 elections. Old ideas, they say, are not bipartisanship.
“We can’t embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face,” Obama told applauding congressional Democrats. “That ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or falling schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees.”
Republicans complain that while Obama seems to listen, Democrats on Capitol Hill have quashed most of their best ideas, leaving the bailout larded with spending designed to stimulate Democratic interest groups.
Obama’s 2008 presidential foe, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said even if Obama did get a few Senate Republicans to go along with him, “you can call it an agreement but you can’t call it a bipartisan agreement.”
The Senate debate came a week after the House passed its stimulus framework without a single Republican vote. Democrats scoffed at GOP claims that the 11 House Democrats who voted “no” constituted bipartisan opposition.
Ironies filtered through the Senate chamber. McCain, criticized in September for claiming the fundamentals of the economy were strong, made no pretense of that Friday. However, he did warn of the consequences of assuming trillions of dollars in new debt for future generations. Still, in the middle of the election, McCain supported a massive bank bailout plan that has fallen short of its goal of loosening credit.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad is a self-declared deficit hawk. He first ran for the Senate in 1986 on a promise to eliminate red ink. But on a day in which the government said unemployment had risen to 7.6 percent, Conrad on the Senate floor invoked the lessons of the Great Depression, saying a return too quickly toward a balanced budget could derail a recovery that had not yet even started.