Judd Gregg: The laws of bipartisanship

Camille Fine

The Republican Congress has used its last partisan bullet.

It was the reconciliation instructions under the budget acts for this year and the prior year that gave Republicans in the Senate the chance to pass meaningful legislation: First, the attempt to repeal ObamaCare with only 51 votes, and second the success of passing their tax reform bill with 51 votes.

There are no more reconciliation instructions available to the GOP until the next budget year, which does not start until October 2018. 

{mosads}As a result, everything that involves policy, rather then confirmation of judges or members of the administration, will require 60 votes in the Senate, assuming that the Democrats exercise their rights under the filibuster rule.


This, of course, could change if President Trump were to get his way and convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the rest of the Republican senators to end the power of the minority to use the filibuster completely, not just on personnel issues.

Such action would be an unjustified blow to the purpose and history of the Senate. McConnell has rightly said he will not pursue this course.

Republicans and Democrats, at least in the Senate, therefore find themselves in an interesting place.

The next election is the wild card in how they respond to this situation. 

As in a poker game, the next election trumps (not to use a pun) everything, even though it is still eleven months away.

The player who holds the “pat hand” in this card game is Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Getting anything done in a bipartisan manner requires that Schumer step on the toes of the hard left in his party.  

Those are the folks who still deem Trump to be an illegitimate president. This element of the Democratic Party insists that nothing be done that in anyway has a scent of cooperation with him.

Even if Schumer takes back the agenda from the voices that want to drown out cooperation, he still must deal with another calculation: How does bipartisan action affect the election?   

Everything will be seen through the prism of whether it helps or hurts his party’s efforts to take back control of the Senate, and possibly the House.

However, Trump’s apparently unlimited capacity to step on his own successes with his inane and juvenile tweeting must make Schumer wake up each morning with smile.  

For Schumer, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. His every tweet increases the possibility of Democrats taking control of the Senate.  

Thus, the idea of pursuing a course of bipartisan cooperation poses a dilemma for Schumer.

On one hand, he has to weigh the electoral effects of flat-out negativity toward the president. Is this tactic enough as an election platform? 

Can his many candidates —  there are 23 Democratic senators up for reelection this year — run on simply being the group that accomplished nothing? 

It is not a strong claim to leadership.

It is a risky strategy.

Bipartisanship on a few key issues such as DACA, infrastructure rebuilding, fixing the insurance mess that is the ObamaCare legacy or refurbishing the military could go a long way to establishing a Democratic claim that they can and will govern if given back control of the Congress, or at least the Senate.  

Republicans may have a more difficult choice when it comes to pursuing bipartisanship, at least when it comes to its implications for the next election.   

Their case that the Democrats in Congress are simply opposed to everything — and thus the nation would be better served if there were fewer, not more, of them elected — is fairly strong right now. Bipartisan agreements on marginal issues may mute that claim.   

A better course for Republicans, in consideration of the next election, might be to insist that this year’s agenda items be big issues that address major problems and possibilities on the American landscape.   

They might even consider going back to something that seems to have disappeared from their lexicon, such as fixing the debt and the deficit so our kids inherent a solvent nation.  

Democrats, especially the socialist wing that now dominates the party, lose on these issues if they are presented well to the American public.   

But this road will not be followed.   

Trump and the Republican congressional leadership have already stated their intent to pursue minor issues with a bipartisan flavor. This is the conventional Washington wisdom strategy. It is both politically and substantively flawed.  

It wastes what may be the one opportunity in a long time to reset the agenda and purpose of the federal government.

The course of conventional Washington wisdom will deal Schumer the hand he needs to produce a happy new year for his party. 

He will get enough bipartisan bills to show he can govern, while keeping them innocuous enough to not overly upset his hard left.   

At the same time, he can absolutely count on the president’s early morning tweets, and tendency to veer off-course, to offer him a path to a majority in the next Congress.

In short, Sen. Schumer wins. 

All he has to do is play the bipartisan cards the president and the Republican leadership are about to kindly deal him.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Mitch McConnell

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