Monday, February 02, 2009

The Bipartisan Tango

The Washington air is filled with fake piety as Republican survivors of 2008 try to feign amity with a popular president and vote against him by making villains out of Congressional Democrats.

In the House, they lined up unanimously against the stimulus bill, despite more schmoozing with Barack Obama than any recent president, while blaming Nancy Pelosi for their disaffection.

Pointing out Obama's belief that "economic recovery is about psychology as well as money and that Americans will have more confidence in the future if they see the nation's politicians cooperating to resolve the crisis," E. J. Dionne Jr. notes in the Washington Post:

"If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy, Republicans are handed a powerful weapon. In theory, they can keep moving the bipartisan bar indefinitely. And each concession to their sensibilities threatens the solidarity in the president's own camp."

The test will come this week in the Senate, where the bipartisan tango will be less robotic as real bargaining beyond posturing begins. The battles will be over increasing infrastructure spending, government-backed low-interest mortgages and how to target tax cuts, among other issues. (Nostalgia note: John McCain is still railing about pork.)

Meanwhile, legislators in both parties are still trying to parse the Obama definition of bipartisanship, Democrats worrying about weakening their agenda, Republicans questioning how much of it is window dressing.

Rep. Zack Wamp, who headed Fred Thompson's ill-fated primary effort, may have summed up the GOP position best: "We got the sense that he was very genuine," he says. But if Obama "comes and meets with us like that and it doesn't have an impact, it begins to hurt his credibility."

In times like these, presidential credibility counts more than ever.

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