What’s Left: Just Because It’s Bipartisan Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

Reed Cleland, Contributing Writer

Imagine that you are a working-class, single mother with two children, and that you are standing in line at your county social services office waiting to receive your unemployment insurance check. The clerk presents you with two choices: a $504 check (the maximum weekly amount allowed under New York State unemployment law) passed only by Democratic lawmakers, or a $404 check from a bipartisan bill. Which check would you want? Most likely, you would prefer the extra $100 in your pocket and not think twice about how it was passed in the legislature.

In his Inaugural Address, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. lamented the lack of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. He expressed a longing for the “good ol’ days” of compromise between Democrats and Republicans. Biden is, and forever has been, a creature of moderation and consensus, working with “moderate” Republican legislators even at the cost of deregulating Wall Street banks, initiating a twenty-year-long war in Iraq and supporting one disastrous trade agreement after another. At such a poignant political moment, when unemployment numbers exceed those of the Great Recession and nearly 50 million Americans live in poverty, Biden must buck the cult of bipartisanship in order to pursue the correct progressive policy solutions.

Ever since the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan and the neoconservative movement, the Overton Window in American politics has shifted far to the political right, dragging the Democratic Party with it. In the 1980s, the rhetoric of the New Deal era was replaced with the buzzwords of triangulation and moderation. For the Democratic Party of the 1990s and early 2000s, moderation meant supporting bipartisan trade deals that exported millions of decent-paying jobs overseas. It meant voting for gargantuan military budgets to fund over half a dozen unauthorized wars in the Middle East. It meant an attempted Grand Bargain (under a Democratic president) to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. More often than not, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, bipartisanship has strengthened Corporate America’s grip on the government and kicked dirt on American workers.

Crediting the twin presidential campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders and the emergence of the “Squad,” the rhetoric of the Democratic Party has begun to shift to recognize the merits of social democracy. Black Lives Matter and the Sunrise Movement, two of the most well-organized social movements in history, have assisted in this regard, forcing criminal justice reform and climate change onto Congress’s agenda. Moreover, every single Democrat supporting Medicare-for-All won their congressional races in 2020, including those running in toss-up or lean-Republican districts. Conversely, moderate Democrats opposed to Medicare-for-All lost seats all over the country, including Anthony Brindisi and Max Rose in New York State. Numerous polls have shown the overwhelming popularity of Medicare-for-All among all constituencies, including a majority of conservatives. What is the chance that a single Republican in the current party caucus would vote for Medicare-for-All legislation? Likewise, what is the chance that a single one would vote for a Biden COVID-19 stimulus package with $2,000 checks and a $15 federal minimum wage?

It is difficult for the corporate media and Washington, D.C. elites to understand that the American people are not nearly as divided as is commonly believed. On virtually all economic issues, the American people are in agreement, and their consensus is in the camp of social democracy. The “moderate” values of Middle America are a living wage, free healthcare at the point of service and entirely eliminating student loans. The “moderate” values of Washington, D.C. are policies that will benefit the corporate elite and at no point trickle down to reach the poorest of the poor. In other words, the American government fails at accomplishing one of its most foundational tasks: promoting the general public welfare.

The Democratic Party has the House, the Senate and the White House. Biden enjoys a honeymoon approval rating from the American people, hovering in the ballpark of 60%. The Democrats can pass a stimulus package through budget reconciliation with 51 votes (all 50 Democrats with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris). Now is the time for Democrats to begin negotiating with Republicans on progressive terms, rather than neoconservative terms. No time should be wasted on winning over ten moderate Republicans to reach a bipartisan 60-vote threshold with a worse bill as the result, especially since another route exists. The Republican Party, after all, is not a political party in the truest sense, but the billionaire class’s favorite tool for securing corporate welfare and lower tax rates. Bipartisanship should mean working across the aisle on behalf of the American people’s best interests, such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Josh Hawley pushing for two thousand dollar checks last year. President Biden’s best hope for a successful administration is to forge ahead as decisively as possible with progressive legislation that will draw American families out of the current economic black hole.