Why Bipartisanship In The Senate Is Dying

“There were once plenty of senators who represented states that voted for the other party for president. Between 1960 and 1990, roughly half of all sitting senators fit into this group. But over the last three decades, that number has plummeted”

” Likewise, in an earlier political era, many senators shared their state with a senator from the opposite party. Not only did this serve to reinforce the electoral reality that either party could win a state, but it also gave such senators an obvious bipartisan partner in the Senate, particularly on issues of concern to their home state. Today, though, only 12 senators..have a colleague who’s from the other party.”

“because Senate elections were more about local issues, both parties were able to compete nationally. Voters didn’t care as much whether they sent a Democrat or a Republican to Washington. What mattered was whether they sent somebody who could represent their state well. And senators could prove their worth by bringing home federal funding for roads and bridges — just the kind of issue that used to facilitate bipartisan dealmaking.
But today’s political campaigns and voters care far less about roads and bridges. They care far more about national culture-war issues — and which party controls the majority in Congress. As a result, Democrats can’t win in much of the Southeast and the Mountain West, and Republicans are now perpetual losers in the West and the Northeast. Only the Southwest and the Midwest remain competitive, and that’s only because state populations are currently balanced between liberal cities and conservative exurbs.

It’s also why bipartisanship in the Senate is waning. Republican senators in solidly Republican states do not have to worry about winning over some Democrats; the senators’ general election win is all but assured. Rather, the most likely way they could lose is if they face a primary challenge to their right. And the most likely way they could draw such a challenger is if they were to publicly work with Democrats.”

“even for senators who want to publicly prove their bipartisan bona fides, the problem is that party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prefer votes that draw sharp contrasts between the two parties. Divisive partisan politics help with campaign fundraising in an era of increasingly ideological donors (both big and small). And high-stakes elections mobilize and excite voters. Bipartisanship, in contrast, muddles the stakes and blurs the lines.”

“Biden worked harder than Trump to foster a bipartisan deal. But arguably, it was the Democrats’ threat of eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation that pushed McConnell into supporting a bipartisan agreement in a way that bolstered Sinema and Manchin’s faith in bipartisanship. This is hardly a sustainable formula for bipartisan dealmaking on major issues.

To be sure, Congress can still accomplish some lower-profile bipartisan lawmaking (like a recent major upgrade of our drinking-water and wastewater systems) through what Matthew Yglesias and Simon Bazelon have dubbed “Secret Congress.” It turns out that members of Congress can still work across party lines when issues are relatively noncontroversial and there is not much media attention.

Indeed, if you look beyond the partisan media’s name-calling, you can find surprising amounts of bipartisan activity”

“But “Secret Congress” works only because it’s secret, and it’s secret only because the issues are not high-profile enough to draw the public spotlight. But if the only bipartisanship that happens in Congress happens on uncontroversial one-off issues, this leaves the most important issues of the day to wither on the shoals of a 60-vote threshold in the Senate or, more commonly, in the gridlock of a divided government.”

“partisans are the most hostile to compromise — especially those individuals whose racial, religious and cultural identities line up most strongly with one party. But the partisan sorting that has aligned these identities so closely with one party over the last several decades is precisely the reason why voters have come down so hard on politicians who compromise. The more that national political conflict is centered on abstract moral issues and the identity of the nation, the more any compromise feels like a surrender.

To recreate the conditions that allowed bipartisanship to flourish in the Senate once upon a time seems unlikely anytime soon. Instead, the most bipartisan-oriented senators are the most endangered. Manchin is a dying breed. His eventual replacement in West Virginia will almost certainly be a Republican.”

Democrats’ infrastructure gamble actually seems like it could be working

“Biden’s statements on the legislation were crucial to advancing it. When the president met with lawmakers in June, he pledged that he wouldn’t push to include any physical infrastructure funding in Democrats’ reconciliation bill that wasn’t included in the bipartisan one.

As Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine reported, that position helped assuage some of the Republican senators’ concerns that Democrats would agree to whatever cuts were needed to gain GOP support before later passing everything that was cut using the reconciliation process, which requires only a Senate majority. Taking Biden at his word that what was cut from the bill was gone forever allowed many Republicans to give the bipartisan bill their support, according to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).”

GOP crushes Manchin’s hopes for elections compromise

“Senate Republicans spent months praising Joe Manchin for his insistence on cross-party compromise. Next week they will almost surely end his hopes for a bipartisan deal on elections.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed all 50 Republicans would oppose Sen. Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) slimmed-down elections compromise, which focuses on expanding early voting and ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections. And it’s not clear there’s a single Republican vote to even begin debate on the matter, potentially dooming Manchin’s proposals before they can even make it into the bill.”

Why we can’t build

“America’s system of checks and balances requires unusual and even extraordinary levels of consensus to pass legislation. First, you need the agreement of the House, the Senate, the White House, and, increasingly, the Supreme Court.
More granularly, congressional power is diffused across committees. The Senate has built in a supermajority requirement, known as the filibuster, which effectively raises the threshold for passage from 51 votes to 60 votes.

This raises the question: If the problem is embedded in the structure of the US government, how did the US ever do anything big? The short answer is that for most of our political history, two unusual conditions held. First, the parties were ideologically mixed, which made compromise easier. Second, one party was usually electorally dominant, which gave the party in the minority a reason to compromise: If you can’t win, you may as well deal.

Both those conditions have dissolved. America’s political parties are more ideologically — and demographically — polarized than ever before. We’re also in the most competitive period American politics has ever seen. In a system like that, both sides utilize the system’s bias toward inaction to foil their opponents. You can see this in the rise of the filibuster over time. The rule has been around almost as long as America, but it’s only been deployed as an omnipresent veto in recent decades”

“The result is a system biased toward inaction.”

” This is representative democracy at its worst: A democracy that only represents those who know to show up at meetings most people never hear about, and so ends up handing power to special interests and aggrieved NIMBYs.”

“some of Andreessen’s examples really can’t be blamed on the government, at least not in a traditional sense.

America doesn’t have more ICU beds because hospitals have budgets to balance. You can’t both run a profitable hospital and maintain enough spare capacity for a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Similarly, the companies that make ventilators are private companies. They didn’t make more ventilators because there wasn’t demand for more ventilators. Same goes for surgical masks, eye shields, hospital gowns. Now, you can argue the government should’ve been stockpiling more of this stuff all along — and definitely should have been ramping up production in January and February — but a capitalist logic of efficiency prevails both inside and outside the market.

Take, for instance, the wildly successful Obama administration program to loan money to renewable energy companies that became infamous because one of those companies, Solyndra, was a bust. That program led to a slew of successes (including Tesla) and turned a profit to taxpayers. As Michael Lewis argues at length in his book The Fifth Risk, the problem, if anything, was that it was too cautious — so afraid of a Solyndra-like story that it wasn’t funding sufficiently risky investments. But they proved right to be afraid.

If even the government is forced to turn a constant profit on its programs and to avoid anything that might look like a boondoggle, you can imagine the pressure actual private companies are under.”