Bipartisanship is greatly overrated as a formula for good government. Every major government boondoggle in recent memory was launched with bipartisan enthusiasm.
Bipartisanship has its role in the day-to-day affairs of government. What separates genuine bipartisanship from bogus bipartisanship is one thing: honesty.
In Congress or any state legislature, it is normal for hundreds of bills to be passed with bipartisan support because much of government consists of making adjustments or improvements in ongoing programs that have broad public support. When dealing with the core functions of government, we seldom see sharp divisions along party lines.
But what we see today is a different thing. Bipartisanship is being urged on Republicans not as a “let’s split the difference” compromise for a specific bill but as a principle for shaping the very definition of the problem to be solved. For example, if Republicans agree that the problem to be solved in a budget crisis is a “shortfall in revenues,” then the compromise solution will inevitably be some level of tax increases to make up the “shortfall.” This then becomes a debate over how to finance the growth of government, not how to reduce the size of government.
The Republican Party won victories in congressional and state races by promising to roll back Obamacare and other expansions of government. If they now squander those victories by abandoning the small-government agenda, they will deserve the scorn and ridicule of not only tea-party activists but concerned citizens everywhere.
In Colorado, the state now has a liberal Democratic governor-elect, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and a split legislature. Republicans are in the majority in the House and Democrats control the Senate. In this situation, neither party can control the legislative agenda. The question conservatives in Colorado are asking is: Will the legislative agenda become truly “bipartisan,” or will Republicans be maneuvered into debating the details of compromises on the Democratic agenda?
To have a chance at genuine compromise and honest bipartisanship, Republicans must first have an agenda of their own. When leading Colorado Republicans like former Gov. Bill Owens join the Democratic governor-elect’s transition team, that serves to give the Democrats’ agenda a patina of “bipartisanship” at the outset. When the Democratic agenda is baptized a “bipartisan agenda” on Day 1, by not only the liberal media and interest groups but by a group of co-opted Republicans, legislators who don’t buy into that agenda can be easily stigmatized as “partisan obstructionists.”
Selling out your party’s platform and policy agenda before the first shot is fired is a form of pre-emptive compromise that ought to be called by its right name: surrender. It is not bipartisanship in search of genuine solutions; it is gamesmanship in search of favorable press clippings. Such behavior may be acceptable to “party elders” who are accountable to no one, but it is not acceptable for elected representatives sent to the capitol to tackle tough problems and seek real solutions based on constitutional principles.
As other conservative leaders have observed, Big Government is on autopilot and programmed for a crash. Republicans need to find the off switch. Government needs a fundamental change in direction, not a spare fuel tank.
In Colorado, for example, Republicans in the state legislature would be smart to offer their own agenda as quickly as possible and not wait for the Democrats’ “partnership” agenda, which will validate the status quo and seek “innovative” and “creative” (read: deceptive) ways to finance the continued growth of government. They could start with proposing a voucher system for public schools, adoption of the federal E-verify program for denying jobs to illegal aliens, a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in each state agency’s budget except transportation, and phasing out state support for the state university system.
The clock is running out for the Republican Party. If they do not begin delivering on their promises, the grass-roots citizens’ rebellion that swept them into office will find another vehicle for restoring constitutional liberties. In football terms, it is the middle of the fourth quarter, the score is Big Government 24, Small Government 3, and a field goal is not an acceptable play call.