Analysis: There’s no bipartisanship in DC. It’s oligarchy

The larger thing we’ve learned from this latest episode is that, despite the pleas for unity President Joe Biden made when he took office, “bipartisanship” is basically dead right now on Capitol Hill.

What we have instead is an oligarchy. More on that very loaded term and why it’s increasingly descriptive of Congress in a moment.

Democrats actually tried to be bipartisan with the January 6 commission. They bent over backward to bring Republicans on board. They accepted changes to the January 6 commission proposal and negotiated with those people tapped as emissaries by GOP leaders.

It wasn’t enough. When House and Senate GOP leaders turned on the bill, that ended its chances.

This story is being rewritten over and over and over again. Bold prediction: It will be the same for an immigration reform bill, for investment in infrastructure, for improvements to the health care system — all things most Americans say they want to see and that Trump himself said he wanted to accomplish. And all things that probably need to be accomplished.

But the prevailing wisdom right now in Washington is that if something can be blocked, it should be blocked, which is a shame since getting things done is supposedly what voters elect lawmakers to do.

Can’t get everything you want? Block it! Specifically on the January 6 commission, you can agree with some Republicans that the commission is duplicative, that it’s unnecessary, and that it would be partisan, despite the fact that it would be equally appointed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Rather than simply vote against it, Republicans will block it in the Senate because they can, because Trump told them to, and because they don’t want to do anything but paint Democrats as radical socialists.

The oligarchy argument. Former Michigan Rep. Justin Amash — a Republican-turned-independent who is a former lawmaker because he broke with his party over supporting Trump — gave an enlightening interview to CNN’s David Axelrod, the Democratic political strategist, in which he described the life of a congressperson as one in which the Senate and House leaders, who control what legislation is considered, control pretty much everything.

“It’s very much like an oligarchy,” he said. “And I, I know when I use that phrase maybe or that word, people might think that’s too strong, but I really believe that’s what it’s like. I don’t think there is really a legislative body at this point.”

Why not?

“For the most part, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, and to some extent the minority leaders in each party, run the show. Along with the president of the United States. And the other people are just there to press buttons…It’s not a legislative body in the true sense.”

That is exactly what happened with the commission, which was negotiated by lawmakers, but then killed by McCarthy and McConnell, who either caused their colleagues to oppose it or read the room.

Biden’s optimism. Amash’s bleak assessment of Capitol Hill is exactly the opposite of what Biden has been pushing, that Republicans can and may very well come to the table to negotiate. That’s why Biden has, so far, opposed either pressuring fellow Democrats to upend the filibuster in the Senate, or use parliamentary games to push through what he can.

Amash would rather Biden play tougher with Congress.

“I don’t think he, like a lot of other people in politics, recognize what is the true problem in our politics, that concentrated power, centralized power has really done a lot of damage to our legislative system and to our representative system. And there’s no there’s no going back to a world where people are at peace with each other and less partisan unless we correct that problem.”

Compromise is a dirty word. I tend to disagree with Amash on the remedy. The rules, and efforts to exploit them, created this problem. There is ample evidence that the partisanship has cemented in part because voters don’t reward compromise and also because a unified minority doesn’t have to compromise. Its senators can squash anything.

Exceptions that prove the rule. This week Congress did come together on a different piece of legislation — a bill to address hate crimes stemming from the Covid pandemic and specifically targeted at Asian Americans, which should be the least controversial thing in the world.

Here’s what it does, according to CNN’s report: The legislation, called the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, will create a new position at the Justice Department to expedite review of potential Covid-19-related hate crimes and incidents reported at the federal, state or local level.

It will also direct the Justice Department and Health and Human Services to work with community-based organizations to issue guidance raising awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic, and would require the attorney general to issue guidance to work with state and local law enforcement agencies to establish online reporting of them.

That’s not exactly a bipartisan agreement, but rather the obvious thing to do. Sixty-three Republicans still opposed it.
More to the point and more controversial, for some reason, was a supplemental spending bill Democrats pushed through the House to provide $1.9 billion in new spending to secure the Capitol. That proposal, despite the Capitol being attacked a few months ago, was passed on a party line vote. Several Democrats voted “present” because they were nervous about giving new money for policing. Three Democrats voted no.

Every Republican was opposed to the security funding.

Some have downplayed the severity of the attack, which seems silly considering all the video of the rioters.

Others, like Rep. Tom Cole, said he opposed the funding because Democrats weren’t being bipartisan enough.

“It’s truly disappointing that Democrats were unwilling to continue to work towards an agreement with Republicans on a matter of this magnitude. And given that the Senate is in no hurry to take up this legislation, a few additional weeks of discussion could, and likely would, have led to a bipartisan product instead of a product destined for the legislative graveyard,” Cole said.

He voted no on the January 6 commission proposal, too. That bipartisan bill is similarly destined for the legislative graveyard.

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