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What is “bipartisan”?

Politicians love to call policies and/or legislation “bipartisan.”

The terminology, which implies broad support across party lines, makes what they want to do sound more respectable (whether or not it is). So, needless to say, the word gets bandied around a lot — sometimes in ridiculous ways. For example, if even one member breaks from his/her caucus on an otherwise party-line vote, the legislation is deemed “bipartisan.”

Not a single Republican in Congress voted for Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill (although some rushed to claim credit for it after voting against it, see story here), which is widely popular among the general public.

Of Biden’s proposed $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan, the White  House says, “We know it has bipartisan support in the country and so we’re going to try our best to get bipartisan support here in Washington.” Realistically, the odds of that are zero. But such rhetoric sets the stage for stretching the meaning of “bipartisan” even further.

“In countering arguments from Republicans [in Congress], the White House is expected to drive home the notion that aspects of the infrastructure package — like expansion of apprenticeships and funding for new roads and bridges — have bipartisan support” from Republican governors and mayors whose states and cities will benefit from the spending, The Hill says.

Democrats also argue that legislation incorporating ideas which “have broad public support from members of both parties in polling, and … have been backed by GOP lawmakers in the past” deserve the “bipartisan” label even if no Republicans will vote for it. (The classic example is Obamacare, which was modeled after state legislation signed by GOP Gov. Mitt Romney, earning it the half-joking, half-serious sobriquet of “Romneycare.”)

But Republicans are pushing back in this war of words, “reject[ing] the notion that a bill can be bipartisan if it isn’t passed with bipartisan support in Washington.” They understand it’s about more than verbal nitpicking; they know divide-and-conquer when they see it.

“Biden is taking a bet that Congress is more divided than the country,” a Democratic strategist told The Hill. That creates an opportunity for Democrats — led by a president who thinks like FDR — not just to pressure obstinate GOP lawmakers, but also to win back working-class voters who’ve gone over to the Republican side in recent elections.

This strategy is based on the notion that an increasingly radicalized and extremist Republican Party is losing touch with average Americans, and therefore can be separated from its voting base. That may be correct; poll after poll, not to mention the latest election results, show that the GOP is unpopular with a majority of Americans. Although Republicans have the same number of Senate seats as the Democrats, the 50 Democratic senators got over 40 million more votes than the 50 Republican senators did, despite determined Republican efforts to keep millions of American citizens from voting at all.

It also ties into the fact that Biden campaigned on a promise to unify the country together, a meme Republicans are eager to destroy. But the old saw that “it takes two to tango” may not apply here. If Biden can succeed in characterizing his agenda as having “bipartisan” public support, the Republicans in Congress could find themselves left out in the cold.

Read story here.

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