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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: On partisan imperfection

by John Brummett | February 2, 2021 at 5:01 a.m.

Ten Republican senators have come forward to tell President Biden they have his unity right here.

He should tell them their covid relief proposal is imperfect, too small, and that he'd harm himself with his party by accepting it.

But he should say he meant what he said about bipartisanship and unity. He should say he appreciates their independence from their own leadership.

He should say he will accept their proposal for negotiation, and, to start, he'll accede to take raising the federal minimum wage out of the bill.

It almost assuredly will not happen. It would be seen as unilateral partisan concession, thus capitulation, thus weakness.

Partisan Democrats say they won Georgia's Senate seats on a promise to deliver $1,400 more in covid-19 relief. They say Biden would be breaking a promise to Georgians by rolling over for this plan for $400 less for fewer people.

But Democrats didn't win Georgia on a $1,400 bribe of public money that $1,000 won't cover.

They won it because Donald Trump damaged the Republicans and galvanized Democrats. They won because of the Stacy Abrams-led voter registration and turnout drive.

If those two newly elected Georgia senators lose reelection next time, it won't be because voters got $1,000 instead of $1,400 -- or something between -- in early 2021. It'll be because Democrats remain alienated from white swing voters in the South, probably because of not compromising, and Abrams can't turn out enough votes to overcome that.

As for Biden "rolling over" by accepting the Republican proposal for negotiation, modern experience ought to make clear that his most cowardly political maneuver -- his real rolling over -- would be to acquiesce wholesale to partisanship.

Partisan Democrats say Barack Obama erred naïvely by seeking at the outset of his presidency to work with Republicans. They say Biden should learn from that.

But to make that comparison valid: What if 10 Senate Republicans had come to Obama and said they'd vote for the Affordable Care Act if he'd take out the individual mandate? Should he have taken that deal?

Why not? The individual mandate got thrown out in court anyway.

Democrats say Biden should have learned the lesson when Obama accepted less than all he wanted in a stimulus package in 2009. But, help me on that: Did Obama not lead us out of the recession, partisan imperfection notwithstanding?

Partisan imperfection can be the same thing as deft bipartisan touch.

These 10 Republican senators would be enough, with 50 Democrats, to scale a filibuster. Their proposal would provide $1,000 checks, not $1,400, to persons making less than $50,000 and couples less than $100,000, rather than $75,000 and $150,000.

There is no compelling reason to give married couples with household incomes of $149,000 a bailout check, unless they have been rendered unemployed, in which case other benefits apply.

Anyway, we will need to send people another direct-deposit later if we don't figure out how to get people vaccinated more quickly. It's silly to hang up at this point on $1,400 or bust. This is not the last bill Congress will ever pass.

The Republicans want to leave raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour out of the bill. They want that proposal to stand on its own in separate legislation ... and, yes, lose to filibuster.

Much of the dysfunction of Congress is based on the pattern by both sides, whenever in charge, to take a basic, important and passable measure and lard it with non-germane partisan wish lists, losing the other side if not the original issue altogether.

We just had a presidential election in which 74 million people voted for a lying madman because they feared Democrats even more. Voters reduced the Democratic majority in the House. Whether the federal minimum wage should be raised and by how much was not remotely mandated by the American electorate's split decision.

Biden is not a genuine centrist. He is connected to the working man through the labor movement, but not so much otherwise. He relates less well to the small-business community deeply challenged during the virus crisis.

But he is a confirmed U.S. Senate institutionalist. He is a nice guy who likes to get along.

He needs to introduce Bidenism as center-based compromise in narrowly focused pursuit of positive imperfection, achieving more than we have been achieving but less than what his supporters want.

Biden might be uniquely positioned for that because of the strong likelihood that, owing to age, he'll serve only one term. So what if he upsets his left flank?

Kamala Harris could always run in 2024 by promising the base that she would cast out the timid Bidenism to which she had been held hostage for four years.

She said worse than that about Joe in her short-lived primary race against him.

A lot gets said in campaigns that doesn't amount to anything.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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