A term that has been used so much that some can forget what a term really means can make one think it is just one’s individual thinking, not something odd going on with the term or terms when people use a term to suit their needs, or loosely. One begins to ask for a “2nd set of eyes” to make sure what is really being said is really the truth, and not a perception no one else sees.
This has happened to me when the term “bipartisan” and related term “bipartisanship” is used, especially in relation to the 116th Congress. This started in late May when Congressman Sean Casten talked about “bipartisanship” being overrated in an interview at the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago where he came to the conclusion that what ultimately matters is passing legislation in Congress.
Last week, Congressman Casten was interviewed by the editorial board of the Northwest Herald and continued to miss the point what real bipartisanship is, which is working cooperatively to pass legislation which will pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law. IL-06 Republican candidate Evelyn Sanguinetti called him out in the accompanying Facebook meme and posted Friday. Casten’s record, with few exceptions, is more about partisanship, than bipartisanship and should help answer why legislation passed in the House are not called for a vote in the Senate. He told the Herald the following:
“As a new member, one of Casten’s observations is that there are standards of political performance that would be “laughable” in arenas outside of politics.
“We get asked all the time, ‘What are you doing to be bipartisan?’ ” Casten said. “As if in any other line of work you would split everybody in the organization up into two tiers and measure your success not by whether or not what you did was good and useful and necessary, but whether or not you pulled a couple people from the other team on to work with you.”
Where Sanguinetti’s meme is coming from is completely accurate. Congress is not, as Casten put it, “any other line of work”. In both houses of Congress, you have a “majority” and a “minority”, and the committee and sub-committee structure in Congress have more members of the majority on committees, and a majority member is the chair and leads that committee under the leadership of, in the House, the Speaker.
Continuing where Sanguinetti was going in her meme, the Senate has its own “majority” and “minority” structure. The members who make up the majority in the House are a different political party than the majority of the Senate. Real bipartisan legislation will have votes approving the legislation from both sides of the majority/minority from the House which will make the majority in the Senate more amenable to passing the legislation, either as-is or with changes. Senate initiated legislation faces a similar challenge. Predominately partisan, House-passed legislation will likely not even be called for a vote because it is a waste of time seeing the House worked in an overtly partisan manner.
A good example is gun legislation, which brings up where self-reflection was needed when using the “bipartisan” term. From a June 24 article here on McHenry County Blog the following was written as excerpted in the bold-framed box below::
H.R. 8 has the word “Bipartisan” in the title, and as was pointed out in the 6/24 article, only 8 Republicans voted for H.R. 8 and 2 Democrats opposed, and it would be wrong to call H.R. 8 “bipartisan” legislation in spite of the title of the bill, which is what Congresswoman Lauren Underwood did back in late June, and continues to do in her tweets during the month of August.
Around June, I noticed having to use the term “real bipartisanship” because of examples like Congresswoman Underwood calling such a minimal support of Republicans on Democratic-led legislation as “bipartisan”
Personally, and this is how John Lopez keeps his sanity when referring to bipartisan legislation initiated in the House, I use the 10% rule on a bill in the 116th Congress. If a bill sponsored by a majority Democratic member has at least 10% of Republicans in the affirmative on the final vote to pass the legislation, then it is “bipartisan” in my book. The 10% number of Republicans in the House is 20, given the Republican caucus is currently at 197 members, and I choose to round up.
So by the take-it-for-what-it-is-worth-John-Lopez-standard, H.R. 8 is not “bipartisan” legislation. And if a vote for a bill has not been taken, looking at the number of co-sponsors and the 10% rule applies, too. If 20 Republicans in the House co-sponsor legislation sponsored by a Democrat, it’s really bipartisan.
This article began with my questioning myself about the meaning of “bipartisan” and honestly doubting myself. Thankfully, this past week, there was an editorial from The Wall Street Journal reprinted in the August 20th Northwest Herald print edition which included the following in reference to the passage in the House of H.R. 2722, the Securing America’s Federal Election (SAFE) Act, with the following relevant passage:
“When the Safe Act finally passed the House, a single Republican supported it. This allows the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, to pitch the bill as “bipartisan”.
Finally, the 2nd set of eyes I needed to prove to me that I hadn’t “lost it” when questioning Congresswoman Lauren Underwood’s claim that a bill passed in the House, with only 8 Republicans voting for it is “bipartisan” when the truth says it clearly was not.
Please, click the link to The Wall Street Journal editorial originally published on August 11 and read where Republicans attempted to genuinely work with Democrats in a real bipartisan manner to pass an effective SAFE Act for Senate consideration and approval. And you will read how majority Democrats were uncooperative and pass, as Sanguinetti put it in her meme, “talking point reforms to rile-up their base”, or as The Wall Street Journal editorial concluded concerning the House passage of the SAFE Act and Schumer calling it “bipartisan”:
“Come on. This isn’t a good faith try at getting something done. It’s a crude attempt to whack Republicans with a political club.”
The Democrats cannot blame “Moscow” Mitch, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the SAFE Act being held up. The Democrats can only look in the mirror and blame themselves for failing the American people by not working in a real bipartisan manner. The same can be said of the bulk of House-passed legislation, too.
- Northwest Herald Sean Casten Interview: https://www.nwherald.com/2019/08/22/casten-talks-first-months-in-congress/aed5ov4
- The Wall Street Journal Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/about-that-election-security-bill-11565554637
- H.R. 2722 Link: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2722/text
- McHenry County Blog 6/24 Article Link: http://mchenrycountyblog.com/2019/06/24/14th-district-campaign-update