The Lack of Com­pro­mise Is Bi­par­ti­san

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sunday Briefing -

So far, there is not much to show for what each side promised would be a pe­riod of bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion and com­pro­mise be­tween a new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in Congress and a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent in his last term.

On the is­sue of Iraq, the pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent have made it clear they in­tend to sim­ply ig­nore ma­jor­ity votes of both houses of Congress to set a date to be­gin pulling troops out of Iraq.

And on a range of do­mes­tic is­sues, Democrats seem more in­ter­ested in hold­ing hear­ings aimed at high­light­ing and ex­pos­ing the mis­deeds of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion than ac­tu­ally ham­mer­ing out new pro­grams and poli­cies.

Democrats gave the back of the hand to the big­gest new idea in the pres­i­dent’s State of the Union speech, a pro­posal to cap the highly re­gres­sive de­duc­tion for em­ployer-paid health in­sur­ance and use the sav­ings to sub­si­dize health care for the poor and unin­sured.

The min­i­mum-wage bill, which has wide, over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port along with the back­ing of both the pres­i­dent and the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship, has some­how got caught up in the familiar par­ti­san and spe­cial-in­ter­est squab­bles.

And last week, a quiet ef­fort to reach a bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus on trade got de­railed af­ter House Democrats hard­ened their po­si­tion on la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards they wanted writ­ten into the text of trade treaties al­ready ne­go­ti­ated with Panama, Colom­bia and Peru. The tough­en­ing of the Demo­cratic po­si­tion — par­tic­u­larly over the is­sue of whether U.S. la­bor stan­dards could be chal­lenged by trad­ing part­ners — has jeop­ar­dized con­gres­sional ap­proval of the treaties be­fore ex­pi­ra­tion of a “fast-track” pro­ce­dure, set for the end of June.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, the fail­ure to reach agree­ment on the nar­row treaty terms now threat­ens to de­rail a much broader dis­cus­sion among busi­ness in­ter­ests, Democrats and the White House on ma­jor ex­pan­sions to the eco­nomic safety net for all work­ers who lose their jobs. That agenda would take in health in­sur­ance, pen­sion porta­bil­ity, re­train­ing pro­grams, wage in­sur­ance and an ex­pan­sion of the patch­work of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pro­grams.

In Seoul, mean­while, ne­go­tia­tors strug­gled to com­plete talks on a new trade treaty be­tween the United States and South Korea. The White House ac­knowl­edged the talks were not go­ing well as Kore­ans re­sisted U.S. de­mands to open their mar­ket to im­ported cars, beef and rice. Those talks, too, are com­pli­cated by de­mands from Democrats that South Korea not only lift tar­iffs on U.S. cars but also meet an­nual quo­tas for im­port­ing U.S.-made cars.

And back in Wash­ing­ton, the Com­merce De­part­ment sought to quell ris­ing pub­lic anx­i­ety over trade with China by an­nounc­ing it would levy du­ties on Chi­nese im­ports to off­set sub­si­dies that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment pro­vides its ex­port firms. Al­though the first such du­ties will be ap­plied to cer­tain pa­per prod­ucts, steel, tex­tile and other man­u­fac­tur­ers could ap­ply for the same pro­tec­tion.

BY TIM GRAJEK FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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