The Lack of Compromise Is Bipartisan
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.