The prerequisites to ‘bipartisan compromise’

Updated
 
The prerequisites to 'bipartisan compromise'
The prerequisites to 'bipartisan compromise'
Governor of Virginia/Flickr

For quite a while, it seems most of the political news out of Virginia has been quite discouraging – medically-unnecessary ultrasounds, state-based currencies, election-rigging schemes – so it comes as a welcome change of pace to see the commonwealth approve a sweeping, bipartisan transportation package years in the making.

Responding to the news, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar argued that the deal should offer the White House a reminder of “what bipartisan compromise looks like.”

I find this take rather puzzling, not because the Virginia transportation bill falls short – as best as I can tell, the package has some worthwhile elements* – but because I don’t think it’s the White House that needs the reminder.

In this case, Virginia was able to get something done because Republican leaders were willing to accept concessions their counterparts on Capitol Hill are not.

On the last day of the legislature’s 46-day gathering, the Senate gave its blessing to a plan that dramatically overhauls the way Virginians will pay for roads, highways and mass transit – but not before Democrats also won a pledge from McDonnell on the Affordable Care Act’s planned expansion of Medicaid for poor and elderly people.

Soon after McDonnell wrote a blistering letter about his reluctance to expand the shared federal and state program because of growing costs, Democratic senators threatened to derail the $3.5 billion transportation measure unless McDonnell agreed, in writing, to honor their compromise on Medicaid.

He did, and despite a last-minute challenge Saturday from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Medicaid deal held together well enough for the Senate to take up the historic transportation measure a day after the House passed it.

Virginia Republicans had to accept some new taxes – including a wholesale tax on motor fuels and a slight increase in the sales tax on nonfood merchandise – and expanded “Obamacare,” while Virginia Democrats had to accept “diverting as much as $200 million a year in general fund revenue toward roads instead of schools or other services.”

Is this an example of what “bipartisan compromise looks like”? Certainly. Is it the White House’s fault we don’t see examples like these at the federal level? I’m hard pressed to imagine why anyone might think so.

Looking back over the last four years, it seems President Obama, to the chagrin of many liberals, has been prepared to compromise with Republicans on just about everything. Even this week, with the sequester looming, the White House isn’t calling for a revenues-only solution; it’s calling for a balanced deal in which Democrats accept spending cuts they don’t want and Republicans accept revenue from closed tax loopholes that they don’t want. The point is to find a middle ground in which both sides make concessions in the interests of striking a larger deal.

Are there literally any examples in which Obama and congressional Republicans have tried to reach an agreement, and the president refused to compromise? Are there literally any examples in which the White House said, “It’s our way or the highway”? Are there literally any examples in which the president and his team weren’t willing to make concessions, in some cases, pre-emptively?

I don’t think there are. Hell, Obama has even put entitlements on the table in the hopes of reaching fiscal deals with GOP leaders. On the other hand, we see quantifiably extreme congressional Republicans refusing to compromise on pretty much every issue on the policy landscape.

So why is Josh Kraushaar arguing that the White House should follow Virginia’s example? Obama would love to strike deals like these, but he’s dealing with a congressional GOP that finds the very idea of compromise offensive.

In Virginia, McDonnell was willing to infuriate his base, accept tax increases, and tolerate Medicaid expansion. The moment Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, et al, are willing to make concessions anywhere close to these is the day Washington gridlock becomes far less exasperating.

In short, I’m afraid Kraushaar is reminding the wrong side of Pennsylvania Avenue about the virtues of “bipartisan compromise.”

* Update: It’s worth emphasizing that the Virginia bill inexplicably includes a new tax on hybrids or any alternative-fuel cars, because GOP policymakers in the state hope to discourage consumers from buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. When I said the transportation package includes some worthwhile provisions, I certainly wasn’t referring to this.

Bob McDonnell and Virginia

The prerequisites to 'bipartisan compromise'

Updated