Where Did Bipartisanship Go?

Illustration for article titled Where Did Bipartisanship Go?

Despite the spirit of cooperation and the afterglow of recent bipartisan victories by President Barack Obama, some politicians still don't get it. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is one of them.


The Senate majority leader's decision to avoid reviewing the controversial 2010 health care bill in the Senate stands in contradiction to the political writing on the wall: signals from both the House of Representatives, which has passed legislation to overturn last year's bill, and from Obama, who opened the door to tuning up the health care bill in his recent State of the Union address.

Instead of following the script — one that could lead to the bipartisanship that an issue like health care reform deserves (but did not get last year) — Reid and his allies appear more focused on saving the political victory that came out of last spring's national angst, even if that means ignoring the momentum around the country and in Congress to right it before the full effects of the law affect the nation in a few years.

To many, the momentum for tweaking or "repealing and replacing" ObamaCare comes only from the Republicans, who are in charge in the House. However, the House vote last month to repeal ObamaCare also carried four Democrats, a sign that some within that party see a need for redoing the controversial law.

The pressure continues in different ways but with a similar message: Something must change so that America can keep its values yet get this health care reform right. President Obama, in addressing the health care law, particularly noted that "nothing" is perfect from a legislative standpoint, leaving Congress with the notion that there are avenues to fix the legislation.

The federal courts have further highlighted the health care law's flaws; most recently, a Florida judge ruled that key aspects of the law are unconstitutional. Acknowledgment of the current legislation's problems by the White House, the courts, the House and the public, along with the president's openness to more-bipartisan legislation, should be inspiring Capitol Hill to advance health care reform toward a better solution for Americans.

Given the current political balance in Washington, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Reid should be able to work with the White House to repeal the flawed ObamaCare law and replace it with a stronger, better piece of legislation without undermining the good points of the current version, which include the safety net of expanded coverage for college-age students on their parents' insurance plans, and an end to the practice of denying insurance based on pre-existing conditions.


In September 2009, Obama lobbied for honest brokering during the health care reform process, noting in a speech to Congress that the Pelosi-Reid Congress should have considered issues such as insurance portability and malpractice-litigation reform (two pet items in Republican health care reform plans). 

With each party in charge of a chamber of Congress and Republicans having shown a willingness to cooperate with the White House, we have a better chance of getting health care reform done the right way if Reid can show the political courage to come back to the table. Instead, we currently have only the mantra echoed by the senator and others (including White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) that Washington should not " … relive the battles of the past … ," if only because that means revoking the political victories claimed last spring by the Democrats.


Losing a claim to 2010's political victory is not enough of a reason for Reid and other Democrats in Washington to shut out Republicans — and a majority of Americans, for that matter — from the process of getting this bill right with a bipartisan effort that delivers an American victory, not a political victory.

As President Obama noted, the opportunity to correct the gaps in the bill should be welcomed by Congress and taken up by both parties in a cooperative manner, even if it means going back to the drawing board on certain aspects of the law. If a president with so much to lose in 2012 can be open to this idea, why shouldn't a senator who just won another six years in office be able to do the same?


Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister at 5 a.m. on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. He is the author of an upcoming edition of the book The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.