Party interactions between the Democrats and Republicans during President Obama's first months in office have shown bipartisan politics to be little more than a campaign promise that cannot be kept.
So far, Republicans en masse have offered mostly staunch resistance to the President's appeals to both parties to reach across the aisle.
For example, Senator Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination to be Obama's Commerce Secretary claiming that he had "irresolvable conflicts" with the current administration. Also, in the 61-37 vote for Obama's stimulus bill, only 3 of the 40 Republican senators voted alongside Democrats.
Yet for all this opposition, Chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele said in his response to Obama's Address to Congress that, "Republicans are eager to work with President Obama on the challenges he discussed, especially restoring fiscal responsibility and growing our economy".
If Steele's words ring true to the rest of the Republican party, then why did Republican senators so widely refuse the stimulus plan in January?
Republicans argued that the stimulus plan was riddled with pork spending projects and lacked adequate tax breaks for high-income earners to increase consumer spending. Minority whip in the House Eric Cantor (R-VA) said in an interview with Time Magazine, "when the bill that rolled through the House missed the mark the way it did, it demonstrated that the thought behind the majority's bill was not to be a stimulus bill; it was to be a spending bill".
Although, the $825 billion stimulus plan allocated $275 billion to tax relief, approximately one third of the bill's funds. Is disappointment with the stimulus legislation that only motive for the lack of bipartisan cooperation within the Republican Party?
David Watkins, professor of political science at Seattle University, says no. He reasons that because of the intensity of this recession, chances are that the economy will recover "weakly and slowly". At this struggling pace, we will still be in recession by 2010 . . . just in time for the next midterm elections.
Watkins suspects, "If the GOP opposes Democratic strategies to protect jobs and turn the economy around, and the economy still looks and feel pretty bad to voters in 2010, they can credibly put forth the following claim, 'Democratic leadership pursued a failed strategy, we knew it was doomed to fail and that's why we opposed it, now give us a chance and we'll do something that works'".
Perhaps the GOP is grappling more desperately for power than we assume. According to an article by Dean Baker, co-president of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, what Republicans really fear is a Democratic reign of 20 years on Capitol Hill. Baker noticed that after the Great Depression and the New Deal acts, the Republicans did not control the White House until more than 20 years after Roosevelt was elected president. "Imagine how terrifying the prospect of 20 years of Democratic presidencies must be for the current generation of Republican leaders," comments Baker, "This would mean that they would not retake the White House until 2028".
Even polls show that Republicans need to give people a reason to trust them now. A survey conducted by the New York Times shows that 56% of those questioned believed that President Obama should continue creating the policies he promised during his campaign; while 39% answered that he should work in a bipartisan manner. 79% thought the highest priority of Republicans in Congress was to enact bipartisan policies, whereas only 17% thought Republicans should continue to adhere to Republican policies.
After a Republican presidential administration with record low approval ratings, and just months after the roll out of the failed bank bailouts and tax rebates in 2008, the GOP needs to prove that it holds the solutions to the economic crisis.
Yet the Republican method of building trust is all wrong, according to Dwight Pelz, Chairman of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee. "The nation is in crisis, people are out of work, their homes are being foreclosed upon, and [Republicans] can't get off the next presidential election!" Pelz believes that Republicans are attempting to gain control of Washington D.C. at the expense of the nation. "This is a reminder to us to how important our work is," he says, referring to the WSDCC, "We have to be vigilant."
Even some Republicans have a similar attitude. The 3 Republican senators who voted for Obama's stimulus package, Arlen Specter (R-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), all issued statements echoing the idea that political leaders must push politics aside and act in the best interests of the citizens.
Arlen Specter said of the unpopular stance he took against his party, "I believe that my duty is to follow my conscience and vote what I think is in the best interest of the country. And the political risks will have to abide."
Although support for Specter has dropped with Pennsylvania voters and now 58% of Republicans are less likely to support him, Specter feels that he made the best choice. "I think there are a lot of people in the Republican caucus who are glad to see this action taken without their fingerprints, without their participation," he said.
Specter also described an instance where a Republican colleague congratulated him on his vote, but when Specter asked if his colleague would also vote for the stimulus package, the man answered, "No, I might have a primary."
Will this focus on re-election hinder future government aid during this recession?
The answer is uncertain. However, David Watkins of Seattle University believes that pleasing their constituents will be every individual legislatures ultimate goal, whatever that means at the time. "I suspect most members are going to follow the path that makes most sense to them. Even if they are acting in concert now, I don't think they're a well-oiled machine."