Is Bipartisanship Really Better?

Economic Effects of Bipartisan Congresses

George H.W. Bush and Tip O'Neill
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Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Bipartisanship is a political situation that occurs when two opposing parties work together to achieve common goals. The opposite is partisanship where party members adhere to their ideologies and platforms even when it is destructive to the national interest.

Nonpartisan is strictly independent without regard to political affiliation. For example, the Congressional Budget Office is nonpartisan. It analyzes the economic impact of proposed legislation for Congress. It does not allow the political leanings of its staff analysts to influence its reports.

Bipartisanship is difficult to achieve because the two U.S. parties are so opposed in their economic policies.

Traditionally, the Democratic Party's platform has included economic policies designed to minimize income and social inequalities, focusing on those policies as the best way to ultimately foster economic growth across all strata of the American economy.

Republican economic policies focus on what's good for businesses and investors. They say that prosperous companies will boost economic growth for everyone. Republicans promote the theory of supply-side economics.

Both parties believe in the American Dream but disagree on how to achieve it. Republicans often see it as the individual's right to pursue economic prosperity with limited bureaucratic interference. Democrats often see it in the context of an individual's right to pursue that success (including education, a good job, decent housing, and healthcare) balanced by their part of taking responsibility for providing access to those rights to others across the entire social spectrum.

These differences are what make bipartisanship so difficult to accomplish in Congress, as each one has different impacts on earnings, taxes, the environment, and a host of other issues—often seemingly at odds with one another.

Benefits

Research done by Dr. Celia Paris at Loyola University found that Americans prefer bipartisanship. They asked people, “What should elected officials do?”

In response, 68% said politicians should “try to cooperate across party lines.” Almost two-thirds said they should “compromise to find solutions.” 93% said they should “treat opponents with more civility.”

Voters’ support of bipartisanship extended to bills, legislators, and Congress itself. People supported bipartisan bills almost as much as bills only proposed by their own party. They did not like bills only proposed by the opposite party. As Dr. Paris, explained, “People assume that bills sponsored only by the opposite party are bad.”

Voters like it when their elected officials work across the aisle. They do not see it as being weak or betraying their party’s values. Instead, they perceive the legislator as open-minded, interested in their voters’ opinions, and less self-interested.

The study also found voters had more confidence in Congress as an institution when bipartisan bills were proposed.

Vanderbilt University's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions did a study to see if bipartisan legislators were more effective. It used the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index for each legislator. The index measures how often members of the opposite party co-sponsor a lawmaker’s bills and vice versa.

It found that legislators who had above average bipartisan scores were 11% more effective than those with below-average scores. They could push their bills further along the lawmaking process. 

Unsurprisingly, bipartisanship was especially helpful for those in the minority party. They couldn’t get their bill passed without support from across the aisle.

Bipartisanship helped women the most. They were more likely to reach across the aisle and that made them more effective. This was true even if they were in the majority party.

Cons

Some argue that bipartisanship weakens the push and pull that makes democracy work. James Madison argued that the “conflicts of rival parties” were necessary to keep the republic vital. He felt bipartisanship could lead to a consolidation of power that could turn into tyranny.

Examples of Bipartisan Bills

Bipartisan legislation is when the two parties create a bill together to promote a common good. Here are three well-known examples.

The McCain-Feingold Act is the popular name for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The Act was named after Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis. It sought to end the influence of corporations on federal elections.

McCain-Feingold banned contributions to political parties that didn't go to specific candidates. To compensate, it increased the limits on contributions to specific candidates. It limited how much corporations, nonprofits, and labor unions could advertise using a candidate's image or name.

In 2010, the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned Section 203 of McCain-Feingold. It allowed organizations to fund ads that explicitly endorsed or opposed a candidate.

The Court said the Act restricted corporations' rights to free speech under the First Amendment. In effect, it said that the corporations have the same constitutional rights as people.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 ended a nine-day government shutdown in January 2018. It was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y.

It raised the spending limits imposed by sequestration for two years, Fiscal Year 2018 and FY 2019. It suspended the debt ceiling until March 2019, provided $90 billion in disaster relief, and funded the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Bipartisan Policy Center

The Bipartisan Policy Center is a Washington, D.C., think tank that actively promotes bipartisanship. It analyzes issues to find a solution both parties can get behind. Its lobbying arm, BPC Action, advocates bipartisan solutions in Congress.

The Bottom Line

Majority of U.S. voters support bipartisanship as the best way for leaders and their laws to be effective. People perceive bipartisan leaders as those genuinely working for improvement by willing to work out party differences.

Being bipartisan help lawmakers craft better solutions by allowing them to consider ideologies and policies of both Democrat and Republican parties. The McCain-Feingold Act is a bipartisan product that limited huge corporate influence on elections.