Following the 1998 mid-term elections, House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned and was replaced by a more moderate Republican Dennis Hastert. What Hastert lacked in Gingrich’s highly partisan leadership style, he made up for in an attempt to reach across the political aisle.
Instead of advocating simply for policies that were conservative in nature, he made an effort to find compromise with his liberal opponents. Although I may not agree with the specific pieces of legislation he pressed for, I do commend Hastert's strive for bipartisanship. In turn, he actually helped strengthen the Republican Party, becoming the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House in history.
Fast forward to present day, and we have a Republican Party that has stood in steadfast opposition to any policy President Obama has proposed. Whether it was with Obama’s first stimulus package that prevented another Great Depression; or the Auto-Industry bailout that saved the American auto industry; or Wall Street reform that prevented “too big to fail” companies which can hold the economy hostage; or Health-Insurance reform that ensured every American equal opportunity when it comes to healthcare; it seems as though the Republican party has valued party politics greater than policy productivity.
And although President Obama has made a valiant effort to find compromise (even angering some in his base), bipartisanship from the right has faltered. Most recently, this is true with the American Jobs Act, which will expand the payroll tax cuts for middle-class families, extend jobless benefits for millions of Americans, provide new tax cuts for small-businesses, and create long-term jobs by investing in infrastructure and clean energy.
Despite the fact that this bill is FULLY paid for by ending the Iraq War (Obama announced today that the last American troops in Iraq will return home by the end of December); allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent to expire; and asking every American to pay their fair share; Republicans have made little effort to find compromise.
Instead, many on the right have asked that we continue allowing the middle-class to give up much needed benefits than ask the nation’s wealthiest to pay a tax rate that is equivalent to that of an average American worker. They have asked to decrease financial regulations and repeal health care reform. But how do these actions help our economy?
How does asking more from a middle-class that has seen their collective wealth decrease in the last few decades, and nothing from the top 2 percent that has seen the reverse affect, provide equal opportunity to our citizens? How does removing regulations on the financial industry that can prevent another recession help us in the long-term? How does reducing investments on infrastructure, which according to the country’s largest job creators can increase immediate job creation and long-term stability, rebound our economy? How does taking away health care from millions help Americans find jobs and increase consumer demand?
According to business leaders like Warren Buffett, companies like GE and Comcast, and millions of working-class Americans, the answer is that these tactics never help.
Maybe today’s Republican leadership can learn a few lessons from their former Speaker Hastert:
"Solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. They can be found in an environment in which we trust one another's word; where we generate heat and passion, but where we recognize that each member is equally important to our overall mission of improving the life of the American people."