Sixty-four years ago, Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg (R., Mich.) famously declared that in matters of foreign policy, "politics stops at the water's edge." His post-isolationist Senate career stands as a monument to the benefits of bipartisanship - an approach that endured through the Cold War and beyond.
Today we stand not "at the water's edge," but we are staring over the edge of the economic cliff. What we are experiencing is so painful and dangerous that we must dampen, if not remove, partisanship for the common purpose of saving the nation.
The debate in Congress over the economic stimulus was only a foretaste. Health care, national security, education, and energy, including global warming, are issues that will require cooperation and compromise.
Genuine bipartisanship is more than inviting Republicans to the White House or the president addressing GOP caucuses on Capitol Hill. Republicans must do more than ritually invoke fiscal conservatism. Rather, we must apply our principles of fiscal conservatism to the times. As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, "There are no atheists in foxholes and no ideologues in financial crises."
The challenges we face are not subject to rigid formulaic solutions, whether defined as fiscal conservatism or Keynesian economics. Nor should they be subject to hasty and ill-defined solutions, as happened with the TARP bailout, passed under duress and the threat of an imminent banking collapse. The December auto bailout faced similar pressures for haste.
Genuine bipartisanship requires early consultation involving Republicans in structuring legislation - something that was noticeably absent in preparing the economic stimulus package. In the words of an old Washington maxim: "If you want legislators in on the landing, it is necessary to have them in on the takeoff."
Bipartisanship would also benefit from following regular legislative order.
The $700 billion 451-page TARP bill was passed with no time to study, no meaningful hearings, no committee markup or committee report, no floor debate and no time to offer amendments, including provisions for oversight. The stimulus bill was also enacted in great haste with little time for regular order. Is it any wonder that the public is angry? The majority party has an obligation to see that regular order is followed.
According to recent polls, the public gives President Obama high marks for his efforts at bipartisanship while faulting Republicans on the same score. As a Republican in loyal opposition, I believe the party's road to relevance lies in applying our party's philosophy adapted to the times and tempered by a willingness to seek areas where agreement is possible.
Fiscal discipline and a preference for small government are always relevant in spending taxpayer money. Republicans need to make sure these principles are part of the upcoming debates and the massive spending bills that the president and the Democrats will be proposing in health care, education, and energy. Democrats need to make sure Republicans are involved in developing and guiding the legislation though the process.
Many Republican governors put aside philosophical objections to accept the benefits in the stimulus bill. Their actions, like mine, pose political risks, but as John F. Kennedy said, "Sometimes party loyalty asks too much." It is not too much to suggest that in this time of economic distress, both parties work together for the common good.