Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 18, 2010

When "bipartisan" isn't...

Many people believe that "bipartisanship" is a good thing - but what does it mean? How often does a legislator need to work with fellow legislators on the other side of the aisle to be considered "bipartisan?"

What about legislation? Exactly how many members of each party need to sign on as cosponsors to a bill before it can seriously be considered a "bipartisan proposal?" What proportion of members from each party need to vote in favor of a measure before we can seriously say that it passed with "bipartisan support?"

Ironically, it's often possible to discern the politics of a supposedly "nonpartisan" organization by how they skew their use of bipartisan.

Last week, the conservative Washington Policy Center - not to be confused with the progressive Washington State Budget & Policy Center - published a piece entitled "Bipartisan 72-hour budget bill introduced," referring to legislation sponsored by five Republicans and one Democrat.

(UPDATE: the list of co-sponsors to HB-2872 has grown since this piece was written).

The word bipartisanship invokes the noble idea of unity over division, which may explain why groups like the Washington Policy Center attach the word to describe bills they support. It leaves me wondering if they'll characterize the budget as "bipartisan" if a single Republican votes for it?

I'm a progressive, but that doesn't mean that I think the Democratic Party has a monopoly on good ideas. Progressive Republicans may be scarce, but they still exist. There's value to be found in ideas from both sides of the aisle, and the best ideas - at least the simple, noncontroversial ones - will garner support from members of both parties most of the time.

Republicans, and right-wing media, are being disingenuous when they breathlessly ascribe the label "bipartisan" to a bill with a token Democratic cosponsor. Likewise, Democratic bills that pass the Legislature with one or two Republican votes aren't really "bipartisan" either.

I think most people picture balance and consensus when they read the words "Bipartisan 72-hour budget bill."

Our Legislature is composed of roughly two-thirds Democrats and one-third Republicans. If someone is going to call a bill "bipartisan," isn't it reasonable to expect "bipartisan" to mean something approaching a similar ratio?

Let's be clear: if the standard for "bipartisanship" is to have a single member of the opposition co-sponsor or vote for a bill, then much of what the Legislature does is "bipartisan." If the threshold for calling something "bipartisan" is so low, the adjective is essentially meaningless.

And the last thing we need is more meaningless political commentary.


OpenID 6p00e54ed0bb058833 said...


Thank for highlighting the blog post. Here is the updated list of sponsors:

Alexander, Seaquist, Bailey, Ericks, Dammeier, Schmick, Wallace, Morrell, Simpson, Smith

By my count that is 5 republicans and 5 democrats.

January 18, 2010 3:12 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Thanks for that update - these additional sponsors certainly make this bill more bipartisan as per my commentary.

That being said, this updated list of sponsors is not what existed when the Washington Policy Center published their story last Thursday, nor is it what was available online when I submitted my story this morning.

January 18, 2010 4:09 PM  

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