One of the greatest political myths is that bipartisanship is a necessary ingredient for successful policy solutions. It isn’t.
Success in public policy and politics requires achieving the necessary political consensus to pass a policy solution set. This can be done in a partisan way or a bipartisan way. Both routes can succeed or fail in terms of the results of legislation that passes.
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, a bipartisan consensus that Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass calls “the Combine” dominated Illinois. Some say this continues today – I agree. Much legislation was passed in a bipartisan fashion during this period, but these so-called solutions are still haunting us today. From increased tax rates, to litigation-friendly laws, employer-hostile workers compensation, expanding Medicaid coverage to the middle class, the unionization of government workers, growing compensation and pensions for public employees, free health care for government retirees, and finally, to the notorious and failed pension payment ramp, all have proven a disaster for average Illinois families.
It is the bipartisan decisions of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s that put Illinois in its current pickle. Bipartisanship is no sure recipe for solutions that work.
On the other hand, single-party power plays also don’t necessarily work. The Democrats, led by Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, passed Illinois’ largest tax hike in history in a partisan vote during the lame duck session of January 2011. Not only did this tax hike fail to solve the state’s problems as promised, but it also made Illinois’ problems worse by accelerating its job losses, hurting our national reputation and delaying the day of reckoning for real spending reforms that still must come. Now Democrats want more money, and they’ll get it by making the income tax hike permanent and ultimately promoting a progressive income tax.
Fixing our problems is not about partisan or bipartisan solutions – it is about marshaling a political majority of either type that picks the correct solution set. As political strategist James Carville might put it, it’s about the policy, stupid.