Bipartisan Bills Don't Mean An End To Gridlock

Apr 5, 2012



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. There's been something of a run on commemorative pens at the White House this week. For the second time in as many days, President Obama hosted a signing ceremony this afternoon for a bipartisan piece of legislation. Today's bill makes it easier for smaller companies to raise capital. But as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, this week's White House celebrations don't necessarily signal a new era of cooperation between the parties.




SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Aspiring business people welcome the bill signing. In the White House Rose Garden, President Obama says the new law makes it easier for them to find investors and relaxes reporting requirements for their companies as they try to raise money from the public.


OBAMA: If these entrepreneurs are willing to keep giving their all, the least Washington can do is to help them succeed.

HORSLEY: Some regulators complain the government is opening the door to more stock fraud, but Mr. Obama tried to allay those concerns, saying both the Treasury and Justice Departments will be closely monitoring what happens. He urged lawmakers in attendance to insure that government watchdogs have adequate funding. A bipartisan group of lawmakers was on hand for the signing, including House Republican leader Eric Cantor, who stood just over the president's shoulder.


OBAMA: I want to thank the members of Congress who are here today from both parties, whose leadership and hard work made this bill a reality.

HORSLEY: Ceremonies like this have become a rarity at the White House. Mr. Obama's been more likely to campaign against Congress for failing to act, a strategy he telegraphed last August.


OBAMA: My attitude is: Get it done. And if they don't get it done, then we'll be running against a Congress that's not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.

HORSLEY: So do this week's bill signings mark a shift in White House strategy?

THOMAS MANN: I wouldn't make too much of that grand ceremony.

HORSLEY: Thomas Mann is a scholar at the Brookings Institution and co-author of a new book about Congress, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks."

MANN: One of the best indicators of whether something serious has gotten done is the nature of the vote. When it's unanimous, or close to it, it means nothing of consequence was really resolved or accomplished.

HORSLEY: By that measure, neither of the bills signed this week is very consequential. Today's bill passed the Republican House by a nine-to-one margin and the Democratic Senate nearly three-to-one. Yesterday's bill, which prohibits lawmakers from trading stock based on inside information, passed both chambers almost unanimously. Meanwhile, Mann says even routine legislation has a tough time getting through Congress these days. The two chambers stalled on a long-term highway funding bill and had to settle for a 90-day extension.

MANN: In the old days, a transportation bill was a guaranteed bipartisan bill. Everyone loved infrastructure, and there was just no question that it would be passed. But those days are long gone.

HORSLEY: And if lawmakers can't even agree on how to pay for a staple of government, like highways, it's hard to see the two parties tackling tax reform or the deficit. Still, the White House says it hopes these are not the last bipartisan bills signed this year. Maybe both parties can take a lesson from Gregory Peck's character Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird."


GREGORY PECK: (Atticus Finch) If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.

HORSLEY: President Obama hosted a 50th anniversary screening of the classic film in the White House movie theater this evening. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.