Joe Biden's Bipartisan Dream May Already Be Dead

President Joe Biden's hopes of restoring bipartisanship to Washington, D.C. may have already been dashed as Republicans on Capitol Hill show little sign of backing his agenda.

Biden repeatedly called for a bipartisan approach to governing during last year's White House campaign. This harked back to his 36 years in the Senate, which had a less severe partisan divide when he was first elected in 1972 and for many years afterwards.

"We need to revive the spirit of bipartisanship in this country," Biden said before the election. "When I say that, and I said that from the time I announced, I was told that, 'Maybe that's the way things used to work, Joe, you got a lot done before, Joe, but you can't do that anymore.' Well, I'm here to tell you and say we can, and we must."

However, experts on bipartisanship have told Newsweek that while there might be parts of Biden's agenda that Republicans could support, it appears unlikely the GOP will lend Democrats their votes any time soon.

Laurel Harbridge-Yong, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University and co-author of the book Rejecting Compromise, said there might not be an appetite for compromise in either party.

"Whether or not Biden's plans—and legislative politics more broadly—garners bipartisan support depends on both the willingness of Democrats and Republicans to compromise," Harbridge-Yong said.

"There has been a lot of attention lately on whether Biden and the Democrats are really interested in finding a bipartisan deal. The progressive wing of the party wants them to push forward with big plans, to use the budget reconciliation process aggressively, and reform or remove the filibuster; none of which signal a strong interest in bipartisanship."

"However, bipartisanship requires compromises from both parties and, to date, the Republican minority has shown relatively little interest in making real concessions to find a bipartisan deal," she said.

"This makes sense from the perspective of a strategic minority party. As the minority party, they don't want to help give the Democrats a big policy victory. They want to block and to point out their differences. Given that many of Biden's policy initiatives are popular among the public, the Republicans have been focused on the price tag—even if much of the costs would be tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, not new spending."

Jordan Tama, an associate professor at the School of International Service at American University and a fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said the president would need to make major compromises to win Republican support.

"Most of Biden's major policy initiatives—from infrastructure investments to expanded family and medical leave—are broadly popular, attracting support not only from Democratic voters, but also from most independent voters and a sizable share of Republican voters," Tama said.

"But the price tag and the need to fund them through tax increases mean that Republican members of Congress will not seriously consider supporting them. The only way to gain support for the proposals from Republicans would be to shrink them dramatically, which would make the initiatives much less consequential."

Tama added: "The infrastructure agenda could win bipartisan support if it were scaled back a lot and focused only on traditional physical infrastructure—roads, bridges, railways. But Biden has committed to use infrastructure investments also to move us toward a greener economy and create jobs more broadly—and Republicans will continue to recoil from that," Tama said.

Harbridge-Yong agreed that the GOP might support aspects of Biden's proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill but not the entire package.

"The question is whether the Democrats are willing to separate the bipartisan aspects of infrastructure or other issues from their more progressive agenda," Harbridge-Yong said.

"Although the progressive wing of the party is likely pushing to keep the big packages, it is important to keep in mind that, historically, many places where the majority party fails to pass their agenda, inaction is driven by conflicts within their party, not just by legislation being blocked by the minority party.

"So, part of the question for Biden and the Democrats is whether they have to separate parts of their agenda even to get the popular parts past Joe Manchin and the other more centrist Democrats," she said.

Neither Harbridge-Yong nor Tama believe that the Democrats' recent use of budget reconciliation to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill will affect the possibilities for bipartisanship.

"Moderate Republicans made the same type of infrastructure proposal recently that they had made on COVID relief earlier this year—a sharply scaled down version of what Biden is seeking—suggesting that their openness to working with Biden has not changed as a result of the use of reconciliation on the COVID relief," Tama said.

"The problem is less that the Democrats used reconciliation on COVID relief than that there is a very large distance separating Biden's policy agenda and the type of policies that Republicans are willing to support."

Harbridge-Yong said: "Both parties have used this process to advance their core agenda items frequently in the last few decades so there was nothing new (or anti-bipartisan) about Democrats using it for the COVID stimulus bill."

Although Democrats' use of budget reconciliation may not have moved the needle on bipartisanship, prospects for co-operation between the parties are looking bleak.

Newsweek has asked the White House for comment.

President Joe Biden Addresses Congress
President Joe Biden turns from the podium after speaking to a joint session of Congress on April 28. Biden's calls for bipartisanship have yet to bear fruit. Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images