President Obama has painted a bleak portrait of cooperation in Washington in several recent speeches, charging that Republicans say "no to every proposal that we know could make a difference in the lives of hardworking Americans," and that "Washington doesn’t work" because we have a "party on the other side that has been captured by an ideology that says no to everything." However, in a commencement address at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy, the president's treasury secretary, Jack Lew, said that he believes "the pendulum is swinging back to getting things done in a bipartisan way" based on the last six months' deals on the budget, the farm bill, and the debt limit:
Now, some may say that bipartisanship is the currency of a bygone era. That we cannot come together to take on the broad, deep-rooted problems we face today. But I disagree. I have watched men and women of conviction reach across the aisle to secure honorable compromises my entire career. I have been a part of almost every major bipartisan budget agreement over the last 30 years. And I am optimistic that the things that divide us are not as intractable as they look.
Consider the last six months -- a two year budget deal, agreement to avoid a crisis over the debt limit and a farm bill all suggest that the pendulum is swinging back to getting things done in a bipartisan way. And I believe that on issues like education, infrastructure and immigration reform -- the same will be true.
Oddly, the very next example of getting things done cited by Lew in his speech was Obamacare, which passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote:
If we need evidence that our country can still accomplish big things -- one need only consider health care reform. It took nearly a century for Congress and the President to come together to pass legislation that would expand coverage and change the system. But despite the odds, the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land, and now millions of Americans who were once denied coverage—including students and new graduates—have health insurance and can get the vital medical care they deserve.
While Lew struck a generally optimistic tone throughout his address, he noted that the divisions in Washington also extended to the country at large, asserting that it's "actually unusual these days for a Democrat to live next door to a Republican":
We live in a polarized time, where people who think differently often do not come into contact with each other. This is not just about the media -- where the rough texture of nuance is smoothed away while ideologically-driven web sites, cable TV, and bloggers cater to narrow audiences in closed echo chambers. We are also at a point where even neighborhoods are partisan bubbles. It is actually unusual these days for a Democrat to live next door to a Republican.
Lew encouraged the public policy graduates to find ways to "break down those walls" and "work with those who hold different views to fashion honorable compromises that will move our country forward," for "as fragile and fractured as political discourse sometimes seems, we are bound together by the same enduring beliefs."