Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.

Phil: Haven’t I been telling you for a while that bipartisanship will be achieved as soon as Democrats actually start negotiating with Republicans, as we have now seen with the infrastructure bill?

Ethan: Haven’t I been telling you for a while that bipartisanship will be achieved as soon as Republicans actually start negotiating with Democrats, as we have now seen with the infrastructure bill?

Phil: I guess the old adade, “it takes two to tango,” is proving true. Whatever the reason, is America ready to clap as the U.S. Senate is starting to act like the deliberative body it is supposed to be?

Ethan: While I am certainly pleased to see progress, I am not sure celebrating bipartisanship in and of itself is worth the champagne. Certainly getting an infrastructure bill passed versus doing nothing is a great achievement. But, sadly, the final product that Republicans demanded is far less adequate than the original $2 trillion plan that is needed.

Phil: Less adequate! Only you can see a trillion dollars in spending as less than adequate.

Ethan: Have you seen America’s infrastructure?

Phil: Have you seen America’s debt? But we digress. Do you really disagree that bipartisanship is a worthy goal?

Ethan: No, of course not. I wouldn’t be hanging out with you so much if I didn’t believe in bipartisanship. But bipartisanship is the vehicle to achieve an end, not the end. The policy is what matters.

Phil: For me, bringing more voices to the solution creates a better answer. With all your focus on diversity and multiculturalism, you must believe something similar.

Ethan: Diversity and multiculturalism is as much about equal opportunity as it is about bringing different solutions to the problem. But, of course, having people around the table with different life experiences helps create better outcomes, as long as everyone at the table is genuinely trying to solve the problem.

Phil: Having a diversity of ideology means you will do better at avoiding unintended consequences. If investing in roads and bridges and trains and schools, etc, was your only goal, then of course $2 trillion would be fine. But once people start reminding everyone that the debt you are creating also has to be taken into account, it means we find a better balance.

Ethan: Except that “better balance” leads to our infrastructure and economy falling further behind, meaning it will just end up costing us more down the road.

Phil: And, if true, you’d better support reductions elsewhere so we actually have something left on our balance sheet to borrow the money we need. Because, in your scenario, we may be bankrupt with a fancy new Amtrak train that no one can afford to ride.

Ethan: In the end, I am certainly pleased we are close to getting this package across the finish line, and the bipartisan nature does help rebuild trust in our government institutions. However, if this is all the Senate gets done, I won’t be popping the champagne.

Phil: Just to be clear, striving for bipartisanship does not mean that on all things both sides must join and compromise toward a solution. Sometimes majority rules. Sometimes minority blocks. Sometimes bipartisanship. That’s a healthy balance, for my money.

Ethan: Hey, if the For the People Act, The Pro-Act, the American Families Plan, and Immigration Reform can all get passed because both sides have built trust from the infrastructure bill, then I will join you in the bipartisan bathtub of champagne.

Phil: That would have to be a pretty big bathtub to fit both of us, but I will bring the glasses.