Dems pledge ci­vil­ity, co­op­er­a­tion in Se­nate

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

Pledges to forge a new era of ci­vil­ity and bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion in the U.S. Se­nate abounded Jan. 4 as Democrat­stook­con­trolofthecham­ber for the first time in 12 years.

“The ma­jor­ity my party holds is slim: 51-49,” Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid said in his open­ing ad­dress on the Se­nate floor. “Some may look at this com­po­si­tion as a recipe for grid­lock, but I see it as a unique op­por­tu­nity—anop­por­tu­ni­ty­forDemocrats and Repub­li­cans to de­bate our dif­fer­ences and seek com­mon ground.

“We must turn the page on par­ti­san­ship and usher in a new era of bi­par­ti­san progress,” the Ne­vada Demo­crat said.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell struck an equally con­cil­ia­tory tone when he ad­dressed the cham­ber,promisin­gaspir­itofteam­work to “find bold so­lu­tions to big prob­lems.”

“The chal­lenges ahead will not be metifwe­donoth­ing­toover­comethe par­ti­san­ship that has come to char­ac­ter­ize this body over the past sev­er­a­lyears,”saidMr.McCon­nell,Ken­tucky Repub­li­can.

“A cul­ture of par­ti­san­ship over prin­ci­plerep­re­sentsagravethreatto the Se­nate’s best tra­di­tion as a place of con­struc­tive co­op­er­a­tion. It un­der­mines the spirit and the pur­pose of this in­sti­tu­tion.” He went a step fur­ther. “Is­take­my­par­ty­toapledge:when faced­with­a­nur­gen­tis­sue,wewil­lact; when faced with a prob­lem, we will seek so­lu­tions, not mere po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage,” Mr. McCon­nell said.

Mr.Reid’sspeech­in­cludedal­istof the ma­jor­ity’s first 10 bills, which in­cluded the po­ten­tially di­vi­sive mea­sures of au­tho­riz­ing fed­eral fund­ing of stem-cell re­search and re­work­ing the Medi­care drug ben­e­fit.

Healsovowed­toma­keend­ingthe Iraqwaratop­pri­or­ity,de­spitea­pos­si­ble con­fronta­tion with the White House and Se­nate Repub­li­cans.

“No is­sue in our coun­try is more im­por­tant than find­ing an end to the in­tractable war,” Mr. Reid said.

TheSe­nate­lead­er­shipteam­seven made a tan­gi­ble ges­ture of co­op­er­a­tion, hold­ing an un­prece­dented bi­par­ti­san cau­cus the morn­ing of Jan. 4 in the Old Se­nate Cham­ber.

Still, the two par­ties have been at log­ger­heads­foryears,mostre­cently with the Demo­cratic mi­nor­ity’s fil­i­bus­ter­ing ju­di­cial nom­i­na­tions, the elim­i­na­tion of the death tax and con­fir­ma­tion of John R. Bolton as am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions.

Lead­ers on both sides of the aisle ac­knowl­edge not only that the twovote mar­gin is forc­ing them to act more cor­dially at the out­set of the 110th Congress, but also that they must pass leg­is­la­tion fast in th­ese sal­ad­days­be­foreWash­ing­ton­isover­taken by cam­paign pol­i­tics for 2008.

TheDemocrats’nar­row­ma­jor­ity also is made ten­u­ous by the slow re­cov­ery­ofSen.TimJohn­son,aSouth Dakota Demo­crat who re­mains at Ge­orgeWash­ing­tonUniver­si­tyHospi­tal af­ter a Dec. 13 brain hem­or­rhage. He still needs a ven­ti­la­tor, and­doc­torssay­he­mayneed­months to re­cover.

Mr. John­son’s death or res­ig­na­tion from the Se­nate likely would re­sult in South Dakota’s Repub­li­can gov­er­nor ap­point­ing some­one from his party to com­plete the term. Repub­li­cans would then con­trol the cham­ber with a 50-50 split and Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, the pres­i­dentoftheSe­nate,able­to­cast­thetiebreak­ing vote.

“Thereis­go­ing­to­bea­great­ef­fort to work to­gether to pass the ma­jor things we agree on,” said Sen. Kay Bai­leyHutchi­son,Tex­as­Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Se­nate Repub­li­can Pol­icy Com­mit­tee. “If we dis­agree, dis­agree agree­ably and try to pro­duce re­sults.”

She pre­dicted the ci­vil­ity would last long enough to pass ethics re­forms, a deficit-re­duc­tion plan and tin­ker with So­cial Se­cu­rity, the long­time third rail of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

“We ought to be able to find com­mon ground on So­cial Se­cu­rity,” she said. “We are headed for a train wreck.”

Mr. Reid’s first 10 bills did not in­clude So­cial Se­cu­rity re­form. The mi­nor­ity, how­ever, will be al­lowed to sub­mit the next 10 bills.

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