Compromise in Senate is a win for moderates
May 27, 2005
By endorsing the last-minute political compromise that headed off the so-called “nuclear option” on judicial appointments in the U.S. Senate, I’m sure to be branded as a moderate wimp by Rush Limbaugh fans in Northern Nevada. But if “moderate” means searching for bipartisan, negotiated solutions to contentious political issues, count me in.
Although I’m sorry to contradict the Appeal reader who called me “a typical Bush/Limbaugh-type extremist Republican,” I think the 14 senators – seven Democrats and seven Republicans – who banded together to break the stalemate on controversial judicial nominations should be commended for putting the national interest ahead of their respective parties’ narrow, partisan interests. So go ahead, call me a moderate; it’s a label I’ll wear with pride.
The compromise permits both sides to claim victory on this hot-button issue and will allow Congress to return to the really important business of this nation, such as strengthening a shaky economy, fixing Social Security and seeking an honorable exit from the mess in Iraq. First things first.
“Many of these (judicial) nominees have waited for quite some time to have an up or down vote and now they’re going to get one,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “That’s progress.” For his part, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., stressed that he wasn’t part of the deal – neither was Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada – and said the constitutional, or “nuclear,” option is still on the table if Democrats fail to live up to the agreement, especially on Supreme Court nominations.
The liberal New York Times called the bipartisan deal “a modest win for Bush” while right-wingers like the aforementioned Limbaugh and Dr. James Dobson of ultra-conservative “Focus on the Family” said it was a big defeat for Republicans. Dobson excoriated the compromise as “a complete … betrayal by a cabal of (moderate) Republicans and a great victory for the Democrats.”
For both extremes, every political argument is a zero sum game; if you don’t get everything you want, you lose. But as a diplomat I learned that if you get most of what you want, the best policy is to declare victory and move on to the next problem or issue.
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The compromise means that Bush and the Republicans will get Senate floor votes on three of five controversial federal appeals court nominees, and in this political game three out of five ain’t bad. It’s a lot better than having all five bottled-up forever in a Senate filibuster (talkathon) led by our old friend, Sen. Reid, who said the Senate can now get back to work on the nation’s business. He added that the deal puts the Republicans on notice that “the abuse of power will not be tolerated” and urged President Bush to consult the Senate on future judicial nominations.
On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed controversial jurist Priscilla Owen of Texas to the federal appeals bench on a 56-43 vote. Judges William H. Pryor Jr. of Georgia and Janice Rogers Brown of California will also receive up or down votes while two other conservative nominees remain in limbo. The agreement also preserves the possibility of future Senate filibusters, which protect small states like Nevada against the tyranny of the majority. Reid worked hard to retain this option, and I’m glad he did.
While Washington politicians and political journalists obsessed on the disputed judicial nominations, the rest of us greeted the Capitol Hill drama with a collective yawn. As Amanda Paulson of the respected Christian Science Monitor wrote last week, “Many voters don’t even know (the Senate showdown) is occurring, and many of those who do, don’t care – or worse, see it as more proof that Congress is wrapped up in its own partisan bickering when it should be dealing with issues that matter.”
Another astute political observer, Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, told Ms. Paulson that most Americans think this judicial flap has “no direct relationship to their lives, and they have other things to be concerned about. They see it as typical politicians fighting in the sandbox while Rome (Iraq) is burning.” And that’s why Congress “enjoys” a 33 percent approval rating in opinion polls, even worse than President Bush’s current 45 percent approval rating.
All of the political maneuvering over federal judicial nominations has implications for the 2008 presidential election campaign and the future of the U.S. Supreme Court. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,, who led the Republican “Mod (for moderate) Squad,” and Majority Leader Frist are both seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. The Democrats’ leading candidate, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, wasn’t among her party’s moderate seven. So much for her widely touted “move to the center.”
This long-running charade is all too typical of inside-the-Beltway politics. For my part, I’m disgusted with the extremist ideologues of both parties who kept this judicial nominations battle alive for far too long without seeking a bipartisan solution. As someone once said, a pox on both their houses.
Viagra for Rapists – We just learned that the federal government (Medicaid) has been providing prescription Viagra to convicted rapists and sex offenders. Our tax dollars at work. Nice!
n Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.