New oxymoron: GOP Senate leadership

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted January 8, 2001

Republicans in the Senate have a death wish. Their leader, Trent Lott, thinks that he has saved himself and his party by agreeing to a so-called power sharing arrangement with the Democrats.

The Democrats are laughing all the way to the 2002 elections at which point, the Republicans are going to get their clocks cleaned. By now you have heard more times than you wish that the Senate is tied for only the second time in history. It is only the first time in history that it is tied 50- 50. The last time it was tied there were fewer states and thus fewer Senators.

Right now the Democrats have control of the Senate because Vice President Gore is still in office. So he provides the 51st vote and thus the top Democrats are busy chairing Committees. Several of President Bush's cabinet nominees will be subjected to confirmation hearings conducted by Democratic Chairmen. That includes John Ashcroft, the designee for Attorney General and Linda Chavez who has been named Secretary of Labor. Liberals are gunning for both of these nominees and they are pleased to have this brief window of opportunity where they are in control to start the process rolling. They think their chances of winning are greater this way.

But I digress. The fact is that when Dick Cheney takes over as Vice President, he will supply Republicans with their 5lst vote which enables them to claim control of the Senate.

Democrats, who picked up four seats in the 2000 elections (as well as one seat earlier in the year due to the death of Senator Paul Coverdell), demanded power sharing. They wanted an equal number of members on each Committee. They wanted equality in the hiring of staff. They wanted the same privilege to schedule legislation and amendments as the majority leader. In short, they wanted the fruits of victory even though they are not entitled to them since they didn't win. Immediately Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch, who make a business out of apologizing for their party's beliefs, embraced Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's initiative. McCain went so far as to suggest that the Committees have co-chairmen.

Senator Phil Gramm of Texas objected loudly and clearly as did Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who met with outside conservative groups and carried with him their unanimous disapproval of the Daschle scheme. Other Senators objected as well. That mattered not to Lott, whose inferiority complex seems to intensify under pressure. He continued to negotiate, even as he disclosed later, on Christmas Eve. That probably is not such a great sacrifice for those for whom Christmas is not such a sacred time. But Lott is a professing Christian so this was, in his view, proof of his sincerity.

At the end of the day, Lott and Daschle came up with what they touted as an "historic agreement" for power sharing which gave the Democrats virtually everything they wanted. It puts the minority party in position where they can all but run the Senate. Lott pronounced himself highly pleased with the outcome of the negotiations with Daschle because Republicans had been so "fair" to the minority party and had demonstrated that they just want to get along and move legislation. For Daschle, it was the least Lott could do. And it was barely enough. He was highly restrained in his view of the deal as opposed to Lott who was effusive.

The incoming Bush White House was given no input on these negotiations on the grounds that this was a separation of powers question. That may well be. But all of Bush's nominees are effected by this decision, as well as his legislative proposals. Republicans have given up much of what it means to be in the majority.

If the situation had been in reverse would the Democrats have agreed to this arrangement? They may claim they would now, but based on my 33 years plus on Capitol Hill, including more than a decade with two Members of the Senate leadership, I am willing to wager a hefty sum that there is no way in the world that the Democrats would have even discussed this. They would have told the Republicans "We have the majority - get over it." And they would have retained a majority of one on each committee. That would have been that. There would have been no negotiations either.

No doubt Lott will now get praised by those who otherwise condemn him as a great statesman. In return for a few favorable editorials and the perception that all is well in the U.S. Senate, the Senate Republicans have traded their birthright for a mess of pottage.

If this works, I will be the first to say I was wrong. From where I sit, however, what has been agreed to is a recipe for disaster. Not only will the Republicans be at a constant disadvantage by this agreement, but President Bush will be damaged by it as well. And in the end, I predict that in the 108th Congress, Democrats will have an outright majority, if they don't get it before the next election. If this is leadership, then I don't understand the meaning of the term anymore. ESR

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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