Senate power-sharing

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Long negotiations by Senate leaders have produced a constructive agreement on how that chamber, for the first time divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, should be organized. Each party will be equally represented on the Senate's 20 or so standing and select committees. Each will get the same level of funding for its staff. Trent Lott, R-Miss., will remain the majority leader, but with somewhat reduced powers. Though Democrats dropped their bid for co-chairmanships of committees -- never a realistic goal -- they are assured of 12 hours of debate on legislation before cloture can be invoked to force a vote. Unlike in recent sessions, bills won't be railroaded through with virtually no discussion or a chance to offer amendments from the floor.

The leadership's deal brought some closed-door growls of protest from Republicans but in the end was rightly accepted as a solution commensurate with political reality. Among the deal's first benefits is avoiding a nasty partisan floor fight that could have poisoned the atmosphere for the remainder of the session. The big question is whether this compromise signals continuing cooperation in the months ahead. While it's obviously too soon to tell, it is a reminder that little is likely to be accomplished without pragmatic give and take.

After Jan. 20, Vice President Dick Cheney will be the Senate's presiding officer, with the power to vote to break ties. In theory that gives Republicans a 51-50 majority. But it does not give them the 60 votes required to shut down filibusters, which are likely to become frequent if measures come up for floor votes without bipartisan consensus behind them. The Senate's leaders have found a reasonable way to share power in the sharply divided body. Now they, and the factions they lead, must show that the reasonable approach also applies when it comes to writing the nation's laws.

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