- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

Pledges to forge a new era of civility and bipartisan cooperation in the U.S. Senate abounded yesterday as Democrats took control of the chamber 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 — an opportunity for Democrats 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, promising a spirit of teamwork to “find bold solutions to big problems.”

“The challenges ahead will not be met if we do nothing to overcome the partisanship that has come to characterize this body over the past several years,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

“A culture of partisanship over principle represents a grave threat to 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.

“I stake my party to a pledge: when faced with an urgent issue, we will act; when faced with a problem, we will seek solutions, not mere political advantage,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Reid’s speech included a list of 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.

He also vowed to make ending the Iraq war a top priority, despite a possible 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.

The Senate leadership teams even made a tangible gesture of cooperation, holding an unprecedented bipartisan caucus yesterday morning in the Old Senate Chamber.

Still, the two parties have been at loggerheads for years, most recently with the Democratic minority 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 two-vote 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 salad days before Washington is overtaken by campaign politics for 2008.

The Democrats’ narrow majority also is made tenuous by the slow recovery of Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat who remains at George Washington University Hospital after a Dec. 13 brain hemorrhage. He still needs a ventilator, and doctors say he may need months 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 president of the Senate, able to cast the tie-breaking vote.

“There is going to be a great effort to work together to pass the major things we agree on,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican 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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