December 14, 2007

Dogs And Cats, Living Together Creates Minor Hysteria

Sean Lengell starts off his Washington Times article on the energy-bill compromise with a bit of undeserved triumphalism. Although not inaccurate in a narrow sense, the agreement on the energy bill to remove an onerous tax doesn't quite equate to surrender, but rather an uncommon occurrence in the Beltway -- an actual process of consensus legislation:

Senate Democrats yesterday bowed to Republicans and stripped a proposed tax increase for oil companies from a broad energy bill, clearing the way for passage of the measure that includes the first increase in vehicle gas-mileage standards in 32 years.

The bill, designed to make the nation less dependent on fossil fuels and which calls for greater use of renewable energy sources, passed 86-8 and now heads back to the House for final approval.

"Compromise can be frustrating, it can be exasperating, and it can be maddening," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. "But at the end of the day, compromise can lead to progress — and that is exactly what we have today."

Added Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican: "This is a good accomplishment — achieved, as everything good in the Senate always is, by cooperation between the parties."

The White House, which had threatened to veto earlier versions of the bill, is not expected to oppose the latest version that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, signed off on yesterday.

Unlike the surrenders conducted by the Democrats on Iraq war funding, this deal allowed both sides to claim victory. The Republicans held the line on tax increases -- again. The Democrats got their increased CAFE standards that will force auto makers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. Everyone won a little and gave a little to get this bill passed.

Once upon a time, this was how legislation got passed in Congress. Over the last couple of decades, that has changed. Rather than negotiate in good faith, pork-barrel politics became the coin of the realm, and the passage of legislation began to depend on bribing enough people in both parties to give them a stake in passage, regardless of the wisdom of the legislation itself. With the polarization of politics in the same era, pork greased the wheels of Congress, but with the new pushback on the corrosive effects of earmarking, that has lost its luster as well.

Not all compromise is good, and sometimes people need to stand on principle. However, elections have consequences, and the Democrats won the last election. That means that their priorities will usually prevail and arguably should to the extent that they won the last mandate. In this case, the Republicans found a way to protect their priorities while acknowledging the need to get bills passed in the Democrat-controlled Congress. It's called legislation, not surrender, and both parties recalled that -- at least in this one instance.


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