Sen. Byrd, the Senate and the 'national interest'
My wish for today is that every member of the U.S. Senate read David Broder’s column about the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). Perhaps it will remind them of what their role as members of the upper chamber is supposed to be. For what’s missing today is any collective sense that the national interest comes before party or the personal.
As Broder points out, in a Senate floor speech in 1998, Byrd remarked that “on the great issues, the Senate has always been blessed with senators who were able to rise above party and consider first and foremost the national interest.” Broder’s blunt assessment 12 years later is, “Today they are missing.” As a class, yes. But there are some in the Senate who try.
E.J. Dionne devotes an entire column to Sen. John F. Kerry’s (D-Mass.) efforts to get climate change legislation passed. But his focus on the national interest has triggered the self-interest (read survival instincts) of many of his Democratic colleagues. Gail Collins at the New York Times, in her delightfully backhanded way, compliments Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) for his willingness to play ball with Democrats despite the Republican leadership’s desire that he march lockstep with his party. And today’s Post editorial on the Kagan confirmation hearings gives a well-deserved shout out to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for “appear[ing] to be the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee with an open mind about the nominee.” He’s also been a willing partner with Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on climate legislation. And let’s not forget the moderate Republican Twin Towers of Power from Maine -- Sen. Susan Collins (R) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). I’m a particular fan of Collins’s effort with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to get momentum behind their push for cap-and-dividend instead of cap-and-trade with their CLEAR Act.
I suppose my “national interest” focus is on Republicans since they are in the minority and Democrats need a few of them to get cloture to get anything done. But with all the problems facing the country, it’s frustrating that concern for the national interest is not an overwhelmingly bipartisan affair. Well, let me rephrase that. If the Senate can vote 99-0 as it did yesterday to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of the Afghanistan war effort, surely it could come together in similar unity on a host of other, equally pressing issues.
| July 1, 2010; 9:06 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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