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Published: Saturday, 12/9/2000

Divided, divisive Senate?

They can talk the talk of bipartisanship but party leaders in the U.S. Senate seem unwilling to walk the walk. If George W. Bush wins the presidency and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman stays in the Senate, that body of lawmakers will be split 50-50, right down the partisan middle.

Compromise will be critical to conduct any business. Republicans will still keep control of the Senate if the Bush scenario holds and Dick Cheney serves as both vice president and tie-breaker president of the Senate. But just barely.

To accomplish anything in the 107th Congress, the art of give and take will need to be practiced on a regular basis. “We are absolutely committed to reaching out and working together,” said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. The Republican from Mississippi then promptly moved to reject all Democratic proposals to share powerful positions with the GOP on key Senate committees.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle demands parity in committee assignments because Democrats will make up half the Senate and want appropriate input in setting its legislative agenda. He's suggested appointing co-chairs of committees, rotating chairmanships or awarding some committee chairs outright to Democrats.

Senator Lott said no. The majority party will be in charge. Senator Daschle said nothing less than a 50-50 power-sharing Senate will do. If it's possible to have an impasse before actually getting down to any work the erstwhile bipartisan buddies have done so without breaking a sweat. They can't agree how they'll work together let alone what they're willing to negotiate.

If the two sides are unable to reach agreement before the new Congress convenes Jan. 3, both parties could stall the start of the session by filibustering the resolution on the new committee slates.

Democrats and Republicans pooh-pooh the likelihood of that possibility, saying they hope to work out their committee differences in the waning days of December. Party leaders promise the new 50-50 era in the Senate will be one of cooperation and concession.

They talk the talk but the early all-or-nothing fight in the making over sharing power and Senate committee assignments casts serious doubt on whether they can really walk the walk.

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