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Compromise: Is it slipping off the table in Congress already?

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Steve Marcus

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday, “The American people want us to work together.”

Congressman-elect Joe Heck

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Harry Reid news conference - Nov. 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responds to a question during a news conference at Vdara Wednesday, November 3, 2010. Launch slideshow »

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It’s no surprise that after witnessing a drubbing of Democrats in the House and significant losses in the Senate, the president and his majority leader are speaking about compromise.

Neither should it come as a shock that after reclaiming the House with their greatest majority since 1948, Republican leaders aren’t.

The refrain of postelection bipartisanship resurfaces every two years, and usually recedes just as quickly. But this year, Democrats have a serious stake in preserving a conciliatory atmosphere.

“The American people want us to work together,” Harry Reid said Wednesday morning, explaining what he learned from a 2010 election season that he survived, but many of his Senate colleagues didn’t.

“It’s not a bad word to suggest that legislating is the art of compromise,” he said.

As majority leader, it will fall to Reid to figure out how to advance President Barack Obama’s agenda, while protecting the work that has been done.

Republicans promised during the campaign to undo several Obama initiatives, starting with the health care overhaul they refer to as “Obamacare.”

“The new majority here in Congress will be the voice of the American people,” said House Speaker-elect John Boehner on Wednesday. “We’re determined to stop the agenda Americans have rejected and to turn the ship around.”

Reid is as skilled at steering and deflecting legislation as anyone in the Senate. He’s been the caucus leader through minorities to supermajorities, under Republican and Democratic presidents.

But Reid has never faced anything similar to the current situation. In fact, no Democratic Senate majority leader has.

In the near-100 year history of Senate majority leaders, no Democrat has faced a Republican House while simultaneously trying to execute a Democratic president’s policies.

One would have to look before the Civil War to even find a Congress where the parties occupied the positions in Congress and the White House that they will in 2011.

The new configuration may force Reid into a position he’s not used to — playing defense, from the majority side.

Throughout his tenure as majority leader, Reid has had the privilege of working with a cooperative House, led by Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi and Reid established a rhythm early on: For the most challenging legislation, such as immigration reform and health care, the Senate would usually act first, that being where the most treacherous hurdles lay on the road to a bill’s passage.

The arrangement let Reid have, in most cases, the ultimate say on what was and was not feasible before significant pieces of legislation ever came up for a vote.

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Supporters cheer Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during a news conference at Vdara Wednesday, November 3, 2010.

Reid won’t be able to call shots like that in the 112th Congress, with Republicans in half-charge of the legislative agenda. That could pose a problem for the senator, who spent much of the last Congress chiding Republicans for not simply blocking legislation, but never proposing alternatives.

“If they’re unwilling to work with us, there’s not a thing we can do about that,” Reid said again Wednesday.

Republicans repudiate that assessment.

“I think what the American people were saying yesterday is they appreciated us saying no to the things that the American people indicated they were not in favor of,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican said.

By midday Wednesday, Reid and Boehner still had not spoken to discuss the election results or plans for the future — although each seemed to have touched based with every other significant power broker in Washington, including the president.

Obama wouldn’t be the first Democratic president to try, and succeed, at reaching a cooperative detente with a House Republican leader, if he is able to do so: After an infamous shutdown of the government, Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich eventually achieved a working relationship.

Obama appeared to take personal responsibility for the national election outcome Wednesday, and outlined areas where he thought there could be room for compromise, including education and energy.

For Obama, as was the case for Clinton, there is much at stake: In two years, he has to stand for re-election, and with a split Congress, it won’t be easy to put the full blame on Republicans if the economy doesn’t improve.

Twenty-one Democratic senators will also face voters. Although Reid’s political neck is no longer on the line, that’s a significant chunk of his now-reduced caucus whose political futures rest in part on his ability to chart a plausible path forward, especially on the economy.

That starts in the Senate, where the Republican Party has grown from barely enough for a filibuster, to occupying almost half the seats. New Tea Party-backed senators, who may yet take their cues from dutiful legislation blockers such as Sens. Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, aren’t expected to make the caucus any more conciliatory.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, speaks with supporters after a news conference at Vdara Wednesday, November 3, 2010.

It’s also not clear if Reid, empowered by beating back a Tea Party insurgency in the campaign of GOP challenger Sharron Angle, thinks he can take them on in the House, where Tea Party candidates won more than 85 percent of their races.

On Wednesday, Reid suggested compromising could start during the lame-duck session: on taxes.

“We’re willing to keep our ears open” to new suggestions, he said, and didn’t rule out the idea of passing a full, but nonpermanent, extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Many Democrats, who have backed a cheaper, middle-class focused extension of the cuts, are likely to construe that as too major a concession. But it may take such gestures to get the Republicans’ attention.

“It was the first step in the direction of changing what we’ve been doing in Washington,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference with Boehner on Wednesday. “There are two opportunities for that change to occur: Our friends on the other side can change now … or further change obviously can happen in 2012.”

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  1. Blubbering Boehner won't compromise. I should go on the Glen Buck show and have a crying contest.

    60% of Republicans favor the Afghanistan War, 20% of Democrats, and about 40% of independents. Therefore, get even with the Republicans by pulling the troops out. The Paul's will give Obama some Republican cover.

  2. There that END ALL word..."compromise," rearing its ugly head.

    And it's only what...Thursday morning?

    Seriously...we need a SECOND party for our two-party-system to have a shot...much past Christmas.

    Uh...that's Christmas 2010.

  3. I think it's interesting to note that Senator Reid does understand compromise. How the government works. He understands how politics works and how to get things done. And he is able to react quickly to changes in the political landscape and work.

    On the other hand, ever since the election last Tuesday, from all rhetoric that comes from the new Speaker of the House Boehner, everything he says is always "the people said" and "the people want this" and "the people want that." This tells me he hasn't a clue what to do.

    Because he knows the Republican Party is now infested with Tea Party types that will stab him repeatedly in the back if he tries to perform hardball politics. At the slightest hint of compromise, no matter how rational it is and beneficial, they are prepared to dogpile on him. So there is clear dissension in the ranks already. The Republican Party is in jeopardy of dissolving before our eyes...taken over by a way-out-there right wingism.

    On top of that, the radio/television ultra right wingers are going absolutely bonkers nuts. Led by Mr. Rush Limbaugh, they are pushing this new leadership to even more incredible absurdity. Limbaugh was on the radio the other day angrier that an outhouse dog, spewing hate and focused on getting the Republicans to perform revenge and no compromise and blah blah blah blah. They all seem to know what to do...and they aren't even the politicians. So, this pressure is happening on top of all that Boehner faces.

    And then mix in the fact the stuff Boehner is spouting to appease the base right now. It is all crap. It will not happen. It's all talk.

    For example, Boehner is talking that he wants to repeal health care reform. This IS a big problem for him. Because, besides the fact the Republicans have no other plan to replace it with, they KNOW that if they take any steps to take that away from the American people, a system in place that proves more help than harm for everyone...he KNOWS the backlash would be fierce.

    If he carried through with repeal of national health care reform, the Republican Party's brand would disappear. And in the next elections, we would literally see them vaporize before our eyes. Blown to smithereens and nothing but dust. The voters WILL NOT stand for something being given...and then taken away.

    So, the Republicans better understand they need to do what they are elected to do: Govern and lead. And not sit around and scream no compromise and other rhetoric that only seeks to divide government and render the whole process totally useless.

  4. dippy,
    I had to run the 4-way flashers the whole trip, and limp on down the side of the highway at 30-per so Sharron could purge her juice periodically. The bus stinks now. Can't wait to grab a shower and some Z's.
    Ted made me drive em' up to Fernley; something about finding some friendly's. Never realized how hard it was to keep 'er under .08.
    LarryVegas.

  5. That Bhoner... he's a real beaut.
    "Compromise? What COMPROMISE! We WILL NOT!"
    Slam Dunk Guarantee:
    The Right will not play well with others.
    "NO, NO, NO! The answer is still NO!"

    Now they're going to "flex their muscles" in the house, and we can expect a real bipartisan effort;
    Lame Duck a l'Orange Tan... it won't be pretty.

  6. Isn't it strange that the only time the Democrats speak of compromise is when they are not in total control of The Congress? Harry Reid won his election by one thing only, the Unions bussed as many of their members to the polls at the last miniute as possible. Even then it was not a massive victory for the Left Wing Liberal. Since we are unable to check the validation of the voters it will always be an election of questionable accuracy. Only the people of NV will be able to change or correct these problems. Since one of the unions has openly bragged about the number of Criminal Illigal Aliens it has as members it brings to mind how many have illigally registered to vote and actually cast votes? At least Harry wasn't able to save Nancy from the wrath of the nation as a whole. .

  7. Compromise won't slip in Nevada as Democrats already promised to put everything on the table. So now lets look at EVERYTHING before we go to tax hikes http://prgibbons.blogspot.com/2010/11/ev...

  8. The only reason to compromise is when it involved cutting government and lowering the debt. How do you compromise on a bad idea like health care reform? You can't make it a half-bad idea by compromising.

    The House should pass bill after bill cutting spending, slicing government programs and doing what the people want and let Obama and the Senate veto them. Then we'll find out who are the obstructionists and the people will take retribution in 2012. Just like they did this year. And Dirty Harry will just be a lone voice in the wilderness of minority Dems.

  9. oh snap Maxwell. It's a C O N SPIRACY.

    Get over it. The dems would have compromised if the Republicans had proposed alternatives, but they did not.

  10. This is just going to be 2 more years of bickering and back biting and nothing will be done. Our government just does not work anymore, it has become too partisan to function. We all know that bigger is not better, so the logical choice is to downsize it dramatically. I think the first thing to cut would be the two parties. Just think of all the money that they wasted in the last 6 months. That would save greatly on the national debt and I do not owe either party anything.

  11. If this division keeps up this country will wind up with 4 political parties which it doesnt need.
    The day after our election here in Nevada it seems that the air is easier to breath. While Brian Sandoval and Joe Heck were not my candidates I am confident that they will do their best to get Nevada going again. I must say I feel good about Brian Sandoval as he immediately asked for cooperation from both sides and reached out. I for one will support him.
    I also feel some Republican party folks really stepped out on a limb to support Harry Reid for the sake of Nevada and we should support them as well. Say what you want this morning in the Wall Street Journal an article appeared that the one thing that Nevada did with this election is stop Yucca Mtn. which would have happened as a nuclear dump if Harry Had lost.
    Nevada has a real opportunity to show the rest of the country how we deal with our problems. We have the largest unemployment and worst housing situation in the country. If we can solve our problems then the rest of the country will pay attention and perhaps we can get America onto the right track. We owe it to ourselves to give this our best support.

  12. The republicans are strongly considering BP-apologist and oil industry hardliner Joe Barton for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The republican who was named one of the "key architects" of the Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005. The republican who APOLOGIZED TO BP FOR THE OIL SPILL will probably be chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

    Compromise!

    Which republican will be chairing the immigration subcommittee? Hardliner Steve King, who wants to build an electrified fence at the border with Mexico, and who refused to even entertain differing, yet concensus opinions over reform in the past two years. (No plans yet on an electrified fence with Canada, much to the chagrin of Sharron Angle and her Canadian-Mexican-Asian terrorists)

    Compromise!