Memo: To Sen. Bob Torricelli
From: Jude Wanniski
I watched you earlier this evening on the Jim Lehrer "NewsHour" discussing the President's State of the Union speech, including the concept of bipartisanship in the legislative process. How interesting that Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she couldn't disagree with you more when it comes to bipartisanship — She said she believed the purpose of a legislative body is to arrive at consensus, not to rule by majority, as you put it. I wondered how two members of the greatest deliberative body in the world can be in such total disagreement on the process and the purpose of deliberation. You see the clash of debate in search of a deliberative result. She sees the give and take of discussion, the trading around the edges of an issue to arrive at common ground. At the end of her process, and of your process, the vote will still be 51-to-49, representing both majority and consensus. You both will have contributed mightily to the result, but you will be among the anchors of your side of the issue and she will be one of the negotiators on her side of the issue. If there were only anchors there would be little business completed, because the compromise necessary could never get an idea as far as the President's desk for signature. If there were only negotiators, who would be on the floor to remind the others of core principles that should not be forgotten in the consensus-seeking process.
I'm not suggesting she is without principle and you are without flexibility. Neither of you could have gotten to the U.S. Senate without having some of both. It is more likely, though, that she could wind up in a position of legislative leadership, while it is unlikely you are headed in that direction.
What's important in the period of divided government ahead is that the disagreements be honest and in good faith. That's really been the problem I've seen in the Beltway over the past 20 or 25 years. Once a party position is established so firmly that it will not admit any flexibility, any compromise or consensus, each party is forced into tit-for-tat hardline positions that inevitably lead to gridlock. This has been the fate of the capital gains tax, once the Democratic leadership decided it was beyond debate, a "defining issue," as David Bonior put it a few years back. There are fundamental disagreements that arise from time to time, which will not admit to compromise on one side or the other, but even these change as the world turns. Constitutional amendments are the hardest to run the gauntlet, because it is always dangerous when you don't quite know how a change in the nation's organic charter will affect the national equilibrium over time. Here, Senator Collins has made up her mind so thoroughly according to the Republican party line on a balanced-budget amendment that she departs from her discussion about harmony and consensus. She seeks only one more vote — which oddly enough probably lies in your hands. And we find you, a Democrat who has voted for the BBA in the House on principled arguments now finding a technicality in the way the amendment is written that can justify your changing your mind.
Such is the higgledy-piggledy in the marketplace of ideas. Such is life in the greatest deliberative body in the world. Good luck and good faith to you and your 99 colleagues in your deliberations.