As we resume our business here in the Senate, we do so in the hope that we’ve learned some lessons over the last eight months. And the chief lesson we should have learned, in my view, is that the culture of the endless campaign may win headlines, but it doesn’t win much beyond that.
None of us is so naïve as to think that the life of an elected politician doesn’t involve politics. But we also know that making laws often demands leaving the politics aside. The bitter debates over the war in Iraq and a thin list of significant legislative achievements so far in the 110th Congress are all the proof of that we need.
That’s the lesson of the last eight months — that if we expect to accomplish anything here we need to lower the political temperature. And it’s urgent as we return here today that we do just that.
Cooperation is as important on routine business as it is on contentious things. We’re now just four weeks away from the beginning of the new fiscal year, and we haven’t sent a single one of the twelve annual appropriations bills to the president’s desk. This almost certainly means we’ll soon be looking at an appropriations train wreck here in the next few weeks, followed by a continuing resolution to keep the government running.
This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. And indeed, it wasn’t all that long ago that Democrats themselves were denouncing Republicans for doing this very thing.
Faced with the same situation last year, the current Asst. Majority Leader railed against the notion of a continuing resolution, accusing Republicans, as he put it, ‘of failing to do the most fundamental job Congress is expected to do.’ He said that calling the 109th Congress a do-nothing Congress would be an insult to the original do-nothing Congress of 1948. And he vowed to finish the unfinished business of the last Congress.
Yet now, as Democrats enter the ninth month poised to make the very same mistake we did, we haven’t heard a note of self-criticism from the other side. This kind of selective criticism might work on the campaign trail. But it’s a clear recipe for frustration and defeat in the Senate. We need to get these bills passed and over to the president’s desk for a signature. And relentless partisanship is not going to do that.
The most heated politics have been reserved, of course, for the war. So if we’re going to correct course we’ll need to start there. The Congress voted in May to have General Petraeus report back this month on progress in Iraq, and the Congress should listen to what he says, without prejudice, when he gets here.