What is it about Senator Lindsey Graham that brings out the Mr. Smith in the most inveterate politicians? First, Chuck Schumer unveils their working draft of immigration legislation in the vain hope that by making a good faith, bipartisan bid some other Republicans might sign on; the response has not been deafening. Now Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are pushing ahead with climate change legislation, even though Graham last week said that it’s “impossible” to pass such a bill in this climate. “There are those that would say that this is the wrong time,” Kerry said in unveiling the 1,000-page bill this afternoon. “This is a vote for policy over politics.”
Kerry went on to note that other big bills such as health care reform and financial regulatory reform were, at given times in the past 12 months, declared DOA. “But they were resurrected,” he said, “and we believe with the help of President Obama and the Democratic leaders that we can do it again.” Graham, who was absent from the press conference, was ambivilent in a press release: “I am interested in carefully reviewing the details of the new proposal.”
The problem is that we are entering a season shortly where policy ceases to exist and Congress will revolve around politics: the midterm elections are less than six months away. And however noble the compromise (“I don’t want to be standing before God on Judgment Day and be saying, ‘Gee the votes just weren’t there,’” Joel Hunter of Northland Ministries practically preached to the packed room), there’s not an incumbent on Capitol Hill who wants to be passing gas taxes right now.
At first I was baffled: why put out such an enormous bill only to see it picked apart for the next six months to a year? Already environmental and business groups are whining about this or that provision. But, I’m told, it’s important to set a benchmark – a high water mark so to speak – to which legislators can return when the confetti is out of their hair and the balloons all popped. And its likely that both chambers will be more conservative next year — if not actually controlled by Republicans – so getting a bipartisan marker out there is important to protect some of the Democratic provisions next time around. And, who knows, maybe some Mr. Smith spirit will suddenly infect the Senate and they might actually get something done – however unlikely. At least one group of Dems — House Democrats — would looove that.