By Alexander Bolton - 03/30/10 10:01 AM EDT
Republican senators say they can work with Democrats, despite dire predictions that the healthcare fight would make cooperation impossible.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned that using reconciliation to block a GOP filibuster and pass healthcare legislation could destroy the fabric of the Senate, but the explosion that some insiders expected never happened.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), the Republican that Democratic leaders consider most likely to join them on future initiatives, says she is still willing to work across the aisle.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who is negotiating with Democrats on energy and immigration reform legislation, has said he will not cut off talks because of the controversial use of reconciliation, which allowed Democrats to move a package of fixes to the healthcare legislation with only simple-majority votes.
The working order of the Senate appears to have emerged intact.
Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), the Republican point man on reconciliation rules, told The Hill the rulings of parliamentarian Alan Frumin were “fair.”
Gregg’s assessment was markedly different from GOP grumblings that preceded the debate. Republican senators and aides had questioned the parliamentarian’s impartiality, pointing to his decision to allow the reconciliation package to proceed without first going through Senate committees.
Some Republicans said the day-to-day functionality of the Senate could be blown up with the use of reconciliation rules.
McCain compared use of reconciliation for healthcare reform with the "nuclear option" the Republican-controlled Senate considered several years ago. Democrats said it would have essentially shut down the Senate and obliterated the possibility for bipartisan compromise.
“The last time when there was a proposal that we Republicans in the majority would adopt a 51-vote majority [it was] on the issue of the confirmation of judges,” McCain told Obama during the healthcare summit.
“There was a group of us that got together and said, no, that’s not the right way to go because that could deal a fatal blow to the unique aspect of the United States Senate, which is a 60-vote majority,” McCain said.
Graham warned earlier this month that Democrats would “poison the well” if they passed healthcare reform legislation with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes that measures require under regular order.
But Graham backed off his earlier warnings Sunday and said he would continue to work with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on immigration reform and other issues.
“I’m going to work with Chuck Schumer to come up with legislation to control China’s manipulation of their currency; I will keep working with Chuck on immigration,” Graham said in a Sunday television interview.
Graham said it would be difficult to pass an immigration measure, for example, but he attributed that to the political wariness of Democratic centrists who fear repercussions from the healthcare bill. A recent Washington Post poll showed that 50 percent of people oppose the new law.
Snowe said last week that she would first review any legislation Democrats ask her to support but added that she is open to bipartisan negotiations in coming weeks.
Snowe said she is hoping to advance a measure designed to help small businesses that she has worked on with Senate Small Business Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
Snowe, however, cautioned that her willingness to cooperate has its limits and urged Democrats not to push bills that are too sweeping in scope.
“I think we've got to get modest and practical, and practicality is job creation and jumpstarting the economy,” Snowe said.
Also last week, during the height of the reconciliation debate, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) suggested that Republicans could gain more policy-wise by working with Democrats.
Corker said Republicans should have engaged Democrats earlier in the crafting of financial regulatory reform, questioning the harder-line stance that leadership took on the issue.
“I just think we should have been engaged since October in trying to seek a compromise bill,” Corker said.
He noted that the ability to mold legislation diminishes the further it wends its way through the process.
Even after a week spent on the reconciliation bill, Democratic and Republican leaders were still able to come together on a compromise to pay for an extension of unemployment benefits.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) reached a deal to pay for extending benefits for one week so it would not add to the federal deficit.
The deal derailed only because of the opposition of House Democratic leaders, who did not want to set a precedent of offsetting the cost of emergency legislation.
“The Senate came together and agreed on both a one-week and a two-week extension that was paid for,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who on Friday described the near-deal as a “positive sign” of bipartisan willingness to address deficit spending.
“We agreed on the paid for, which means we weren't going to add anything to the debt, and the consequence of that was communicated to the House. And the word back was, we don't want to set the precedent of paying for things,” Coburn said.