Striking deals

In the wake of partisan wrangling and dueling press conferences, Democratic and Republican leaders in the House last week struck a high-profile deal on earmark transparency.

Democrats, intent on finishing appropriations bills on time this year after the 109th Congress failed to do so, got Republicans to lift their procedural blockades that brought the lower chamber to a standstill. Republicans got some media attention for their effort to bring earmarks — and government spending — under control.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared victory in the battle, while Democrats said it was amusing that the GOP was attempting to claim the higher ground on earmarks following the explosion of pork during its 12-year reign of the House.

Regardless of who won the public relations battle, both parties were able to strike a deal that most were satisfied with. Partisanship and compromise are often referred to as bad words in politics, but, as we have noted in this space before, they are not.

For days, Democrats and Republicans lobbed partisan salvos before the appropriations deal was sealed. They jabbed at each other in the press, then reached a tentative deal that subsequently fell apart, jabbed each other again, and finally shook hands on a deal that stuck.

It can be ugly, but that’s Congress at work.

The Senate also reached a high-profile deal last week. Prodded on by a president with low approval ratings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to bring back immigration reform to the floor. But Reid wasn’t the one who needed to be cajoled; it was Republicans who were (and are still) wary of the bill.

Reid has called immigration reform Bush’s bill, which it is. Immigration reform was not high, or even visible, on the Democratic election-year agenda in 2006.

Yet there is political motivation for Democrats to get a deal done. So far, Democrats have only one of their “Six in ’06” policy items signed into law. The other five have stalled, been vetoed or face a veto threat. The one that Bush signed — minimum wage — was attached to the war supplemental bill that the liberal base was not pleased with.

Both Bush and Congress have low poll numbers. Both are faced with a race against the calendar because conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill says no major piece of controversial legislation will get through after the August recess. Conventional wisdom is often wrong, but presidential politics will be in full force when the leaves turn — and that will make Reid’s and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) jobs much more difficult.