The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:
The power-sharing agreement reached by the parties last week in the Senate is a promising step in the right direction. It accurately reflects the gains the Democrats made in the election, thereby giving them greater ability to resist or force changes in some of the main proposals on which George W. Bush campaigned. In our view, several of those proposals -- particularly his tax cut and what he has disclosed thus far of his plans for overhauling Social Security and Medicare -- likely would do long-range harm and so may benefit from the critical review that they are now likelier to face.
The basic agreement between the parties is that neither will have a majority on any Senate committee. The committee structure will reflect the Senate's 50-50 split. The Republicans, if they remain unanimous or can pick up Democrats, still will be able to move some important legislation once Vice President-elect Cheney is installed as tie-breaker. So-called reconciliation bills -- the fiscal catchalls in which past Congresses sometimes have stuffed a year's worth of legislation -- are not subject to filibuster and so would need only 50 votes plus Mr. Cheney to pass; the Republican leadership apparently also will keep control over all-important conference committees.
But the Senate's special role in the constitutional system is to be the fortress of whoever happens, on a given issue or at a given moment, to be in the minority, and the power-sharing agreement will reinforce that. Critics often complain that the Senate is a frustrating institution, but that in a sense is its function. Its traditions and rules are geared to giving those who otherwise lack the votes an extra chance to thwart and to prevail. That is its virtue as well as its familiar vice.
In the last Congress, thwart was almost all it did. The Republican leadership used the rules to block the president's agenda and what appeared to be majority will on a range of issues, from campaign finance reform and a minimum-wage increase to the regulation of managed care and enactment of a Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Now the White House will change hands, and the Senate will become the Democrats' redoubt. The House is a simpler organism. The more complicated and now more evenly divided Senate is where it finally will be decided whether the parties fight or deal.
Is the anti-majoritarian streak in the Senate a good thing or bad? Just about everyone's answer to that question turns out to be, it depends. People like the quirkiness when it helps them, denounce it when it hurts. Almost no one is consistent on the question. We think some of the customary deference to individual senators goes too far; an individual senator ought not be allowed to block consideration of a bill or a nomination, for example. But the fairness question is otherwise more complicated. People who for years have complained about minority rule in the Senate -- the fact that by virtue of the filibuster rule 60 rather than 51 votes are often needed to pass bills -- are suddenly worried about the fact that, under the reconciliation process, only 50 votes plus Mr. Cheney may be enough to pass some aspects of the Bush program. That could be the way it finally happens; that's the way Bill Clinton passed his first budget. But the Senate then wasn't split 50-50 between the parties. This one may be a tougher sell.
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