What is so Rare as a Legislator Legislating?

Mark Twain said: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” But what did he know? He didn’t have to run for re-election.

Most of our elected representatives have no trouble doing wrong for their entire careers so long as A) 51% of their constituents are in favor of it or B) two or three really large donors are.

For that reason it’s doubly gratifying when someone in Congress does anything that might rub the folks in his or her district the wrong way, simply because they think it might be good for the country. How old school is that?

Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA., has made a habit of trying to accomplish something in Gridlock City by forging alliances across party lines. In the past he’s worked hard to devise tax reform, budget reform and now has teamed up with other conservative (i.e. at risk Red State) Democrats in trying to legislate some improvements to Obamacare.

His co-conspirators are Senators Begich of Alaska, Landrieu of Louisiana, Heitkamp of North Dakota, Manchin of West Virginia and King of Maine. Much of this is probably the usual Washington kabuki as those getting pilloried at home for supporting Obama try to put some distance between themselves and the president .

But the reforms they propose would be useful and Warner, at least, has made a habit of trying to achieve real world legislative accomplishments. Unfortunately, the number of dance partners from the other side that he’s attracted have been slim to none. Warner is a self-made tech entrepreneur who got things done in the private sector, so it must be wearying to keep pushing a stone uphill in a Washington that delights in watching them roll back down. A thankless job, but I for one thank him for trying.

On the other side of the aisle Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN., has been in the lead in an effort to cooperate with Democrats in reforming senate rules in order to permit the body to pass a measure on occasion. His efforts bore fruit a couple weeks ago with the passage of child-care legislation. Consideration of a renewal of long term unemployment aid also proceeded under this new dispensation. Of course, it is destined to die in the Elephants’ Graveyard of American hopes and dreams — the other body.

Alexander is the leader of a group of 10 former governors (Warner is one, too) whose executive experience makes them less likely to enjoy the Senate’s perpetual bloviating in lieu of actual productivity. They are undoubtedly nostalgic for the days when they could pick up a phone or a pen and make something happen besides attack ads.

Whatever the reason, Alexander, like Warner, once in awhile behaves like a legislator instead of a drama queen. He sticks his neck out in an attempt to do the people’s business instead of nothing but partisan monkey business.

A few dozen more such persons and the Senate could again boast of being the world’s greatest deliberative body. Until then, it remains democracy’s second greatest disappointment. The House has got first place sewed up by an insurmountable lead.

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