When Harry Met Nancy

Shortly before the Congress adjourned this month, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) sent a letter thanking the U.S. Senate for taking decisive action to close gaps in our nation’s intelligence gathering capabilities. The Senate had worked late into the night to pass critical legislation to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA.)

Senators from both sides of the aisle put our national security above politics to ensure our Intelligence Community had the tools to protect our country, and the McConnell-Bond legislation passed with wide bipartisan support. It was a victory for our national security, as well as for the Senate as a whole. The DNI’s letter was a reminder of what the Senate can accomplish when we work together. I hope it also served as a wakeup call to the Democrats that bipartisan successes yield tangible results.

Seven months ago I opened this session by reminding myself and my colleagues that the work we do and the way we do it will be judged, not only by the voters, but by history. Future generations will inherit the laws we pass, the problems we ignore, and the institution we leave behind.

When the Majority lets Republicans participate in shaping legislation, we’ve achieved good, bipartisan results. When they’ve blocked cooperation, we’ve failed. Yet the Democratic Majority has spent most of the year trying and failing to advance its agenda by insisting on the path of political advantage.

At some point in February, after a few early bipartisan successes, the political left put a hand on the steering wheel. The unfortunate result was nearly five months passed before a single item on the “Six for ’06” agenda became law.

The biggest Senate fights this year haven’t been over the original ‘Six for ’06’ at all. They’ve revolved around policy proposals of the far left. Fortunately, Republicans have held together to keep these bad ideas from becoming law:

Eliminating secret-ballot elections from union drives.

Reviving the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” a federal speech code abolished because it violates the First Amendment.

Closing terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and sending the inmates to the states.

Endless political theater on Iraq.

Predictably, this alternative agenda went nowhere. In the effort to get both, they ended up with neither. Editorial writers started to grumble about the lack of achievement. The public took note too, sending the new Congress’ approval rating to new subterranean lows. The lesson that emerged was clear: politics yields headlines; cooperation yields results.

Republicans warned the other side about the consequences of unilateralism early on that the opportunity costs of their failed strategy are immense. By refusing to cooperate, the Majority hasn’t brought a single piece of legislation to the floor to reduce the income tax burden on working Americans. And they’ve done nothing to address entitlements — despite looming catastrophes. Only one appropriations bill out of 12 has passed the Senate; none have been signed into law.

The Democratic Majority had the right idea early on, but it succumbed to round-the-clock political campaigning. Recently, we’ve seen conspicuous acts of bipartisan cooperation, including the Majority’s decision to join Republicans in fixing a gap in our national intelligence before we left for recess.

We’ve seen that we can accomplish good things by working together and cooperating on legislation that Americans support. Politics has its place, but it doesn’t steer this ship. At least it shouldn’t. There’s simply too much to be done, and we’ve seen the (lack of) results when it does.

I won’t offer a grade for this Congress. Others have already done that. But I will say that at the beginning of this session, I staked my party to a pledge: when faced with an urgent issue, we would act; and when faced with a problem, we’d seek solutions, not mere political advantage.

That pledge still stands.