Once in a while, even the most stiff-necked and tunnel-minded of people can somehow reach a compromise with people of another mind altogether. The phenomenon, which is increasingly rare in the political realm, actually
occurred twice in the past week — once in the United States Congress, and another time in the Tennessee legislature.
The first occasion was an agreement reached between Republicans in the U.S. Senate, now a majority in that body, and Senate Democrats, breaking a stalemate and clearing the way for a Senate confirmation vote on President Obama's nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general. There has not been, and is not now, any serious doubt as to Lynch's qualifications. A deadlock between the two parties had threatened to turn into one of those endless GOP filibusters that have cursed the Congress ever since the voters of the United States dared to elect a Democratic president in 2008.
Ironically, it was the Republican takeover of the Senate in last fall's election that may have created the preconditions for a deal. With Republicans now in charge of both legislative chambers in Washington and with an open-seated presidential election coming up in 2016, it behooves the GOP to demonstrate that it can accomplish things, not merely obstruct them.
What had impeded agreement on a nomination vote for Lynch was Republican insistence on adding anti-abortion language to another issue pending before the Senate, a measure to counter human trafficking — a noble and surely non-controversial goal in the pure sense, but one made complicated on the Republicans' insistence on attaching the so-called Hyde amendment, forbidding use of federal funding for abortions, to the bill.
Their argument was that a component of the bill deals with medical care for victims of human trafficking, conceivably involving the abortion procedure and therefore subject calling for the Hyde restrictions.
Democrats objected that funding for the bill's medical-care services was derived from private sources and hence inapplicable to the Hyde provisions. But until last week, the Republican leadership in the Senate was adamant: No Hyde amendment, no trafficking bill, and as a throw-in, no vote on Lynch's confirmation. It was the sort of blackmail that has been routine for years.
But lo and behold, the two parties agreed to some rthetorical tweaking of the bill — a bona fide compromise — that would change nothing substantial but allowed both sides to claim victory and, just as important, would allow both that bill and Lynch's nomination to come to a vote.
What happened in the Tennessee legislature was in a way even more amazing, because the GOP super-majority there has no real incentive to compromise for the sake of a future-tense election. The issue there was legislation, approved by Governor Bill Haslam, which in theory would substitute home-grown Tennessee equivalents for the much-abused national Common Core educational standards that a substantial part of the General Assembly's membership had sworn to throttle. The old standards have been tweaked, an "evaluation" committee has been appointed, and there's a new name to it all. Voila! A unanimous agreement, allowing serious educational standards to continue to exist.
Ah, compromise! Welcome back.