During his campaign for president, candidate George W. Bush decried the partisanship that had afflicted Washington politics and promised to usher in a new era of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans if he were elected.
Bush has been president for six months, and battle lines between the two parties in Congress are still firmly in place. Indeed, the lines are in danger of becoming even more pronounced if members of the president's party make good on a promise to filibuster to stop Democrats from adjusting committee assignments to reflect their 50-49 advantage.
Over the weekend, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., raised the specter of all Senate business screeching to a halt when he said that Republicans may try to block Democratic takeover of the committees unless they guarantee that the president's judicial nomi nees for the federal bench get a floor vote.
Gamesmanship: Bush must immediately exert his influence as the leader of the Republican Party and stop Santorum and his colleagues in the Senate from indulging in such partisan gamesmanship. Has the GOP forgotten how the American public reacted several years ago when Republicans in the House all but shut down the federal government? Democrats made major gains in Congress following that debacle.
Now, with the power shift that has occurred in the Senate as a result of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' leaving the GOP and becoming an Independent, Bush will have to make good his campaign promise to seek bipartisan consensus on all the major issues.
Democrats have expressed a willingness to work with the administration, even on judicial appointments, but their conciliatory tone could easily change if the Republicans prevent them from taking over the committees. Democrats have every reason to be less than cooperative when it comes to filling the hundreds of judicial positions. After all, it was Republican leaders such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who derailed most of former President Bill Clinton's nominees. The Republicans developed a procedure that made it all but impossible for Clinton to secure a floor vote for his nominees.
Now, however, Santorum and the others are willing to bring all Senate business to a halt if they don't get their way. That's a recipe for disaster.
Common ground: President Bush, who has had meetings with the Democratic leadership over judicial appointments and has pledged to work with them in finding common ground, cannot sit quietly while members of his party "wage war" with the Democrats, in the words of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
There are too many problems confronting this nation for Congress to indulge in petty politics.