Ann McFeatters: In D.C., signs of civility sprout
WASHINGTON — Hey, patriots. Washington is getting back to basics.
For the first time in 21 years, we had a real, old-fashioned filibuster, whereby a senator actually stood on his feet for nearly 13 hours without a bathroom break!
President Barack Obama took a dozen Republican senators out to a swanky hotel for a dinner dubbed a chew-and-chat and picked up the tab!
The next day, he invited the top House Democrat and Republican who work on budget issues to lunch at the White House!
The House voted not to shut down the government!
People in the nation’s capital are positively giddy about the possibilities. They are recalling fond memories of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill and former President Ronald Regan sharing regular cocktail hours together. There are visions of balanced budgets, of civility on the floor of the Senate and the House, of economic growth that will bring jobs to all Americans.
For years, the Senate honored its tradition of the filibuster by letting senators block votes simply by registering a written protest. No interminable hours of speechifying from a hungry, thirsty legislator. But this time, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., did a real filibuster, finally ending just after midnight when he said the call of nature no longer could be ignored. Capitol staffers and security guards who had to be there were also relieved when Paul left the lectern.
A libertarian, Paul questioned what the administration’s policy is on the use of drones to target suspected terrorists. After the filibuster, the White House said the president positively, absolutely has no power to use a drone against an American on U.S. soil.
And one of Obama’s harshest critics, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sided with the White House. McCain chastised Paul, saying that telling Americans they might be in danger from their own government is wrong. “They are not,” he said flatly.
Obama’s dinner date with Republican senators delighted official Washington. The senators who chowed down on sea bass with him complained it should have happened sooner, but admitted it was a congenial evening and said they were happy to be invited. Several senators said they had a “positive feeling” after the dinner, even though they spent most of it discussing their differences over taxes and spending.
Wow! Are golf outings next? Cigar bars?
The White House is also chatting up business executives. The Wall Street Journal quoted one who has been helping the White House outreach program as saying, “The president and his aides realize they need as many allies as they can get for the four years ahead.” Double wow!
The House, which has been dominated by Tea Party-movement supporters opposed to raising the debt ceiling to fund debts already incurred and dedicated to making government smaller, did an about-face and took preliminary steps to avoid a government shutdown when money runs out March 27. Triple wow! If the Senate acts similarly, as is expected, there will be enough money to fund government until September.
Meanwhile, the across-the-board sequester cuts continue, probably becoming more painful.
And there is still another debt-ceiling debate coming up this summer. Also, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said dismissively after the dinner, “If the president is going to insist on tax hikes, I don’t think we’ll get very far.” And nobody came out of the dinner talking about “grand bargains.”
As for Paul’s filibuster, most say it signals that he wants to run for president in 2016.
So, you may be sighing, this is just politics as usual.
At the same time, Paul actually talked on the Senate floor until after midnight about the issue without reading phone books or quoting from Shakespeare. The image of Mr. Smith coming to Washington lives!
And if Republicans and Obama can get to know and understand each other better, who knows what it may accomplish? After all, the debates over slavery and the Civil War were even more intense than today’s discord over fiscal policy.
All in all, not a bad few days in D.C.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.