One Man's Bipartisanship Is Another's...

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Senators and congressmen know a good buzzword when they see it. Everyone of them — from rabid conservatives to far-out liberals — is mouthing that he or she is now a born-again bipartisan. But it doesn't take much scratching on the surface to discover that practically every member's vision of bipartisanship is different. Like defining truth and beauty. "There clearly is a lot of leeway in what people have in mind when they talk about bipartisanship," Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman deadpans. Conservative Republican senators in Trent Lott's leadership team, such as Majority Whip Don Nickles and GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum, are singing the bipartisan anthem, but they are committed right wingers with aggressive staffs that haven't mellowed.

Instead of "compassionate conservatism," GOP leaders have begun peddling a different phrase: "common-sense conservative policies." What's common-sense conservative policies? An accelerated missile defense program, "broad-based" tax cuts, school vouchers, and privatizing Social Security — all conservative initiatives liberal Democrats, and many moderates, will fight ferociously on the floor.

Senate Republicans, even moderate ones, are suspicious that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and other Democrats are just singing bipartisanship for the cameras. The main goal the Democrats have is "to take back the House and Senate in 2002 and the White House in 2004," says Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee. Other Republicans agree. "Everyone wants to be known as a bipartisan now," says one GOP Senate aide. "All that will end by January." Gore's concession speech marks "the beginning of the 2002 and 2004 elections. The Democrats have little incentive to negotiate and compromise. It's going to have to be George W. and the Republicans that do the lion's share of compromising to move legislation." And as the 2002 election nears "people will begin to choose up sides and harden their positions," worries Bingaman.

Cheney's Daring Diet

Vice President-Elect Richard Cheney, who has more bypasses than the New Jersey Turnpike, seems to like to diet on the edge. Cheney attended the Wednesday lunch for moderate Republicans hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter in his Capitol hideaway. Spector and the other members of the "Mod Squad," as they're nicknamed — Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island — ordered salads and fruit. Cheney dug into a plate of fried chicken. Has anyone briefed him on cholesterol?

Showdown in the Senate?

Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over power sharing in a 50-50 Senate threaten to blow a hole in the bipartisan boat. Sens. Daschle and Lott are meeting every other work day to haggle over power sharing. "But we're not getting far on that," says a senior Senate GOP leadership aide. Daschle, who angered Lott and Nickles by trying first to negotiate via press conferences, has ordered his aides not to discuss his negotiations with the Republicans. Lott has offered Daschle a 50-50 split on committee budgets and staffing, but he still insists that Republicans have a majority of one on each committee and that they all have Republican chairman. But Lott is having problems from some of his committee chairman (like Sen. John McCain. who will head the Commerce Committee) who are undercutting his bargaining position by saying publicly that they have no problems with sharing more.

Aides Get the Bipartisan Holiday Spirit

Survival instincts are beginning to surface in small ways in the Senate. While their bosses parrot bipartisanism, top Senate aides are quietly reaching across the aisle. Administrative assistants for three GOP senators — Snowe, Jeffords and Chafee — sent out invitations to Democratic chiefs of staff to join them for an "AAs' Christmas Party" Thursday night in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. "I've never gotten an invite like that before," says one startled Democratic AA. Other Democratic AA's are calling Republican AA's out of the blue to see if they'd like to talk. Some are trying to organize monthly bipartisan breakfasts.

Breaux's Buddy System

Louisiana Democratic Sen. John Breaux flew to Austin Friday and the first words out of his mouth during a lunch with George W. Bush were "I want to stay in the Senate" and not join the president elect's cabinet as energy secretary. But Breaux did use the lunch to make a plug for his Louisiana buddy, former Democratic Sen. Bennett Johnston, who chaired the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee before he retired in 1996. "I can't think of anybody better," Breaux told Bush. Johnston shares Bush's views on energy policy. "If you want to have a bipartisan cabinet, Bennett would be perfect," Breaux said. Bush made no commitments, but signaled he was interested in Johnston.

Johnston is interested as well. Nothing's been offered, but Johnston tells TIME the energy job "would be a great challenge because we've got really difficult problems now in energy."