WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Within minutes of being sworn in as the 108th Congress Tuesday, senators from both parties rallied together to quickly discuss and unanimously pass an extension of unemployment insurance. The U.S. House followed suit the next day and sent the completed bill to President Bush for his signature Thursday.
Considering the narrow partisan divisions in the House and Senate -- where just a handful of votes separate both parties despite Republican control -- this bipartisan cooperation is to be expected if either party wants to accomplish any of their goals.
But the early indications are that fans of bipartisanship should savor that early moment, because few opportunities for more cooperation are unlikely in the coming months. Democrats and Republicans had not let the ink dry on the unemployment vote before they were at each other's throats over a variety of issues ranging from the renomination for an appeals court slot of a friend of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., whom Democrats accuse of having an equally shaky civil rights record, and the collapse of the bipartisan partnership of liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and President George W. Bush over last year's education bill.
The renomination of Judge Charles Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals -- after the Senate Judiciary Committee defeated him in September -- has excited Democrats at the prospect of reminding the public of the recent racial gaffe of the former Senate Republican leader.
"After weeks of painful reflection, the leadership of the Republican Party, from the president on down, promised a new sensitivity, a new commitment to racial reconciliation in America," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "Yesterday, with the renomination of Charles Pickering ... the White House has called into question all of its promises to demonstrate that the party of Abraham Lincoln was truly committed to civil rights."
As a result, Senate Democrats are beginning to whisper that a filibuster of the nomination -- which would force the GOP to find 60 votes to defeat -- could be in the offing. Even Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., whose role in leadership generally deters him from making public threats on nominees, questioned the wisdom of offering his party the chance to embarrass the White House again on racial issues.
"It is surprising to me that the administration, given all the problems that the Republican Party has had in the last few weeks, would act so irresponsibly," Daschle told reporters Wednesday.
"There will be a rich debate on the Senate floor, I can tell you that ... And what is all the more surprising about the decision of the administration, in light of what happened, the extraordinary insensitivity that they are showing on the matter of civil rights ... is something I can't explain."
When pressed on whether there would be a filibuster -- which is considered a partisan weapon of mass destruction -- Daschle seemed to promise less than bipartisan cooperation.
"You're going to have those who favor civil rights on one side and those who have a lot of explaining to do on the other side," he continued.
Whether this bruising fight sends bad blood into other parts of the legislative agenda is uncertain, but considering about $500 billion in tax cuts separates the two parties' proposals on economic stimulus and about $200 billion separates them on prescription drug coverage for Medicare, it seems more likely than not.