News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Moderate voters still have voice in Washington, D.C.

Fourteen moderate United States senators — seven from each side of the aisle — reached a compromise Monday night that avoided (at least for now) a showdown that could have had a long-term detrimental impact on Congress' ability to conduct business.

Pundits began speculating about which side won immediately after the agreement.

Democrats agreed not to filibuster three of President Bush's pending judicial nominees (Bill Pryor, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown), but retained the prerogative on other nominees "under extraordinary circumstances."

Republicans vowed not to invoke the so-called "nuclear option," which would have not only changed the rules under which the Senate votes for judicial nominees, but also further polarized Congress. By invoking the nuclear option, Republicans would in effect have killed any chance of bipartisan cooperation on legislation of any kind in the near future.

The agreement may have the effect of merely delaying a showdown. After all, most lawmakers agree that the standoff was not so much about pending federal judicial nominees as it was about how the Senate will behave when it considers candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court. And the wording of the agreement is sufficiently vague — with no definition of "extraordinary circumstances" — to guarantee future debate from the extreme fringes about whether the other side is upholding its end of the bargain.

But, if the White House was paying attention, the compromise may have a more far-reaching, beneficial effect.

Many speculate that Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80 and battling thyroid cancer, will retire when the court term expires in June.

The compromise hammered out between centrist Republican and Democrat senators could force President Bush to nominate more moderate, mainstream candidates when court vacancies arise.

If that is the case, then everybody wins.

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