Thursday, August 18, 2022
Aug. 18, 2022

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Leubsdorf: Compromise is difficult to find

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The prolonged negotiations among four senators that produced a compromise on a modest gun control bill show how hard it is to reach bipartisan agreement on contentious issues in a time of sharply partisan politics.

So does the apparent collapse of talks to craft a new COVID relief bill.

After all, it took months for another group of lawmakers to reach an accord on an infrastructure bill last year that promised tangible results for virtually every congressional district in the country.

To succeed in this environment takes strong leadership — as Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy showed in responding to the public’s demand to “do something” about the mounting toll of gun-related deaths. But it also takes modest goals, and, even then, bipartisan efforts don’t always succeed.

The reasons lie in a political climate where neither party trusts the other, and in the numbers — incredibly close divisions in both chambers, internal splits within each party, and the disappearance of centrist lawmakers from both parties.

An array of analyses shows the most liberal Republicans — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania — have less liberal voting records than the most conservative Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Rep. Jared Golden of Maine.

With the approach of midterm elections in which Republicans are favored to win the House and possibly the Senate, suspicions and acrimony between the two parties are evident.

It took the four senators crafting the gun-related package 10 days to put their initial agreement into actual legislation. But on Tuesday, they announced success on the first such measure in years.

It includes an additional $15 billion for school safety and mental health programs and to fund “red flag” laws to keep deadly weapons away from dangerous individuals; provides enhanced review procedures for gun buyers under 21; penalizes so-called “straw” purchasing; clarifies who needs to register as a federal firearms dealer; and closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” affecting whether unmarried partners found guilty of violence against dating partners could own or buy guns.

Public opinion clearly played a major role. Cornyn said Texans are “disgusted and outraged” by last month’s murder of 19 children and two teachers in a Uvalde school, and “want Congress to take appropriate action to prevent the loss of more innocent lives.” But the Texas Republican got a taste of the political risks.

At a Senate GOP lunch, he encountered sharp criticism from more conservative colleagues of the party whose leadership he may seek one day. And he was booed at the Texas state Republican convention when he defended his effort by stressing his success in blocking the stricter proposals of gun control advocates.

That could presage a conservative challenge when he faces reelection.

Some Democratic supporters of the more extensive gun measures expressed reluctance at the Senate package.

Still, Senate passage was assured when GOP Leader Mitch McConnell joined the prior 10 GOP supporters in backing the compromise bill. House concurrence occurred Friday, showing even in this partisan age, some bipartisan efforts can succeed.

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