Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Common ground in the Senate: Mike Enzi

If you watch the news, you’d think Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell never agree on anything. Alas the two leaders of their respective parties have found common ground. They both appreciate Mike Enzi.

Last week Senators did something they don’t often do. They passed a bill and an important one at that.  According to govtrack.org, four of five bills making it through a senate committee do not receive floor vote. So it was noteworthy when something as complex and controversial as the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act passed last week. The bill closes gaps in the oversight of the global pharmaceutical supply chain, promotes safety and innovation of medical devices, and incentivizes development of life-saving antibiotics. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions worked on the bill for 18 months. Mike Enzi is the ranking Republican on the committee. Iowa’s Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is committee chair.

Mike Enzi stands out in today’s often poisonous, partisan environment. He stands out by, well, by not standing out. Mike is a workhorse, not a show horse. He’s not one of those from both parties we see all too often pontificating on FOX or MSNBC. Politicians earn bookings on those programs with a willingness to add fuel to any fire. Invitations are seldom issued to those who seek the common ground rather than a battleground.

Mike Enzi approaches political responsibilities differently, almost nostalgically. He harkens back to a time when people understood they had a responsibility to the nation far exceeding any responsibility they have to their party. Those types are an endangered species.

I’ve been a Mike Enzi fan for a long time, from when he served in the Wyoming legislature. There he exhibited the qualities that continue to make him a unique and special public servant. He has always been willing to do the hard work of legislating. Mike never allowed dogmatic positions to stand in the way of good relationships with those on the other side of an issue. That’s why conservative Mike Enzi and liberal Ted Kennedy were such close friends. If Kennedy had lived, my bet is they’d have ironed out a health care compromise that would have saved the nation from the bizarrely harsh debate we are still enduring.

Many politicians come to the table with a sledgehammer. Senator Enzi brings a belief he can reach an agreement with any opponent on at least 80% of any issue. He doesn’t believe senators should allow the 20% on which they disagree to prevent progress on the 80% in which they can find agreement. Once there, it makes compromise on the toughest of remaining issues possible.

And so it was when the senate set out to debate a reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. In an era where much of the work of the senate is stymied by partisan votes, this important bill passed by a vote of 96-1.

After the vote Republican and Democratic leaders headed for the microphones. But their purpose was not as it is most of the time. No harsh partisan rhetoric. Instead they each praised Mike Enzi. Republican leader Senator McConnell started. “I want to take a moment to thank my good friend, the Senior Senator from Wyoming Mike Enzi, for the work he has done shepherding the FDA bill through mark-up and across the Senate floor. Mike has shown the command of complex topics, steady leadership and interest in his colleague’s priorities that have characterized his tenure at the HELP Committee.”

Then it was the Democrats’ leader, Harry Reid’s turn.
"I have already said in my caucus how much I appreciate the work of Sen. Enzi. He is a fine senator. He and Sen. Harkin have worked so well together on this. It's exemplary for what the rest of us should do. I appreciate very much the work they have done. I repeat, it's how we should get other work done.”

And the people of the nation said, “Hallelujah!”

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad that Enzi's behavior in this specific instance was commendable. I wish he hadn't enriched his family on stimulus money, I wish he hadn't voted against the Affordable Care Act, and I wish he would include the wishes of all Wyomingites when he votes on social policy.

    I wish we had more than a single instance of good behavior to recommend this man.