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Correction to This Article
This article misstated the length of Sen. Trent Lott's service in Congress. He has served 35 years, not 34. The article also omitted the name of the senator for whom Eric Ueland served as chief of staff. It was Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
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As Lott Leaves the Senate, Compromise Appears to Be a Lost Art

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), smiling after announcing in Pascagoula, Miss., that he is resigning from the Senate, has spent 34 years in Congress.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), smiling after announcing in Pascagoula, Miss., that he is resigning from the Senate, has spent 34 years in Congress. (By Alex Brandon -- Associated Press)

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But with the Senate almost dysfunctional, those new power centers are difficult to find.

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"The Senate is still a great deliberative body," Nickles said. "But it's a little less congenial and a little too partisan."

Lott made a career out of the art of the deal. In the summer of 1996, after then-Sen. Robert J. Dole resigned to pursue the White House full time, Lott took the reins of a Senate that had ground to a halt as Democrats moved to thwart GOP accomplishments ahead of the presidential election. Lott implored his colleagues to act.

In short order, Congress approved a major overhaul of the nation's welfare laws, cleared a bevy of other bills and cut a deal with the Clinton White House on annual spending bills. After the election, Hoppe recalled, Clinton called Lott to joke that had he not gotten the Senate back on track, the Democrats might well have recaptured a chamber of Congress.

The next year, White House Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin -- both wealthy Wall Street financiers -- sat huddled in Lott's office, as Lott and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tried to cut a final deal on a balanced budget agreement that included a cut to the capital gains tax rate.

"There they were, two Democrats who had been very successful in business, squaring off with two Republicans who didn't have two nickels to rub together," Hoppe recalled.

They struck a deal: Cut the capital gains rate and create a major federal program to offer health insurance to children of the working poor.

After the 2000 election, which left the Senate deadlocked at 50 seats apiece, Lott again struck a deal that angered many in his party. Although Republicans technically had control of the Senate with the vote of newly elected Vice President Cheney, Lott and Daschle agreed to evenly divide the committees. Moreover, they agreed, if one party won a majority midstream, either through a party switch, a resignation or a death, the other party would agree to relinquish control without a fight.

Lott reasoned that the deadlocked Senate could waste the first months of George W. Bush's fledgling presidency in a process fight, or he could relent early and get to work.

But such deals are getting harder to come by.

On June 7, as Lott absorbed increasingly virulent attacks from conservatives for his support of a bipartisan immigration overhaul, he took to the Senate floor for another appeal.

"This is the time where we are going to see whether we are a Senate anymore," he intoned. "Are we men or mice? Are we going to slither away from this issue and hope for some epiphany to happen? No. Let's legislate. Let's vote."

Three weeks later, the immigration bill fell to a Republican filibuster, and Congress slithered away from the issue.


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