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A Horse and Pony Show

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, February 6, 2009

Lawmakers, the saying goes, are either workhorses or show horses. As they debated the economic stimulus package yesterday, senators took this truism a step further: The workhorses and the show horses split into rival herds and began whinnying at each other.

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The workhorses -- an ad hoc group of 18 moderates and dealmakers from both parties -- holed up in a committee room on the third floor of the Dirksen Building, tossed out their staff and got to work on a compromise plan that could get bipartisan support.

The show horses -- including the leadership of both parties -- gave speeches on the Senate floor and news conferences either to trade blame for partisan deadlock or to denounce the Group of 18's dealmaking efforts.

The workhorses, taking a lunch break so some of them could confer with the White House about the compromise, were pleased with their labors.

"It is unusual to think of senators actually doing that kind of painstaking, thorough work," said Susan Collins (Maine), leader of the Republican workhorses.

"Always refreshing to be able to do that," added Ben Nelson (Neb.), captain of the Democratic workhorses.

But 10 minutes later, Senate Democratic leaders pranced into a news conference and trampled on the workhorses' work.

"As I have explained to the people within that group, they cannot hold the president of the United States hostage," fumed Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). "If they think they are going to rewrite this bill and Barack Obama's going to walk away from what he has been trying to do for the American people, they've got another thought coming."

Holding the president hostage? This caused the workhorses to rear up.

"Oh, goodness, no," said Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) as he returned to the dealmaking table in Dirksen. "I'm for human rights."

And Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) chuckled at her leader's accusation. "A little dramatic, don't you think?"

No doubt. But show horses prefer drama to lawmaking. While the dealmakers went through their paces behind the closed doors of the committee room, the show horses came out of the gate yesterday with unbridled partisanship.


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