Zell Miller leads the way to unity in the Senate

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted February 5, 2001

When Senator Paul Coverdell of Georgia died suddenly last summer, no one mourned his death more intensely than I did. He was such a good man and it seemed so wrong that he should be taken at such a time. But as I have learned long ago, it is better to leave the judgment of such things to the Almighty.

Coverdell was succeeded in the Senate by former Georgia Governor Zell Miller. Miller was appointed to the post but then ran for the remainder of Coverdell's term in the November election and defeated former Senator Mack Mattingly to be elected on his own.

Now which Democrat, at President-elect George Bush's summit on education issues, stood up and said he never liked vouchers but if that's what it took to get the job done, he'd swallow vouchers? Why it was Senator Zell Miller.

Which Democrat was the first to express public support for John Ashcroft for Attorney General, thus making it clear that Ashcroft would be confirmed, short of a filibuster? Why it was Senator Zell Miller.

President Bush said he wants an across the board tax cut, one which benefits all taxpayers. The Democratic leadership has announced that this is a non-starter. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, a Bush ally, and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced the Bush tax cut plan. Who introduced it with him? Why it was Senator Zell Miller of Georgia.

Senator Zell Miller

Miller is emerging as a conservative Democrat, something which the Senate badly needs and which Bush needs in his quest for bi-partisanship. Bush can find some allies in the House among the Democrats. Depending on the issue, there are anywhere from 20 to 50 Democrats willing to work with him and that number may go even higher if Bush's popularity begins to take hold.

But in the Senate up until now, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle has been able to maintain rigid discipline. Those Senate Democrats have held together no matter what. The willingness of Miller to step forward could signal to other Democrats that it is permissible to deal with President Bush. The new Senator from Nebraska, Ben Nelson, another former governor, campaigned as a conservative Democrat. Likewise, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, another freshman former governor, is not as far left as some of the newly elected Northern Democrats. There are a few Southerners such as Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Mary Landreau and John Breaux of Louisiana, whose rhetoric is moderate even though at the end of the day they have so far stuck with Daschle. Perhaps Zell Miller's leadership will now give them cover.

Likewise, Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota want to claim that they are not locked into the left wing of their party, since they come from a strongly Republican state. Again, Miller might provide an alternative from time to time.

This is extremely important because all of the plans for reform that Republicans advanced after their election in 1994 ended up in the scrap heap known as the U.S. Senate. It takes 60 votes to pass anything through the Senate under rules designed to protect minority rights.

Should Bush be able to hold together the Republicans on some key votes, such as for his tax bill, and should Miller be able to persuade nine of his colleagues to join him, Bush just might be able to pass something resembling his original proposal through the Congress.

It is obviously too early to tell and a few gestures don't make a career. But as I pondered the wondrous ways of the Almighty, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that it is Coverdell's replacement who is stepping up to the place to make bi-partisanship a reality at a time when Bush's critics and even some of his supporters said that was an impossibility.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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