Columns » John Brummett

Blanche, Mark just being themselves

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It almost seems as if Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor take turns. One behaves as the typical Democrat for a while and the other as the DINO, meaning Democrat in Name Only. Then they switch.

Not so long ago, Blanche was allied with Tom Daschle, who helped her get on the Finance Committee, and siding with the Democratic leadership more often than not. Mark was joining Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as George W. Bush’s best Democratic friends.

Lately, though, Democratic partisans have been cursing Blanche and applauding Mark, now buddies with Harry Reid, successor to Daschle as minority leader.

Our Democratic senators must do contradictory things. One is oblige the party leadership and the other is play to the home grandstand. One can’t do both at the same time. But two can. Four legs can straddle wider than two.

I must hasten to say that no evidence exists that Blanche and Mark consciously trade out this way. If they were conspiring for joint electoral advantage, it probably wouldn’t be Pryor taking the more liberal positions, such as on flag-desecration, closer to his re-election campaign and a possible challenge from, oh, Mike Huckabee.

In fact, the most recent example of our Democratic senators going opposite ways seems to represent their honest individuality.

More cynical than ever, the Republican leadership, long resistant to raising the minimum wage, decided it would deign to give the poorest folks a higher wage. But Republican leaders OK’d it only as bait, tying it tactically to a bill also providing a reduction in the estate tax on the wealthy.

They theorized that they could take the minimum wage off the table as a winning issue for Democrats in November. They thought they could get rich people a tax break on big inheritances. They sought to snooker Democrats into unpleasant choices: opposing a raise for poor folks or giving a tax break to rich ones.

It simply doesn’t get more crudely manipulative than that, and, deservedly, it didn’t work.

Blanche voted for this unnaturally combined measure. Mark opposed it. That was typical.

If there are two economic positions that Lincoln has held consistently, they are these:

1. She has poor folks in her constituency and they need help even if she must hold her nose to extend it. Do not forget that she voted for Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan because it supposedly would be better than nothing for poor people.

2. She also has long asserted that we need to reform the estate tax — i. e., raise the level at which it’s applied — to protect others among her constituents, meaning farmers and small business owners. A Delta farm daughter, she professes to fear burdening farm and small business heirs with taxes that could force them to liquidate the family assets.

This Republican cynicism gave her a chance to cast a single vote for both purposes.

Pryor, on the other hand, is a nonideological problem-solver. He is emerging in the Senate as an honest broker, meaning a negotiator and compromiser seeking a middle ground around a small but decisive group of senators spanning conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. It’s the vital role he played in forging that Gang of 14 to head off a Senate meltdown over judicial nominations.

Pryor believes we need to raise the estate tax threshold from the $2 million that threatens farms and small businesses, but not to the $10 million contained in last week’s measure. He thinks that would explode the deficit. He’s shopping something in between and resisting all Republican sops.

He trusts his brokering ability to cook up a more fiscally responsible deal on the estate tax. And he thinks the political climate is such that the minimum wage can get raised on its own independent merits.

So, in this case at least, we seem only to have evidence of Blanche being Blanche and Mark being Mark.

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