February 8, 2009 at 9:04AM
by Jim DiPeso
Ask the most partisan of Republican activists who their favorite GOP politician is, and it's likely that very few would mention Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Too Northeastern, too willing to buck the party line, too willing to vote the agendas of squishy tree-huggers, you might hear them respond.
But it's Collins, not one of the party's more doctrinaire fire-eaters, who led Republican efforts this past week to keep the economic stimulus package from becoming a free-for-all honey pot.
Leaving aside the merits and demerits of the stimulus bill, Collins' leadership on the issue could bode well for future Senate negotiations on equally complex, contentious matters such as climate legislation.
As David Brooks, one of the New York Times' in-house conservatives, noted February 6, what he called "moderate gangs" in Congress could be catalysts that break down Congress' cultish partisanship and the concomitant tendency to substitute ideological chest-pounding for negotiation.
None of which will work when the drafting and logrolling kick off in earnest for a climate bill. History shows that America's most effective environmental laws are those that were enacted with reasonably broad, bipartisan support.
Climate legislation will be the most technically and politically complex environmental legislation that Congress has ever attempted to pass. If ideologues on either side of the aisle control terms of the debate, the odds are low that Congress will be able to pass a bill that can effectively move the U.S. energy economy away from its high-carbon diet.
Senators like Collins who are willing to engage in give-and-take with opposite numbers on the other side of the aisle will be the keys who can unlock a climate compromise in the upcoming climate debate.
As Margaret Thatcher was reported to have said, politics is like an airplane. The left and right wings may provide lift, but the middle is where the brains are.