Bipartisanship Remains Elusive In Washington A recent poll shows more than 70 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Both parties say they are striving for common ground, but a health care overhaul is stalled and the future of a once-bipartisan jobs bill is uncertain. NPR's Ron Elving, former Congressman Mickey Edwards (R-OK), and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DL) discuss why bipartisanship remains so elusive.
NPR logo

Bipartisanship Remains Elusive In Washington

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Bipartisanship Remains Elusive In Washington

Bipartisanship Remains Elusive In Washington

Bipartisanship Remains Elusive In Washington

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A recent poll shows more than 70 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Both parties say they are striving for common ground, but a health care overhaul is stalled and the future of a once-bipartisan jobs bill is uncertain. NPR's Ron Elving, former Congressman Mickey Edwards (R-OK), and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DL) discuss why bipartisanship remains so elusive.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

And as I speak, Senator Evan Bayh announces that he will not stand for re-election this year. He says he loves serving the people of Indiana but does not love Congress. And a lot of Americans agree with him.

According to the latest USA Today-Gallup poll, just 25 percent of us think Congress is doing a good job. Many are frustrated that Republicans and Democrats are unable to agree on a jobs bill, forestall foreclosures or pass health care but somehow manage to bail out the big banks and fund pork projects for their districts.

In Congress, the often prosaic process of legislating requires compromise no matter which party holds the majority. Right now, many Americans see a dysfunctional Congress, focused on political points in the next election and either unable or unwilling to find common ground.

Later in this program, the new offensive in Afghanistan is on The Opinion Page this week. Michael O'Hanlon will join us. But first, what would need to happen to make Congress work? And we hope you'll call and tell us what compromise you would make to get things moving.

Our phone number is 800-989-8255, email us You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we begin with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. He joins us to give us some perspective. He joins us from his home. Ron, nice to have you with us today.

RON ELVING: Neal, always a pleasure to be with you.

CONAN: And happy Presidents Day.

ELVING: Happy to you.

CONAN: I wonder, people have been saying Congress has been terrible for years. They've never seen such bickering and lack of and triumph of partisanship. Is it really so much worse than it has been in the past?

ELVING: Incrementally, I believe the case can be made that it is worse, although it would just be a small percentage worse. If you pay a lot of attention to Congress, you see a lot of that kind of behavior over the years, but right now, people are paying more attention to Congress. Many more people are, for the first time, really tuning in to the way Congress behaves.

And I should say here that we're really talking primarily about the Senate because that's really where the action has been, or if you will, the inaction has been. The House has passed most of the president's program during the past year, and it's been the Senate where all the bills have gone to die, or if not to die, at least to hang fire or be lost in limbo.

CONAN: Well, in the House of Representatives, simple majority rules. The Democrats have the majority. They can even lose a few votes here and there to cover the occasional Republican, and that's okay. In the Senate, though, it doesn't work like that.

ELVING: It does not. In the Senate, in recent years, it has become customary for the minority to threaten a filibuster and thereby to force the majority to amass 60 votes, three-fifths of the Senate, in order to bring any significant legislation to the floor to begin discussion. They generally filibuster on the motion to proceed to the bill.

So then it becomes necessary to get at least some members of the minority to come over and join the majority, or in the most-current month of this last Congress, it was necessary to hold together 58 Democrats and two independents and get 60 votes, three-fifths of the Senate, that way.

CONAN: Now, that's an interesting rule. You need not just a majority rule, 51 votes, but in fact 60 votes out of 100 to get things moving, but nevertheless, shouldn't that be possible?

ELVING: It has been possible in the past to proceed to a bill and even pass a bill with a much smaller majority than three-fifths, but the customs and traditions of the Senate, in combination with the rules of the Senate, have brought us to this particular moment. And I believe it may be a pregnant moment in the history of the Senate, and we may be ready for another change. We've seen several changes over the full 200-and-some years of the Senate's life. They've had the right to filibuster all the way back to the first couple of decades. I believe the first time it was established was in 1806.

There's been this notion that somebody can talk a bill out, as they say in British parliament, that somebody can prevent a bill from ever being passed by just continuously holding the floor the way we saw Jimmy Stewart do in the 1939 movie "Mr.�Smith Goes to Washington."

But that has very rarely actually happened, the talking 24-7, getting a series of senators to hold the floor. That's actually been quite rare in our history. It's mostly associated with the work of some Southern senators in the '40s and '50s and '60s in their attempts to hold back the civil rights bills.

Ultimately, they failed. Ultimately, the Senate lowered the number of votes it took to cut off debate from originally two-thirds to three-fifths. And then what happened was more and more senators said, hey, three-fifths, that's not that hard to get. We could threaten a filibuster on this. We could do a few hours of filibuster on that. We could bring it down to the level of ordinary use.

So the number of cloture votes filed to shut off a filibuster goes from a few, literally single digits in the years after World War II, to something like 140 in the most-recent Senate.

CONAN: So effectively, you have to get 60 votes to pass a bill to in favor of mom and apple pie.

ELVING: Correct.

CONAN: Well, joining us now is Mickey Edwards. He is with us here in Studio 3A in Washington. He served 16 years as a Republican congressman from Oklahoma and has held several leadership positions during that time, and very nice of you to come in today.

Former Representative MICKEY EDWARDS (Republican, Oklahoma): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And again, your complaint is not where you served, in the House of Representatives, but in the other house, in the Senate.

Former Rep. EDWARDS: Oh, there are a few complaints that would be valid, I think, in the House, but we've always thought of the Senate as the lower body, anyway. Sorry about that, Tom.

CONAN: Well, in any case, how would you say, Congressman Edwards, that this how did this 60-vote majority become commonplace?

Former Rep. EDWARDS: Well, I think what's happened over the years I would slightly disagree with that reporting, that I think the problem has gotten a lot worse. It's not just incrementally a little bit worse.

Over the last decade or two decades, increasingly, there has become this sense of partisan warfare all year long. You know, instead of winning your election, taking your seat in the House or the Senate and then dealing with the merits of the legislation before you, it seems to be constantly now, how can you win the next election, how can you demonize the other party and holds, filibusters, all those things are just a piece of the action.

CONAN: I should say holds in the Senate, any member of the Senate has the option to say this bill is not going to come up at all, this presidential appointment is not going to come up at all, I have a hold on this, and that is frozen until such time as the senator releases it.

Former Rep. EDWARDS: It is, and that's not a constitutional mandate, that's simply a Senate rule, and it can be changed.

CONAN: Well, it can be changed with 67 votes from United States senators.

Former Rep. EDWARDS: No, no, no. To change a rule in the Senate only requires a majority.

CONAN: Only requires a majority?

Former Rep. EDWARDS: To change one of the Senate rules.

CONAN: And that includes the thing on the filibuster?

Former Rep. EDWARDS: Right.

CONAN: Ron, that's not my understanding. I thought it took 67 votes.

ELVING: The Senate requires two-thirds vote to change its own rules, and this has been a subject of debate back into the 19th century.

Former Rep. EDWARDS: Ah, okay, I yield.

ELVING: They do require two-thirds to change their own rules, but there is a school of thought, going back to a Supreme Court decision in the 1890s, that if the Senate were to choose to do so, it could change the rule of requiring two-thirds vote to change rules by a simple majority.

So there is a constitutional debate over this and one that I think we might see joined in the months and years to come.

CONAN: Well, if you think it's so bad, Mickey Edwards, is this the pregnant moment that Ron Elving mentioned earlier?

Former Rep. EDWARDS: Well, I think it is a moment when the amount of public disturbance over the fact that the Congress is not able to function better than it is does give us opportunities to make change. I don't think it's a matter of the public being unhappy with the absence of a health care bill or the absence of a jobs bill or any particular piece of legislation. It's the fact that it doesn't seem that in either house you can get the two parties to sit down together and try to find where their common ground is to make something happen.

CONAN: Well, some people say, at least in part, this is the result of the changed social atmosphere in Washington because members of the Senate, and the House of Representatives for that matter, spend most weekends back home in their district, not here in Washington, well, palling around with their other friends on the Hill.

Former Rep. EDWARDS: Well, I think that's part of it. There has been -members of Congress don't travel together as much as they used to because there was a public reaction against that, and it is hard.

Sometimes you have to say that your job, once you are sworn into office, is to deal seriously with the legislation that has to be dealt with and that you do whatever is necessary to build a relationship within the House, a relationship within the Senate that allows you to proceed and to see somebody else not just as a member of the other party, you know, but as somebody else with the same responsibilities you have.

CONAN: Here's an email from Elizabeth(ph) in Phoenix. I think one reason Congress makes such bad decisions supporting pork projects, making closed-door deals and the like is because all representatives care about is re-election that permanent campaign you were talking about.

But she goes on to say: I would love to see term limits imposed on both senators and representatives. Perhaps this would entice them to make good decisions based on what their constituents want and what makes sense, rather than on what would get them re-elected.

Former Rep. EDWARDS: Well, you know, there are some political scientists who have put forth the idea that members of Congress only vote according to what's going to get them re-elected. That's total nonsense.

You know, the real problem is that members of Congress operate mostly out of ideology, out of their own partisan viewpoints about what should be done.

Term limits are a terrible idea. You know, it simply strengthens the executive branch. And our constitutional system says, you know, that the Congress is supposed to be making the important decisions, and what we need to do is make it where the Congress can function again. That's where the problem is. The House and Senate need to be able to work together.

CONAN: And Ron Elving, if ideology is, as Mickey Edwards suggests, the problem, you're getting more ideological members of the House of Representatives, and indeed the Senate, who are, because of districting, running in districts that are safer for Republicans. Therefore, their challenge comes from the right wing, if you're a Republican, or from the left wing if you're a Democrat.

ELVING: That seems to be the case, and if you look around the States, California, for example, they have term limits, and yet they have perhaps the most ideologically riven legislature in the country, arguably.

So I don't think that there's a solution there, but I do think you've put your finger on something with the districting problem. The parties, generally speaking in the legislatures, draw these maps every 10 years in reaction to the census, to respond to the census. They have a certain number of congressional seats to distribute among the parts of their state, and they tend to draw the districts safe for Republicans in some parts, safe for the Democrats in other parts. And that hardens, if you will, the ideological attitude of each one of these members.

They're more afraid, and we see this increasingly in the House, the members are more afraid of a primary. They're more afraid of somebody running against them in the primary, House or Senate, than they are of someone beating them in November from the other party.

CONAN: Mickey Edwards?

Former Rep. EDWARDS: No, I think that's absolutely true. I think one of the problems here, though, is with the public itself. The reason this happens is that people don't go vote in the primaries, even though the primary sometimes determines who your congressman or senator is going to be, and people don't participate in the process sufficiently.

If you had the same high level of turnout in primaries that we hope for in a general election, that would change.

CONAN: We're talking with former member of Congress, Mickey Edwards, he used to represent a district in Oklahoma for 16 years. He's now a vice president of the Aspen Institute and teaches at the George Washington University and the University of Maryland law schools. He's with us here in Studio 3A. NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving is also with us.

When we come from a short break, we'll be talking with Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, also a deputy whip for the Democrats in the Senate. He would also like to see some rules changes to make things move a little bit more easily there. We'll ask him how he can whip up the votes to make that happen. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington. Just a few minutes ago, Senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana, announced that he would not seek re-election this year. With his wife and two sons by his side in Indianapolis, he said he was proud to serve the people of his state but gently criticized the polarization of the current Congress.

Senator EVAN BAYH (Democrat, Indiana): My decision should not be interpreted for more than it is: a very difficult, deeply personal one. I am executive at heart. I value my independence. I am not motivated by strident partisanship or ideology. These traits may be useful in many walks of life, but unfortunately, they are not highly valued in Congress.

My decision should not reflect adversely upon my colleagues, who continue to serve in the Senate. While the institution is in need of significant reform, there are many wonderful people there.

CONAN: Today, we're talking about what would need to happen to make Congress work in a bipartisan way with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving and with Mickey Edwards, a former member of Congress, now vice president of the Aspen Institute.

We want to hear your ideas. What would you compromise on to get things moving in Congress? 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

But first, joining us on the line from his home district in Wilmington, Delaware, is Democratic Senator Tom Carper. Nice to have you with us today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Senator TOM CARPER (Democrat, Delaware): Neal, good to be with you. I'm just glad it's not snowing here.

CONAN: For a change, or not yet, anyway. It's supposed to start later today, but I wonder how you respond to the news that Evan Bayh, citing partisanship - and I would have to say most people thought he would win re-election this year, but citing partisanship as one of his principal reasons for deciding to leave the Senate.

Sen. CARPER: Evan and I served as governors for most of the eight years that he served. I think we were together for six years, and I looked forward to being in the Senate, in no small part, for the chance to serve with him there.

And for folks who used to serve in that role in our own states, you're used to, like, focusing on results, getting things done, and it's hard to get much done these days in the Senate, as you know. I could introduce a resolution, if we were in session today, that said yesterday was Valentine's Days. I don't know if I could get 60 votes for it.

CONAN: And how do you you would propose that you would be open to the idea of changing that filibuster rule. How are you going to do that?

Sen. CARPER: Well, right now, I don't think we do it. Someday, the Republicans will have a Republican president. Someday, they'll be in the majority. And as we get closer - as they feel that we're getting closer to that eventuality, I think they'll be more interested, on their side, to making sure that whoever's the next Republican president actually can get his or her nominees confirmed. And whoever's the next Republican president with a Republican majority in the Senate can actually move an agenda and not be hamstrung the way we've been largely hamstrung the last 13 months or so.

CONAN: Has it been especially frustrating to answer to your constituents who say wait a minute, you guys have overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress. You've got the White House. How come you're not getting these bills signed?

Sen. CARPER: I think people are starting to realize that it 60 is the new 51. It just takes more votes. We've had, I want to say, probably 80 or so instances over the last 12 months where we've had to try to break a filibuster in order to get something done. And when the shoe was on the other foot, when Republicans had the president, and we had the majority in the Senate, we didn't make it easy for them.

But I think our Republican friends have made an art form out of this, and it's you know, one of the reasons why I'm convinced of why the economy is still going along slowly in terms of new jobs, there's so much uncertainty, particularly among the part of big business.

There's uncertainty about what are we doing on health care, what are we doing on energy policy or climate change, what are we going to do on the budget, what are we going to do on the expiring Bush tax credits. All those what are we going to do in terms of financial and regulatory reform. And I think all of those all that inability to come to consensus just feeds the uncertainty of which businesses don't like, which businesses abhor.

CONAN: Well, how do you convince the minority - right now it's the Republicans, earlier it was the Democrats - how do you convince the minority that it's not good politics just to say hey, the best way to change the what Congress does is to elect the good guys next time around, that's us. So we're going to block everything the other side, the majority, tries to do.

Sen. CARPER: Yeah, ultimately, whoever is the obstructionist, and I'll say this as gently as I can, I think right now it's the Republican folks, but whoever's the obstructionist, what has to happen, whether the obstructionist is seen to be Democrats or Republicans, there has to be some kind of political price to pay for that in terms of what happens in the elections.

As long as Republicans feel like they're going to be rewarded at the ballot box, even though their approval numbers are lower than those of Democrats in the Congress, but as long as they feel that they're going to be rewarded by obstructing things, they'll probably keep it up. That's human nature. It certainly is among many politicians.

CONAN: And how you said if they approach a day where they could see themselves back in the majority, they might be open to changing the rules. Some people say that might happen as soon as November.

Sen. CARPER: Well, it could be, I think not likely, but it could. The back in, I want to say 1995, Neal, a fellow named Tom Harkin and another one I believe named Joe Lieberman, pushed for a change. That was when I believe Democrats were in the majority in the minority, excuse me.

They pushed for a change so that the first time that on a particular issue, it was a nomination or a bill - the first time that the majority leader asked unanimous consent to move to a nomination and move to a bill, and there was objection. The initially, what they proposed, 15 years ago, I believe, was the first vote to invoke cloture, that is, to overcome the objection, would require 60 votes. If it weren't successful then, the next one would call maybe 57, the next maybe 54, the next time, finally, we get down to 51, maybe the third or fourth time we try to invoke cloture.

And that's an approach that Senator Harkin, and along with Jeanne Shaheen, former governor of New Hampshire, now senator from New Hampshire, has suggested we revisit.

I don't see the Republicans embracing it today. The Senate moves pretty slowly on most things anyway, but I could see a day somewhere down the line where the Republicans are saying, you know, some day, the shoe will be on the other foot, and we'll have a Republican, we'll have a majority in the Senate. We won't be able to get anybody confirmed for a lot of positions. That Republican administration will look like Swiss cheese in terms of vacancies, and we've got way too many vacancies right now in this administration.

I remember when I was elected governor of Delaware in '92. I said to the state Senate, which had to confirm my nominees, I said, look, the voters of Delaware have elected me to do a job for them. I know you could defeat as many of my nominees as you chose to, but I asked them to work with me so that we could assemble my team, we could do so expeditiously, and then I said evaluate me on the team. How do we do as a team? And they were great to do that, never turned down a single nomination in eight years. And I'm not suggesting that we be quite that generous to a future president, but what we have right now is absurd.

We have people who were nominated, fully qualified people who were nominated, vetted, vetted by the executive branch, vetted by committees, and we can't get them up for a vote. And then finally, we invoke cloture after this prolonged process, and they get confirmed 96 to nothing. It's just crazy.

CONAN: Senator Harper thank you very much Carper, thank you very much for your time today, and we wish you luck with well, it's just going to be a dusting, one to three inches.

Sen. CARPER: From your lips to God's ears, Neal.

CONAN: Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, a Democrat, the deputy whip for the Democrats in the United States Senate, with us by phone today from Wilmington.

Let's get some listeners on the line. What would you be willing to compromise on to get legislation moving again? 800-989-8255. Email us, And Peter's(ph) on the line, Peter calling us from Charlottesville in Virginia.

PETER (Caller): Hello.


PETER: Well, first of all, I'd take the same salary to be a senator or governor, $30,000, that I make as a self-employed carpenter. And as far as health care, which I consider the main issue, I would give up the statute to pay for abortion and legalize marijuana to get a universal health care package passed because I'm I just have my own health insurance. I just let it expire because I couldn't afford it.

I still have children, but I can't afford the insurance, and I can't afford the out of pocket. So I would gladly give up abortion just for that compromise.

CONAN: Ron Elving, would that get the deal through?

ELVING: I'm not exactly sure what the caller may mean by giving up abortion.

CONAN: Would you you mean the amendment, Peter, that was passed that would restrict spending on abortion, any federal money on abortion?

PETER: Yes, exactly. Just you're on your own.

CONAN: You'd have to pay for it yourself.

PETER: I shouldn't say this, but I've had personal experience. It's very easy to deal with on your own.

CONAN: Okay, if that's the case, if Democrats were willing to make that compromise, Ron, do you think it would get through?

ELVING: I do believe that that would probably make some votes easier to get, but it's not going to get you 60 votes in the Senate. It's just not going to make any kind of significant difference to the current logjam that's keeping everything from going through in the Senate. And right now, the House has already passed the legislation.

PETER: I mean, I would make any compromise to get my health insurance reduced to an affordable amount of money per year. I think health insurance should be a percentage of a man's income, not a fixed rate. If I could pay a percentage of my income at $30,000 a year, I could send my children to the doctor. It's got to be a percentage of income. It cannot be a fixed, $900, $400 I mean, if you make a million, 900 bucks a month is no problem. If you make $30,000, 900 bucks is impossible.

CONAN: Well, Mickey Edwards, you can hear Peter, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

PETER: Thank you.

CONAN: You can hear the pain in his voice. Nevertheless, a compromise on health care has not resolved that.

Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah, but I think that - what I would draw out of what he said is that it would be good to - for both sides to take whatever their ideological starting point is, set it aside, and try to sit down together and see what can they - where they can find some common ground and move the bill - move some bill forward. Now that's not going to work, as long as one party insists on, you know, we're going to have this whole new comprehensive approach, you know, to create the kind of system we dream about at night and the other party says, you know, no. We don't want to do anything because we're gaining a political advantage here.

You know, both - I know the president doesn't want to do this. There's some merit to saying, let's start over. The House and the Senate both acted - neither of those bills is going anywhere. They're not going to become law. Instead of just dragging their heels and saying, no, we're not going to change, it's time to sit down together and say, okay. Let's start over. What can we do?

CONAN: Ron Elving, that's the point that some Republicans are making before they agree to attend this health care summit that the president has proposed.

ELVING: That's right. They've said that the president needs to give up on the House and Senate products that are currently hanging fire. I don't see that there's any real prospect that the Democrats are going to be willing to give up all the work that's been done, all the negotiations that have been worked out, all of the compromises that have already been made largely with the people who are involved in delivery of health care. It's not just a matter of the House and Senate talking to each other, or Republicans and Democrats. There has been a great deal of participation by the people who provide health insurance, and so on.

Now, there were some big issues that were dropped in an attempt to get to 60 votes. One of them was the public option, whereby there might be some kind of assistance for people such as the caller, who has a situation where he can't afford a very small dollar outlay to get insurance for a large family. Now, that's not going to be helped by any private insurance plan that I'm aware of that's going to allow him to pay a percentage of his income. It's going to have to be, eventually, some kind of a problem for a public option, and that's been dropped.

So, at this juncture, to go back to the drawing board is essentially to say, we're not going to do it in the 111th Congress. It's over and done with. Maybe we can come back and do it two years from now, or a year from now. But I think we can anticipate that a year from now, the political situation in Washington will be even more gridlocked than it is today because the Congress will be either in the Republican control or it'll at least have much stronger representation of the Republican Party. The president will still be Barack Obama, and we'll be looking at an even more, well, difficult loggerheads kind of situation, much like we had in the 1990s.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving and with former representative Mickey Edwards, now vice president of the Aspen Institute. What it's going to take to make Congress work? Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get another caller in. This is Mike, Mike with us from Boca Raton, also calling in on the question of health care.

MIKE (Caller): Yeah. Hi. Now, I think that there are - if there is problem that has to be solved, it is a market problem. And so while I'm a Democrat and I guess I'd be willing to give up the single payer - the single provider plan because it's never going to pass, there are two thoughts that I have about how to provide a market. And one is to make sure that in every area of the country, that there is more than one insurance company in the market. And then perhaps - and this is probably blasphemy to somebody - but I consider health insurance to be like - to be a public utility. And I think it should be controlled like a public utility, as far as price is concerned, with everybody knowing exactly what they're entitled to make as far as investments are concerned. And while not everybody is - loves every public utility...

CONAN: So Mike...

MIKE: ...they can afford it.

CONAN: Mike, in other words, for a concession, the public option, which is dead already, you're willing to give - you're willing to ask for things that are going to be very difficult?

MIKE: Well...

CONAN: That's no much of a compromise.

MIKE: Well, I don't know how - there's - there has to be - if the people who are against the single provider plan wanted - want insurance to continue to be a market, then they have to be willing to compromise and to agree to some control...

CONAN: I see. Your compromise is that they have to compromise. So...

MIKE: But we have - I mean, everybody has to compromise. I could be a compromise on the amount or on the approach. But I can't see there's anything wrong with trying to figure out that the health insurance is really a public utility. It's something that everybody needs and everybody has a right to.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the phone call. But I think you might have a tough time running for Congress. Mickey Edwards?

Mr. EDWARDS: Well, you know, look. The issue is not whether or not people should give up what their beliefs are about what's good for the country. You know, the idea - the strength of an American democracy is that we do have vigorous debates between alternative points of view. So it's not a matter of the Congress not working if one side supports a bill and the other side opposes it. The problem is that they're doing that because it's for the partisan advantage, their - how their party can win the next election. That, I think, is the problem that has to be overcome.

CONAN: Here's a couple of good emails, this is from Jennifer in Brighton, Michigan: Thank goodness I keep voting for Democrats who promise to protect choice to get women's votes, then fail to stand for my rights or, indeed, accomplish much of anything once they're in office. I never understood people who said there was no difference between the two major parties. Now, for the first time, I'm starting to wonder.

This is from Steve, and he's writing - he doesn't tell us where he's writing from. He said: I'd go for a cap on attorney's awards and medical malpractice cases - that's something the Republicans have been asking for - and some kind of reasonable limitation on awards for pain and suffering. Both of these drastically increase overall medical costs to all, beyond their literal expense, some to cross cases. The Republicans should not be able to resist this bait - apparently that in hopes of getting the rest of the health care bill through.

And this is from Brian in San Francisco, a member, he says, of KALW, our member station there. Why not just let Republicans filibuster in the Senate? They would have to stay up all night. It would be entertaining to watch that pettiness on C-SPAN.

Ron Elving, is that an option, if we have a real filibuster?

ELVING: That is something that fascinates me, and not just as a journalist wanting to watch. I do not understand - well, I guess I can stretch my mind to understand why individually senators don't want to go back to those days. But it seems to me that in extremis, as Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats are now, they should at least explore the possibility of going back to real filibusters, not the virtual filibusters and threatened filibusters and holds that we have today, and make someone who cares this much go out on the floor and really hold the floor.

CONAN: I'll give you the last 10 seconds, Mickey Edwards.

Mr. EDWARDS: Oh, you know, I wrote a column on the Atlantic last week, said exactly that: make them stand up and filibuster.

CONAN: And he called himself the iconoclast. So...

Mr. EDWARDS: Amen. You, I know. Right.

CONAN: Mickey Edwards, thanks very much for being with us today. Mickey Edwards, vice president of the Aspen Institute, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma for eight terms. Also, our thanks to senior Washington editor Ron Elving, who joined us today from his home in Maryland. Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And as we go next to our break, let's - we'll be talking about the new offensive in Afghanistan on the Opinion Page. Michael O'Hanlon argues that taking greater military risks may get the U.S. closer to political goals. This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.