Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (search) accused President Bush and congressional Republicans of bending to "the whispered wishes of a few right wing activists," yet said this week's compromise over filibuster (search) rules could portend a new era of bipartisanship.
"Americans are sick and tired of getting caught in the crossfire of partisan sniping," Reid said Thursday in a speech at the National Press Club. "Americans want us to put the commonsense center ahead of nonsense."
Within hours of the speech, Reid and other Democrats voted to block a final confirmation vote on John R. Bolton's (search) nomination as U.N. ambassador, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist fired back.
"Some 72 hours after hailing an agreement that sought to end partisan filibusters, the Democrats have launched yet another partisan filibuster," he said in a written statement. "Actions speak volumes, and so does inaction. Given the chance to advance the cause of comity in the Senate, the Democrats have chosen partisan confrontation over cooperation. And rather than working to advance America's agenda and act by voting on the floor, the Democrats keep stepping on the brake."
The Nevada Democrat spoke three days after an agreement among Senate centrists of both parties averted a showdown over the Senate's filibuster rules. In the days since, the Senate has approved Priscilla Owen (search), one of Bush's appeals court nominees that Democrats long blocked. Other confirmations are expected early next month.
Reid claimed the compromise marked "the defeat of the nuclear option (search)," the term used within the Senate for a Republican proposal to strip Democrats of their right to block final votes on controversial nominees. Republicans argue otherwise, and Frist, R-Tenn., has made clear he is ready to resurrect the issue if Democrats resort to blocking tactics in opposing future nominees.
Senate Democrats, long tarred by Republicans as obstructionists, have sought to pivot quickly onto domestic issues.
In his speech, Reid said Democrats wanted to focus on issues such as national security, the economy, health care, reducing gasoline prices and improving retirement security while continuing to "stop George Bush from privatizing Social Security (search)."
He said the outcome of the fight over filibusters showed "what is possible when people of good faith — Republicans and Democrats — join hands and put principles ahead of partisanship."
At the same time, issues he mentioned as ripe for cooperation are Democratic priorities. They include raising the minimum wage, permitting the importation of prescription drugs (search) from Canada and expanding federally funded research on embryonic stem cells.
Bush has threatened to veto House-passed stem cell legislation (search), a threat Reid said results from pressure from the right wing.
"When George Bush and the Republican leadership make their decisions, the whispered wishes of a few right wing activists drown out the pleas of America's families," he said.