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Schumer's big gamble on the virtue of 'yes'

David Hawkings, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- If the Senate's governing principle can be reduced to this, "Saying no is easier than saying yes," then it makes sense that leading the caucus so often focused on stopping stuff is much less demanding than being in charge of the group that's always held responsible for getting things done.

Six men have personified this lesson during the past 40 years, former senators who had both responsibilities while they were floor leaders. For Democrats Robert C. Byrd, Tom Daschle and Harry Reid, as well as for Republicans Howard H. Baker Jr., Trent Lott and Bob Dole, solid arguments can be made that their stewardships were much more successful as minority leaders than as majority leaders.

The same is on course to come true for Mitch McConnell -- although, to be fair, he's not done being majority leader yet, so his record in that job has a theoretical shot at equaling or exceeding the solid performance he turned in during eight years shepherding a Republican majority.

All of which leads to the breakout senatorial star of the season.

Charles E. Schumer, who spent his first eight months as Democratic leader operating successfully from the "just say no" manual, has transformed this fall's congressional dynamic with an altogether different maneuver.

He got to "yes" with President Donald Trump on a matter of much more strategic than substantive import, which now positions him to have as much leverage as any minority leader -- over a rash of issues coming to pivot points more or less simultaneously at year's end.

Schumer accomplished this by persuading the president, with the help of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to support an extension of Treasury's borrowing powers and uninterrupted government funding, but only until the second Friday after Thanksgiving.

The pact blindsided McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who were at the same Oval Office meeting last week to press for an increase in the debt limit lasting much longer. But within two days, the measure had sailed through Congress on lopsided bipartisan majorities.

With that deal, Schumer "just made himself the most powerful man in America for the month of December," Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska lamented in a speech to his colleagues, because he'll be "the key man in all negotiations" climaxing before lawmakers are sent home for the holidays.

A comprehensive spending package, good for 10 months, will need to win passage by Dec. 8 to get past the next threat of a partial shutdown. Another vote by then to lift the cap on the national debt will be necessary to ward off talk of government default.

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