Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is a firebrand progressive still relatively new to the U.S. Senate after his 2006 victory elevated him from a House member.
Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich is a fiscal hawk and occasional party maverick about to retire from the Senate next year at the end of his second term.
But both of Ohio’s senators enjoyed success last week in advancing their political agendas.
As so often happens in Washington, achieving that success meant exercising some pragmatism, willingness to compromise and even some modesty — none of that easy for any member of the world’s most exclusive club.
Brown has been a leading Senate proponent of including the strongest possible “public option,” government-run insurance plan as part of the Democrats’ health-care reform bill.
Brown’s public-option passion has been chronicled in The Columbus Dispatch and other Ohio papers, but he has won national prominence on the issue, too.
On Nov. 16, Brown was highlighted in a New York Times story about liberal senators who met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to demand a strong public option be kept in the health-care bill. Brown made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the decision to let states opt out of a federal public-option plan and wasn’t willing to sign off on more compromises.
“We figure on the public option there has been enough compromise already,” Brown told the Times.
But Brown, you suspect, knew all along that to get a filibuster-proof, 60-vote margin without any GOP support, more public option concessions would be required.
His success in elevating himself to a player on the issue was evident when Reid named the Ohio Democrat as one of five liberal senators who would conduct intra-party negotiations with five centrist senators.
A deal was reached, and compromises were made by Brown’s side, giving up a pure public option in favor of having the federal Office of Personnel Management offer consumers a national insurance plan that relies on private policies.
The win for liberals is that consumers age 55 and older will get to buy into Medicare, the program now for seniors 65 and up. But there, too, compromises were made. Many liberals have long wanted to allow people of all ages to buy into Medicare as a government-run, single-payer system.
After the negotiations, Brown said: “My goal is to insure more people and keep costs under control. I don’t care how it’s done. I just want it done. That was my focus in the negotiations.”
Whether a final bill ultimately passes the House and Senate remains to be seen, as is whether most Americans like it. But Brown was a player last week in making the former more likely.
Voinovich’s success was more wonky and much less of a high-profile issue.
The Ohio Republican has since 2006 been pushing for a federal fiscal commission modeled after the military-base closing process. The bipartisan commission would come up with recommendations to overhaul the tax code and curtail the growth of Social Security and Medicare and other long-term entitlements. Its recommendations would have to be considered by Congress in an up-or-down vote, with no amendments.
That may be the only realistic chance to make the tax hikes and/or spending and benefit cuts needed to preserve the future solvency of Social Security and Medicare, given the gridlocked, partisan-gripped state of Congress.
Last week, Voinovich’s idea was essentially adopted — and co-opted — by two more powerful Senate players, the top Democrat and Republican on the budget committee: Sens. Kent Conrad, D-Nev., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
At a news conference, Voinovich was just one of a number of senators who got to speak — after Conrad and Gregg outlined what is now deemed as their proposal.
Voinovich was a happy man. A big part of what he hopes will be his legacy as a senator has a better chance of being enacted, and Voinovich didn’t mind standing in the background to get that win.
Jonathan Riskind is chief of The Columbus Dispatch Washington bureau. Readers can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.