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Tom Dennis

Dennis: Bipartisanship lives, say Democrat senators

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got most of the credit.

But in the days leading up to last week's successful agreement to restart the government, a bipartisan group of about 13 or 14 senators hashed out the key points of the deal.

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The group has gotten a lot of attention nationally -- partly because it marked a welcome re-emergence of the Senate's traditional comity and civility, partly because it was led by several Senate women.

And it deserves attention in North Dakota and Minnesota, because both Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., were members.

Kudos to the senators for their willingness not only to support the bipartisan accord but also to take part in its creation. And as the Boston Globe editorialized about Susan Collins of Maine and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire -- two Republican senators whose presence among the 14 was crucial -- "they have distinguished themselves by acknowledging that finding a way to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government is more important than scoring a partisan victory."

Collins, Ayotte and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, "started a bipartisan group whose negotiating framework formed the centerpiece" of the Senate's eventual deal, The New York Times reported.

Furthermore, "of the 13 senators on a bipartisan committee who worked on the deal framework, about half were women, even though women make up only 20 percent of the Senate."

As Sen. John McCain later said on the Senate floor, "If there is a good outcome, it is the fact that 14 of us were able to join together, Republican and Democrat -- leadership I must fully admit was provided primarily by women in the Senate."

In a fascinating story, Time magazine this week takes a look at the women's role and notes that the camaraderie they share dates back much earlier than the shutdown.

For example, female Senate members for years have gotten together now and then for dinner. "Once a year, the group also dines with the female Supreme Court Justices," Time notes.

"In April, the Senate women breached their no-outsider rule by agreeing to dine at the White House with President Obama. Going around the table, California Sen. Barbara Boxer remarked that 100 years ago, they'd have been meeting outside the White House gates to demand the right to vote. 'A hundred years ago, I'd have been serving you," Obama replied.'"

As a result of these and similar gestures -- such as the senators' refusal to publicly criticize each other -- "the only place the old boys' network seems to function anymore is among the four Republicans and 16 Democrats who happen to be women," Time reports.

Last week, the trust that the senators have come to share paid off.

To anyone with experience in human relations, that's not a surprise.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz chose a different approach. The confrontations he sparked (and the contempt he showed for fellow Republicans) left him with very few allies and his party at its lowest level of support in recent history.

There is a better way, and Heitkamp and Klobuchar were among those who practiced it. Here's hoping others in Congress watch and learn.

Dennis is the opinion editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is part of Forum News Service. Email him at tdennis@gfherald.com.

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Tom Dennis
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