Howard Baker, Bob Dole Hailed for Bipartisanship

WASHINGTON (AP) — Once upon a time in Congress, compromise between Republicans and Democrats was the norm. And a witty GOP senator named Bob Dole was one of the best practitioners of the art, preferably on a West-facing balcony of the Capitol where he could get sun on his face while lawmaking.
Nearly 16 years after Dole left the Senate to run for president, the balcony is named for him. And the former Kansas senator is half of a pair of leaders being feted in Washington for their century of combined service and for practicing this thing called bipartisanship that seems lost, for now.
“All I know is I don’t have to make a speech,” Dole, 88, said in a telephone interview before the festivities. He said he’s feeling a bit better lately but still suffers from chronic back pain.
Dole’s predecessor as Senate Republican leader, Howard Baker of Tennessee, also was being honored Wednesday night by the non-profit group they helped found, the Bipartisan Policy Center, dedicated to “great moments in compromise by encouraging civil, respectable political discourse between the political parties.”
That sounds quaint after more than a year of divided government mired in standoffs over the nation’s troubled economy and, lately, a selection of long-settled social issues like access to contraception and the Violence Against Women Act. So polarized is Congress in the 2012 election year that centrists like Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson are fleeing.
In fact, Dole and Baker, both former presidential candidates and veterans of World War II, were at the center of such historic moments of bipartisanship. They could each be conciliators and fierce partisans.
Baker, 86, served in the Senate from 1967 to 1985 and was the senior Republican on the congressional panel investigating Watergate. He is famous for asking the question of his fellow Republicans: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
His calm demeanor was considered key to passage of the 1978 Panama Canal Treaty, which called for the gradual transfer of the canal to Panama. He served as Senate majority leader from 1981 to 1985.
The equally steady and acerbic Dole was his successor as leader of the Senate Republicans. He developed a reputation in the Senate of valuing thoughtful discussion over incivility in lawmaking, and, wounded in World War II, became a leading advocate for veterans and disabled Americans generally. He was a key to passing the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
“I think the Senate operated more effectively then than it does today,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., one of the hosts of the tribute. “But I don’t think it would make much to change it today. It would take a change of behavior rather than a change of rules.”

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