Tuesday, January 03, 2006

U.S. Senators Who Made Us Proud in 2005

When I announced on December 29 that Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) had won my site's Senate Weasel of the Year Award, I promised that I would follow-up with a report on the anti-weasels: Democrats who vote like they understand their party affiliation and who consistently make us proud.

Nelson was crowned Weasel of the Year based on a body of disgusting work in 2005 that included voting with BIll Frist and the GOP majority on 41 of 50 major votes – a dismal showing, to be sure. Rounding out the top five were vice-weasel, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) along with Kent Conrad (D-ND), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Mark Pryor (D-AR).

While it's easy to get discouraged watching these guys crossing the aisle to go against things most of us support very strongly – not to mention Joe Lieberman's (D-CT) disgraceful performance in literally and figuratively playing kissy-face with George W. Bush for much of the year – it's important that we also salute our Democratic lions in the Senate.

Think all Democratic Senators are made of the same stuff? Think again. Then, take a look at the Senators who had absolutely zero weasel-worthy votes in 2005:
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
  • Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
  • John Kerry (D-MA)
  • Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
  • Jack Reed (D-RI)
  • Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)
No politician can please everyone, but when you look at the sheer number of important votes that these seven Senators had to be involved with, it is commendable and somewhat astounding that they voted like real Democrats on every, single one of them.

It's a shame we're losing Senators Corzine and Sarbanes this year – the former is the next Governor of New Jersey and the latter is retiring –and, regardless of what you think of John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, his performance in the Senate last year certainly made me feel like my support was well placed.

Kerry and Jack Reed deserve special notice for their efforts to get the GOP majority to fund the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help the elderly and disabled heat their homes this winter. Sadly, they failed, but they managed on three occasions to get the matter to the Senate floor for a vote, only to have it rejected each time at the hands of the GOP leadership. Likewise, Ted Kennedy attempted twice in 2005 to help working Americans by getting a hike in the federal minimum wage, which has been at $5.15 per hour for nine years.

Frank Lautenberg has been a burr under the Republican saddle since returning to the Senate in 2003, fighting prominently on White House manipulation of the media – jumping on their tendency to pay "journalists" to write stories favorable to the administration – and fought hard against the NRA-backed gun bill, which passed in the Senate over the summer. He's also been front and center in calling for Karl Rove's firing and delighted many of us when he proposed an amendment to rename the 2005 Republican budget reconciliation bill the “Moral Disaster of Monumental Proportion Reconciliation Act.”

Others deserving positive attention are Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Barack Obama (D-IL) whose voting records were blemished only by their votes in favor of the GOP Energy Policy Act of 2005 – but it's important to note that this bill passed 85-12 and only seven of their Democratic colleagues voted against it. Senators Clinton and Schumer, both of New York, also had only one vote in which they sided with the Republicans, in the form of the Tax Relief Act of 2005, which 12 other Democrats also voted to approve. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) voted to confirm John Roberts as Chief Justice of Supreme Court but, other than that, acted like a real Democrat on 49 of 50 critical votes.

So, while the likes of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson sometimes leave us feeling like we're in an epic tug-of-war with some on our own side pulling against us, it's important and refreshing to look at the people fighting for things that matter and seldom, if ever, wavering. I still wish Senator Clinton would use some of her star power and begin showing more leadership on issues like the Iraq war but, absent that, at least she works on a day-to-day basis in a way that makes me satisfied to have voted for her.

We may disagree with them on one issue or another, but the 14 Senators mentioned here deserve praise and encouragement as they go about the business of being the standard bearers for the Democratic party in the 2006 U.S. Senate.