As the new Congress prepares to take over, there are new glimmers of hope that we may not have two years of partisan stalemate. Providing that hope are the roles of the most veteran Delawareans in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden and U. S. Sen. Tom Carper.
Biden is now widely credited with working out the deal that led to the compromise tax bill. Carper says he wants to continue to "build bridges" that will lead to the passage of other important legislation.
The vice president, who served six full terms in the Senate, negotiated secretly with Sen. Mitch McConnell, minority leader from Kentucky. It was another sign of how much Pres. Obama relies on Biden. The result was a bill that not only continued all the Bush tax cuts but also extended unemployment benefits, set a new estate tax and reduced payroll taxes. Carper voted for the bill, like many others, "not with enthusiasm."
Yet Carper sees that the compromise may herald the possibility that the White House and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, could work together.
In an interview last week, in the midst of Congress' rush to pass measures before the flood of Republicans reaches Washington, Carper said the principal reason for his optimism is Biden's ability to reach across party lines and President Obama's apparently willingness to "use the Clinton playbook."
Former President Clinton met with Obama before announcing his support for the tax bill, and Carper hopes Obama will realize the value of Clinton's changed strategy after the GOP's big 1994 congressional victory.
The former president moved toward the political center in working with the Republican majority. Obama faces a House that will be controlled by Republicans, many of them elected with tea party support, and a slimmer majority of Democrats in the Senate. Biden may be called on frequently to break 50-50 tie votes.
Where Obama and the GOP should find agreement is the need to reduce the nation's deficit. Carper wants Obama to include in his State of the Union address ways to attack the nation's structural deficit.
A starting point would be the recommendations of the Deficit Reduction Commission co-chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson.
The phrase Carper embraces is "culture of thrift," looking for every possible avenue to have the federal government save.
Among the initiatives he has been pushing are giving the president a line-item veto; requiring all executive departments to find improper payments and getting that money back; and cutting energy costs in the many buildings the federal government owns or rents. In that last area, Obama last week signed Carper's cosponsored Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act.
Among Carper's newest initiatives is authoring with Sen. Joe Lieberman something called the National Asset Act, which calls on the government and the private sector to work together to address the threat of cyber-hackers.
That vulnerability was vividly demonstrated in the cyber attacks launched to support WikiLeaker Julian Assange.
Carper has also been in the forefront of pushing the Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Act, which would grant greater autonomy to the Census Bureau before the 2020 Census. The Senate has passed the bill but it has run into opposition from Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican who will head the House committee in charge of the census.
When Carper and I talked he was planning to meet with Issa to see if objections cannot be met.
"Who do I need to talk to" is the philosophy Carper espouses in asking Democratic committee chairmen what Republican senators he should lobby to win support. Such efforts echo what won Biden friendships and success during his 36 years.
Carper is now in his second term in the Senate, having won re-election in 2006 with 70 percent of the vote, after a long career as Delaware's congressman and governor. He gains some clout from his high committee rankings: on the Banking, Homeland Security, and Environment and Public Works committees -- even though he ranks only 41st in seniority among the senators.
At 63, he may be the senior senator from Delaware but he jests that until this year's election of Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. John Carney he was the junior member of the three Delawareans in Congress.