TWO THINGS seem inevitable about health care legislation: The Congress almost certainly will pass something this year. And it almost certainly will fall short of what we need - in part because Republicans essentially took themselves out of the negotiations that could have brought about a better product, by making it clear that they wouldn't vote for any bill unless the majority party caved on central points.
We could spend all day talking about how the idea of the minority party serving as "loyal opposition" fell out of favor, or how much blame Democrats share for the partisan divide that has prevented the legislative process from working as it should in this and so many other cases. Instead, we'd like to celebrate the possibility that the other legislation that is consuming the Congress this year might not suffer the same fate - in large part because of Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Earlier this month, Mr. Graham joined with the Democrats' leading negotiator on climate legislation, Sen. John Kerry, to call for a bipartisan approach to the issue that seemed sure to compete with health legislation on vacuous partisanship. In a column in The New York Times, they described a package designed to "address legitimate concerns among Democrats and Republicans and the other constituencies with stakes in this legislation" and expressed confidence that "a legitimate bipartisan effort can put America back in the lead again."
Simply making the effort would be unexpectedly good news. But it's also a smart effort, backed by their aggressive argument that alternative energy sources and restrictions on carbon emissions are essential to protect not just the environment but also our national security, by reducing our dependence on energy from the very nations that want to do us harm.
Moreover, they laid out something close to the "all of the above" approach to energy that this editorial board has long considered essential to dealing with those dual threats. In a town hall meeting the next night where he was booed, yelled at and called a traitor for refusing to simply reject every proposal with a "D" next to it, Mr. Graham explained that he was more than happy to work across party lines if he can increase nuclear power and open up off-shore drilling - elements that almost certainly would not be in an energy package that lacked significant Republican input. (At that same town hall meeting, Sen. Graham declared that he was going to do everything in his power to keep the Republican Party from becoming "the party of angry white guys" - a most encouraging pledge, which only further inflamed the angry white guys who were booing him.)
There was a time not so long ago when the specific elements of such a joint proposal would have been the only thing noteworthy about it: Would this be the compromise that would fly, or would it be the one put together by some other bipartisan group? We long for that time. But while the broad outline of their proposal seems sensible, and we hope it will lead to legislation that lacks some of the obvious flaws of the bill the House passed on a party-line vote, in this case the substance pales in comparison to the process behind it - and potentially ahead of it.
In undertaking this effort, Mr. Graham has once again demonstrated that he understands that the appropriate role of a U.S. senator is not to score points for his political party. Instead, it is to do all he can to see to it that any legislation that passes serves the nation's best interests - an impossible task for those who are willing only to say "no."