Washington Four former Senate majority leaders are heading a new group aimed at putting aside partisan politics and offering solutions to the nation's biggest issues.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, to be announced at a news conference today, will be directed by former Sens. Howard Baker, R-Tenn.; George Mitchell, D-Maine; Bob Dole, R-Kan.; and Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
"We've all been leaders and you know how difficult it is," said Dole, who served as both majority and minority leader between 1985 and 1996. "We're all partisan in a way," Dole said in an interview Monday, adding they also hope to show that "compromise is not a bad word."
Mitchell, who led the Senate from 1989 to 1995, added, "If the four of us can reach consensus in some areas it might have a beneficial effect."
Congress, evenly divided and sharply partisan, in recent years has turned to outside commissions for advice on politically sensitive topics. Two of those nonpartisan groups, the Sept. 11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group, have had considerable influence on policy.
The former senators believe the new group "can help create common sense solutions to key national challenges and can help foster a return to more civil political debate," Baker, the Senate leader from 1981 to 1985, said in a statement.
Baker is married to former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, who represented Kansas as a Republican from 1978 to 1997.
The center has a staff of 20 and a budget of $7 million for 2007, funded by several philanthropic groups. At first, it plans to concentrate on projects dealing with agriculture, energy and national security policy.
Daschle and Dole currently head a study into 21st century agriculture and the opportunities for farmers in energy production, conservation and greenhouse gas mitigation. Dole said he hoped to have that report finished in the next 30 days.
The former senators also will advise a commission on energy policy and a national security initiative led by NATO's former supreme allied commander, retired Gen. James L. Jones.
Mitchell said he was interested in health care issues and hoped to contribute to the debate over port security. Dole said he would like to work on penal system reform and disability issues involving veterans.