Tags: Dems | Plot | Senate | Agenda

Dems Plot Senate Agenda

Monday, 28 May 2001 12:00 AM

The incoming Senate majority leader, Sen. Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., meanwhile, promised to work with the Bush administration but said some of the president's priorities would be killed or scaled back.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card said Thursday's decision by Vermont Sen. James Jeffords to quit the Republican Party and become an independent -- thus giving Democrats a one-vote advantage in the Senate -- would not cause Bush to change course.

"I think it's significant, but it's not earth-shattering," Card said on the CBS program "Face the Nation." "I mean, after all, Washington has functioned for many, many years where the White House was one party and the House was of another party, and the Senate was of a different party. We'll be able to make things happen.

"If there is a will to get things done, there is a way to get things done," he added. "This president has both the will and the way, and we hope that the Senate and the House leadership will as well."

Congress on Saturday voted to approve a 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax-reduction package that retained most of what Bush had sought in the proposal he sent to lawmakers in February. Twelve Senate Democrats joined Republicans to hand Bush the first big legislative victory of his four-month-old presidency; the vote in the House was a resounding 240-154 in favor of the tax cut.

"The president has a positive agenda for America," Card said. "The tax relief plan is a positive statement to America."

Bush's most senior aide said the president bore no responsibility for Jeffords' decision to leave the GOP, even though the moderate senator said he was switching because he was increasingly at odds with the administration and its conservative agenda.

"I think I better do a better job of communicating with people on Capitol Hill," Card said. "But the president has done nothing wrong.

"This is not a partisan agenda," he said. "The president did not put forward a partisan agenda."

Instead, Card said, Bush's focus on tax cuts, education reform and a national energy strategy were in keeping with most Americans' priorities.

Reacting to remarks earlier Sunday by Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat who will take over as Senate majority leader in early June, Card said, "It sounds to me like he doesn't have an agenda other than an agenda of 'no.'"

Daschle, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press, said he would take "centrist" positions on matters important to both Democrats and the administration such as education, energy and missile defense. But he warned that a controversial plan by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to allow oil companies to begin drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was "finished."

He added that he objected to a return to nuclear power for the United States, as called for in the administration's recently announced energy strategy, and said more emphasis on conservation was needed.

Daschle acknowledged that he and Bush had not spoken in more than two months, until he called the president after Jeffords' announcement. "I said: 'Look, if there's ever been a time for us to begin working together, this is it. Now we've got to find a way with which to talk more effectively."

The senator said he and other Democrat leaders had found the president unwilling to work with them on key priorities such as tax cuts and the budget.

"They decided to shut us out, work with a couple of Democrats, and try to maneuver that way," Daschle said. "It worked for them as long as they had reconciliation protection. It won't work now."

Daschle, who will take over as majority leader in early June once Jeffords' party switch is official, said his first priority was education reform, a priority on which Bush campaigned for president.

Missile defense, another major -- and controversial -- Bush proposal, Daschle said, was not "dead," but he suggested it would be scaled back from the ultimately space-based system the president envisions.

"We're for continued research, but if you're asking should we violate the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty (between Washington and Moscow), if you're asking should we alienate every ally and Russia and China besides, if you're asking should we commit to something, deploy something that still hasn't been shown to work, I'd say no.

"Let's continue to move it forward, but let's get the facts first and let's try to work out the problems first," he added.

As he had after Saturday's approval in Congress of the tax cut, Daschle on Sunday again criticized the measure as risky. In reply to a question, he said of the reductions: "Well, we're not going to try to undo them. We just think there's going to be some very serious budgetary implications out there that we're going to have to confront, but it's too early to decide just how that is all going to play itself out."

Since Jeffords' stunning defection last week, rumors have been circulating in Washington that other moderate Republican senators and a Democrat might also be preparing to switch sides. Republican Sen. John McCain and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee have been mentioned, along with Democratic Sens. Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Bush and Chafee were the only Senate Republicans to vote against the tax cut Saturday; Miller has chided his fellow Democrats for not being sincere in its stated quest for bipartisanship in government.

Daschle said only that he has talked with McCain and Chafee about changing parties. "All I've said is that, look, if you are interested, we'd be more than happy to talk with you, " he said. "I would say that there's always been an open invitation, and we've reiterated that invitation on many occasions."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who ran for vice president in 2000, said on "Face the Nation" that Miller and Nelson last week were unlikely to bolt.

"These are both Democrats committed to the party; they're independent," Lieberman said. "But I'll tell you one reason that I'm convinced they're not going to leave the Democratic Party: It's the way Tom Daschle and the Democratic caucus have handled dissent. Neither Ben Nelson or Zell Miller have ever been excluded from the party. Nobody ever threatened punishment."

Card said he hoped McCain would stay in the GOP and that the topic of a party switch had not come up in his conversations with the senator in recent days. He extended that hope for Chafee, but said he hadn't spoken to the Rhode Island lawmaker of late.

The two "may not agree with everything the president does, but I think their principles are reflected in the same principles that the president has," the chief of staff said.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., also appearing on "Face the Nation," repeated his assertion from last week that Jeffords' decision stemmed from Republicans having become "arrogant" in not doing enough for the party's moderates.

"When you become arrogant, you get sloppy, you disconnect," Hagel said. "This is not catastrophic for us, but we should learn here. The president must learn. … That means he's going to have to understand issues better, more deeply, get himself immersed in this. I think he has an opportunity to do that.

"We need to do it better on the Hill. We can't be a party that just is opposed to things because we don't like the alternatives. That's not what governance, responsible governance is about."

The man who will soon yield to Daschle, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, has reportedly been under fire from some in his party for letting Jeffords slip away. But Hagel and other GOP senators said in television interviews Sunday that they did not blame Lott.

For his part, Lott, on ABC's "This Week" program, cited Jeffords' long-standing reputation as a "liberal Republican" as being behind the defection.

Asked if his leadership of the GOP in the Senate was in jeopardy, Lott said: "No, it's not. We've got a good leadership team. … We're going to continue to work for the things that we've talked about - tax cuts, education, energy policy, strong national defense and health reform issues. So we're all going to stick together and we believe we can accomplish a lot for the people.

"I think all this finger-pointing really is counterproductive," he sad. "It doesn't do any good. And a lot of it is fed by the media. The White House did everything they needed to do -- everything we asked them to do" to keep Jeffords.

Daschle and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., both said Sunday that Jeffords had not been guaranteed a chairmanship of any committee in exchange for his agreement to leave the GOP. Jeffords has said he plans to vote as a member of the Democratic caucus, though he will officially be an independent.

--

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The incoming Senate majority leader, Sen. Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., meanwhile, promised to work with the Bush administration but said some of the president's priorities would be killed or scaled back. White House chief of staff Andrew Card said Thursday's decision by Vermont...
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Monday, 28 May 2001 12:00 AM
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