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The 108th Congress: Sen. Daschle Is Still in the Driver's Seat

Monday, 11 November 2002 12:00 AM

So, Republicans will control the Senate (and the House) in the 108th Congress. And they may yet control the lame-duck session of the 107th. For the moment, the Democrats will control the lame duck because the interim senator from Minnesota, Dean Barkley, has just announced that he will not join either party's caucus.

However, control should shift to the GOP when Senator-elect Jim Talent of Missouri (R) is seated. As a result, President George W. Bush is insisting that his Homeland Security bill be passed in the lame-duck session.

Well and good.

But the White House needs to help the Senate GOP leadership lower expectations for the new Congress. Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told NBC News that Democrats in the Senate are not going away and that they intend to do in the 108th Congress exactly what they did in the 107th Congress. That means one thing: Obstruction.

While a few Democratic senators such as Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska and perhaps from time to time John Breaux of Louisiana may want to cooperate with the Republicans, there is little doubt that Daschle will be able muster the 41 votes needed to filibuster key parts of the Bush agenda.

For all practical purposes, it takes 60 votes to pass contested matters through the Senate, no matter who is in control. Then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole frustrated a number of newly elected Bill Clinton's plans by a selected use of the 41 votes Republicans were able to put together in 1993.

It is much harder for an administration to explain why it can't produce when its party controls both houses of Congress. Bill Clinton could not explain why he and his Congress couldn't do better when they had to defend themselves before the electorate in 1994. They did manage to push through the largest tax increase in U.S. history by a one-vote margin in both the House and the Senate. Beyond that, Clinton didn't have much to show. The electorate punished the Democrats as never before.

So, once the president gets his Homeland Security bill through the Congress this year, the president should tell the public over and over again that 60 votes are needed to pass most anything in the Senate.

Since the election, I have read at least eight columns suggesting that now President Bush will be able to get his judicial nominations through the Senate. Not necessarily. The abortion rights crowd believes the Democrats owe them big time. They went all out to help Democrats such as Tim Johnson in South Dakota, and their payback will be the defeat of various judicial nominees.

There is strong pressure on the White House to re-nominate Judge Priscilla Owen and even Judge Charles Pickering. I don't disagree with that idea. But the White House and the Senate GOP leadership need to be prepared for the real possibility that the liberal Democrats will filibuster those nominations.

Senate rules are arcane. Most people don't understand them. The pompous Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V., has absorbed that fact and has been able to extract billions of taxpayer dollars for West Virginia just because he knows how to manipulate the rules. Who can explain this to the electorate?

Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a deal with Sen. Daschle that, regardless of the outcome of the elections, the committee structure in the Senate wouldn't change for the lame-duck session.

It is the kind of deal Lott is famous for. He gives things away to Daschle and gets nothing in return. Obviously, Lott didn't expect the Republicans to win back control of the Senate.

Now that the public has spoken and a majority of the electorate has chosen the Republicans for the Senate, the moral thing would be for Democrats to surrender control of the committees for the lame-duck session. They won't do it.

Now we may see Lott as majority leader during the lame-duck session (depending on what happens in Minnesota and Missouri), but because the committees will remain in the hands of the Democrats he will have almost no power.

And even in the 108th Congress, unless Lott and company can find 60 votes, if Daschle and his Democrats believe it will advance their cause to be obstructionist, it is clear that they are prepared to do so.

The perception will be that the GOP is now completely in control. The reality is that Daschle is still in the driver's seat. The sooner the president and Lott start to bring that to the attention of the American public the better.

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So, Republicans will control the Senate (and the House) in the 108th Congress.And they may yet control the lame-duck session of the 107th.For the moment, the Democrats will control the lame duck because the interim senator from Minnesota, Dean Barkley, has just announced...
Monday, 11 November 2002 12:00 AM
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