- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

Senate Democrats, faced with a veto threat, abandoned their demands for extra farm spending yesterday and approved a less-costly bill to give President Bush his third big victory of the week in Congress.
"The other side won," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat. "We admit that."
The Senate unanimously approved a House-passed $5.5 billion farm-aid package after Democrats failed to break a Republican filibuster against a $7.4 billion farm bill.
Although the difference is relatively small in the overall budget, Republicans said their victory sets an important precedent for upcoming spending battles. And they said it was especially significant to exert fiscal discipline in agriculture spending, an area in which senators typically are not shy about adding money.
"President Bush scored a big victory today," said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and assistant minority leader. "We had one of our first real tests."
Asked why he gave up on a matter he called "urgent," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, replied, "We could see that their filibuster on this bill was going to be successful for the indefinite future. I called it as I saw it."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Mr. Daschle finally realized that farmers would either get $5.5 billion in immediate aid or no relief at all before September. Congress adjourned yesterday for a month.
"I think he decided he didn't want this dead cat on his door," he said.
The vote yesterday morning gave the president his third hard-fought legislative triumph in 36 hours. On Wednesday night, the House approved the administration's national energy plan, including a proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On Thursday night, the House narrowly approved a patients' rights bill that includes the president's demand for restrictions on lawsuits.
Mr. Daschle and his Democratic colleagues, confronted with the administration's renewed momentum on Capitol Hill, were clearly defensive at a news conference yesterday.
"We will come back, and we will offer this legislation again, and we will have the filibusters, and we will have the amendments," Mr. Daschle said. "I think it deserves a fight, and you're going to continue to see fights like this in the fall when we come back."
The setback had Democratic leaders longing for the days when President Clinton held the veto pen.
"I find it a remarkable distinction between this president and the previous one," Mr. Daschle said. "About three years ago, President Clinton vetoed a bill because it wasn't good enough. This president threatened to veto a bill because it was too good."
A senior Republican aide said Democrats saw the writing on the wall late this week when they received a letter from farm-interest groups asking Democrats to pass the smaller bill.
"They had lost their constituency, as well as the battle," the aide said.
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Bush praised lawmakers for staying within the budget.
"This vote is a victory for our nation's farmers at a time when they need it most," Mr. Bush said.
Democrats, who wanted to borrow an extra $1.9 billion for farm relief in the fiscal 2002 budget, said farmers will receive only about 85 percent of the federal aid they got last year.
"Farmers and farm families are going to feel this pinch," said Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "In North Dakota, we're going to have $60 million less to help farmers who are faced with the lowest real prices since the Great Depression."
Democratic leaders criticized the president for not objecting to $33 billion in energy tax credits approved by the House while vetoing extra farm aid.
"This isn't about additional spending; it's about additional spending on things the president cares about," Mr. Daschle said. "If it's an oil company, he'll spend the money."
Mr. Daschle said Republicans would receive heat from their farming constituents over the August recess.
But Republicans were jubilant that they held the line on spending, at least for the moment, and managed to send a farm-aid bill to the president.
"There is a tremendous and collective sigh of relief in farm country as of this morning, because rather than a presidential veto, rather than taking $2 billion out of next year's farm bill, rather than a train wreck and a partisan battle, we have passed emergency relief to our farmers and ranchers," said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican.
John Godfrey contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide