- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

Majority Leader Tom Daschle may now be running the Senates legislative machinery, but he is going to find it next to impossible to find a majority for his partys liberal agenda.

Organizationally, Democrats control the Senate and its committees by virtue of the 51-49 vote majority that Sen. Jim Jeffords handed them last month when he deserted Republican Party because he could not get his way. But senior White House officials think Mr. Daschle will be restricted by another number needed to clear any bill for Senate action.

"The key number for Tom Daschle is going to be 60-40, not 51-49," a senior adviser to the president told me. "He is going to have to get 60 votes to bring up what he wants. Is he going to be able to do that? We´ll see."

Mr. Daschle needs to find 60 votes to end what is politely known in the Senate rules as "unlimited debate." Another term for it is "a filibuster." Can he find 60 votes to impose price caps on electricity rates? Or the patients´ bill of rights, which would turn our health-care system over to the trial lawyers and drive health-care costs even higher? Or another minimum-wage increase, which would make it harder for small businesses to survive?

It is difficult to see Mr. Daschle getting 60 votes for a Democratic energy bill that would impose even more government and environmental restrictions on the energy industry, as many of his most liberal colleagues want. Or for any bill to repeal or change the tax cuts that have now become law.

There are other weapons the GOP has at its disposal under the rules of the Senate.

Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, points out that any senator at any moment can offer any amendment to any legislation, giving the minority extraordinary opportunities to block or change bills especially in a Senate as narrowly divided as this one.

"The Senate has the strongest minority of any minority on Earth, and the weakest majority of any on Earth," Mr. Gramm reminded his colleagues when they saw their majority slip away from them in the blink of an eye.

Mr. Gramm´s point, of course, is to remind Daschle and his cohorts that the Republicans are going to use every legislative tool at their disposal to fight for President Bush´s agenda.

"While the majority leader will make decisions on what comes up on the floor, any senator can U-turn that agenda with one successful amendment," one Senate leadership official told me. And it will only take one or two votes to do it.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders are urging their rank-and-file members to stand fast against the coming leftward shift in the Senate and the predictably growing demands for the House and the administration to abandon its conservative agenda of fiscal restraint, lower taxes and a little less government in our lives.

The Republican-run House will be the fire wall that keeps the Daschle Democrats at bay. "We are the first line of defense. They have to face us when we go into conference on the spending bills. We are not going to be rolled by them," a key Republican House official said.

"Let us remember what we should not do," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said in a memorandum to his Republican colleagues last week. "We should not wring our hands, nor passively let Senate Democrats set the agenda, nor abandon our own common-sense agenda in a vain search for approval by pundits and liberals."

Thus far, Mr. Bush does not show any indication of doing that. Indeed, four months into his fledgling presidency, the president appears to be on a roll.

He got most of what he wanted in his sweeping $1.35 trillion tax-cut plan, including an effective 33-percent top marginal rate when personal exemptions are factored in. And he is closer to getting his education-reform bill through the Senate after the House passed it with an overwhelmingly bipartisan 384-45 vote.

"The education bill will be the next to pass. We will get into conference when the Senate passes its bill. There will be more confrontation than usual, but our goal will be to move it quickly and in a way that allows the president to chalk up another big win," a House Republican leadership official told me.

After that, it is hard to see much more getting done this year apart from the president´s supplemental defense-spending bill, fast-track trade authorization and the fight to hold the line on spending bills. The tax-cut bill, now on automatic pilot, will be ratcheting tax rates down each year, stimulating the economy. And, thankfully, there is nothing Mr. Daschle and the Democrats will be able to do about that.

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