- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

Senate Democrats wasted no time yesterday going after the White House with new their majority status, unleashing Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, President Bushs campaign foe, as the administration watchdog.
Mr. Lieberman of Connecticut, new chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and last years failed Democratic candidate for vice president, said politics would play no role in his planned hearings on the administrations environmental and energy policies.
"I will not use the powers that come with this committee chairmanship to practice the politics of personal attacks and destruction," Mr. Lieberman said.
"I reject the idea of wasting taxpayer dollars on investigations aimed at no more than political retribution," he said.
Republicans were openly skeptical.
Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said Mr. Lieberman is "turning the Governmental Affairs Committee into a politically charged committee."
"Not having the opportunity to serve as vice president might make him more political than normal," Mr. Craig said.
Meanwhile, Republicans ap-peared close to a deal with Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota on reorganizing Senate committees. Both sides indicated they were nearing an agreement in which Democrats would also offer nonbinding assurances to treat Mr. Bushs judicial nominees fairly.
"Its surely close," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and a member of the GOPs negotiating team. "Were trying to reflect the views of all of those senators … who are looking for assuring a fair process for presidential nominees."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said last night that the agreement would probably not spell out a time limit for Democrats to act on nominees and would not change Democrats ability to block the administrations candidates through a procedure known as "blue slips."
Under that policy, a single senator can effectively stop a nomination simply by raising an unspecified objection.
"Its not as complicated or as partisan as you might think," Mr. Lott said of the talks. "Neither party wants to fundamentally change the blue-slip role. But they do want to make sure there is some sort of process for these nominees to have a hearing or have a vote."
Negotiators said an agreement in principle should come today. The full Senate would then need to vote on the pact early next week.
Only a day after Mr. Daschle pledged a bipartisan spirit as the new majority leader, Mr. Lieberman announced hell conduct rigorous oversight hearings into the Bush administrations energy policy. Congressional Democrats have decided in recent weeks that Mr. Bush is vulnerable politically on the issue.
As ranking Democrat on the committee, Mr. Lieberman automatically became its chairman Wednesday when Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords quit the Republican Party to become an independent and gave control of the chamber to the Democrats.
Senate rules give the committee the power to study "the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of all agencies and departments of the government."
Mr. Lieberman said his panel will hold a hearing June 20 on energy deregulation and whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is "properly executing its duties to provide fair and reasonable electric rates" in California. He hopes to make the case for price caps.
Mr. Bush last week told California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat who has hired political advisers from the Gore-Lieberman campaign, that he opposes energy price caps.
"I think that FERC has the authority to act and should have acted already to give more protection," Mr. Lieberman said.
Mr. Domenici, a member of Mr. Liebermans committee, said the panel ought to investigate the Clinton administrations role in the nations energy problems.
"We should ask what Clinton didnt do to put us in this unbearable and untenable position," Mr. Domenici said. "For eight years, we had no energy policy. Fairness requires we hold hearings into how we got into this mess to begin with."
Mr. Lieberman "acts as if this all came about when Bush came into the White House and thats not so," said Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican.
Stephen Hess, congressional analyst at the Brookings Institution, said oversight has not been the committees "primary role" lately, although the panel does have that authority.
"I was a little surprised at Liebermans comments," Mr. Hess said. "There was sort of a sharp-edged note to it. A red flag went up in my mind the notion of suddenly Lieberman, of all people, talking about oversight" of the Bush administration.
Marshall Wittmann, a congressional analyst at the Hudson Institute, noted that the committee held hearings under Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee in 1997-98 into President Clintons re-election campaign-finance scandals.
"The committee has a wide investigative purview of government irregularities and oversight," Mr. Wittman said.
"Its perfect for someone who might be looking at 2004."
Mr. Lieberman, considered a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, will appear at a Coos County, N.H., Democratic fund-raiser in November.
In addition to his examination of high energy prices, Mr. Lieberman said his committee will also investigate "the Bush administrations plan to roll back a variety of health, safety and environmental regulations."
On another front in the new Democratic majority, Mr. Daschle said yesterday he intends to bring up for a vote soon legislation that would prohibit employers and insurers from discriminating against people based on their genetic makeup.
The bill was introduced two years ago, but has run into opposition in the Republican-led House.
It would forbid health insurers from denying individuals coverage, for instance, based on genetic test results.
"Were here to say, we are through waiting," Mr. Daschle said. "Its time for our laws to catch up with our science. We cant take one step forward in science, but two steps backwards in civil rights."

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