- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Congressional bipartisanship yesterday showed its most visible cracks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as lawmakers feuded over boosting the economy, compensating laid-off workers and approving judicial nominees.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle accused Republicans of being "obstructionist" for balking at expanded unemployment benefits in an airline-security package and demanding action on judicial nominations. He suggested Republicans were ignoring unemployed workers "in a depression."
"I'm disappointed, obviously, that our Republican colleagues have chosen what has been clearly an obstructionist approach here, but that's their choice," Mr. Daschle said. "Unfortunately, a number of our Republican colleagues apparently are unwilling to give any help to unemployed airline and airplane-manufacturer workers."
Word of his remarks swiftly inflamed Senate Republicans.
"Shame on you, Tom Daschle, for trying to divide us at a moment when we're working to stay united," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican. "This is not an issue of obstructionism. This is an issue of getting it right."
Said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, "We need to keep our rhetoric cool."
Conservative lawmakers, meanwhile, showed growing irritation at the direction of an economic-stimulus plan that could total more than $75 billion. They said discussions are focused too much on expanding government entitlements, instead of creating jobs and encouraging consumers and businesses to spend money.
"A meaningful economic-stimulus package must focus on creating opportunity, not expanding government spending," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "If government spending stimulated the economy, Japan would still not be mired in a nearly decade-long recession and the Soviet Union would still exist."
Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 70 conservatives, said some of the stimulus proposals embraced by Democrats "would continue government dependency."
"Unemployed Americans want to go back to work, not sit at home and collect a government check," Mr. Shadegg said.
Despite the increasing concern in conservative and liberal camps, a bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday did propose broad principles for a stimulus package. However, one Senate staffer involved in tax issues said it was political posturing rather than a substantive proposal.
President Bush this week asked Congress for $60 billion to $75 billion to jump-start the economy. Mr. Bush yesterday also proposed extending unemployment benefits by 13 weeks, a move that Mr. Lott said "took a lot of steam out of what [Democrats] are trying to do."
Lawmakers say any stimulus bill is at least two weeks away, but many expressed concern that the undefined proposal already is becoming a "Christmas tree" adorned with unnecessary spending.
"It's taken us 65 years to build up a Social Security fund," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republicans. "We have to make sure we don't spend it all in the next 65 days."
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, while saying all options are still on the table, advocated tax relief especially for lower-income people. He said workers who earn $30,000 or less annually "tend to spend that dollar [of tax relief] immediately."
"When you get in higher-income groups, the money is stickier," Mr. Gephardt said. "It does not come back into the economy as quickly, although much of it will."
Some Democrats also are seeking to repeal a portion of the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut to reimburse government coffers for the eventual cost of the stimulus package. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, yesterday proposed revoking the final year of the 10-year tax cut in a private meeting with Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill. A source who attended the meeting said the proposal infuriated Mr. O'Neill.
Judicial nominations, a perennial partisan issue that had dropped off the legislative landscape after Sept. 11, resurfaced yesterday as Mr. Daschle complained that Republicans were holding appropriations bills hostage. Senate Republicans want Democrats to approve about 10 judicial candidates Mr. Bush nominated in May.
Mr. Daschle said the Judiciary Committee has confirmed several nominees despite being "extraordinarily preoccupied with the counterterrorism legislation" sought by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Mr. Lott said federal judges are needed to help fight the war on terrorism. "We have to use whatever leverage we can," Mr. Lott said.
Amid these renewed tensions, lawmakers canceled a meeting with Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta on airline security as differences remained about aid for laid-off airline workers and federalizing airport-security employees.
Both Mr. Daschle and Mr. Craig said the other party would be sorry if another disaster struck before Congress reaches an agreement on airline security.
"We're talking about an in-depth security system over the long term and we'd better get it right," Mr. Craig said. "Once we install it, once the people are hired, trained and put in place, and we have another major penetration, I don't think the public will be as forgiving."
Said Mr. Daschle, "The longer we wait, the more we invite further difficulty, the more we invite the possibility that some other occurrence might cause our country to experience situations that we ought to do everything we can to avoid."
John Godfrey contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide