- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

Senate Republican leaders find themselves with less room for error than ever next session with their majority cut to a bare one or two members, but they say they will be only marginally worse off than this session thanks to convoluted Senate rules.
"I don't think it's going to be that different from a public policy point of view than it's been already," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "Neither side will be anywhere close to the 60-vote threshold required in the Senate to advance any cause that is even remotely controversial."
Under Senate rules, any one member can stall a bill indefinitely unless supporters can rally at least 60 votes to cut off debate.
Neither party had a 60-vote majority in the last Congress it was split 55-45 for most of the session. The Democratic caucus grew to 46 last summer with the unexpected death of Sen. Paul Coverdell, Georgia Republican, who was replaced by former Gov. Zell Miller, a Democrat.
Democrats picked up three seats in Tuesday's election and may yet prevail in Washington state, which is still too close to call.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was highly effective over the last two years at using his caucus as a bloc and forcing Republicans to bring to the floor issues they wanted to avoid, such as gun control, campaign finance reform and the president's "Patients' Bill of Rights."
Republicans were able to block most of those measures, but only using procedural rules.
The Senate passed a new package of gun-control measures over the objections of conservative Republicans, for example, but Senate leaders were able to bury the matter in a conference committee trying to work out their considerable differences with the House.
Mr. McConnell, meanwhile, managed to block the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which places limits on campaign spending, even though it had a clear majority in the Senate, because Democrats could not round up the 60 votes necessary to force a vote.
"The things that we feel really ought to be advanced will be advanced, and the centrists in both parties will be a player in those decisions, just like they have been in the past," Mr. McConnell said. "So I don't really think the difference between 54 and 51, from a policy point of view, is going to be all that great."
Democrats, however, sense an opportunity to be even more effective in seizing the agenda of the Senate. At least six Republican senators can be drawn occasionally to vote with Democrats on social and fiscal issues, but only one Democrat broke ranks with any regularity Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin.
In the 106th Congress, Democrats needed most of the renegade Republican centrists to overrule the Republican leadership. In the 107th Congress, however, Mr. Daschle will need to woo only one or two, giving him much greater power and allowing him to talk openly of "power sharing" with Republicans.
"I think that power-sharing is going to require some give-and-take, some real willingness on the part of both leaders and both caucuses to cooperate a lot more than you've seen in the last couple of years," Mr. Daschle told NBC yesterday.
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican and one of the centrists who occasionally crosses party lines, said she sees the possibility of cooperation on focused and specific issues, such as adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, a promise of both major presidential candidates.
Centrist members are considering uniting as a coherent voting bloc, probably under the name of the Republican Mainstreet Partnership, a club of centrist party members in both state and federal government, she said.
The group will help guard against party-line gridlock, "otherwise it will engulf the institution, set us off on the wrong foot and we accomplish nothing," she said. "That has reverberations for everybody."
Senator-elect George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, agreed that there are clear areas of agreement between the parties. Issues such as abolishing the "marriage penalty" or eliminating the estate tax, for example, are obvious starting points for cooperation if both sides work in good faith.
Mr. Allen, who worked with a sharply divided General Assembly as Virginia's governor, said the large class of new senators at least 11 may be able to find some common ground where more entrenched leaders may not.
"People who were governor, or who have served as governor, know how to marshal forces," he said.

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