- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

The White House yesterday escalated its battle with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, pressuring him to approve a bill to help the economy as House Republicans began bargaining anew with a swing Senate Democrat.
"The president just cannot imagine that the Senate would leave town without taking action to help the economy, to help the unemployed and to provide assistance to the people who are already unemployed," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Meanwhile, the administration suggested that Senate Democrats were engaging in political "payback" by blocking the nomination of Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as solicitor for the Labor Department.
"The confirmation process should be about progress, not paybacks," Mr. Fleischer told reporters. "It should be about people and not partisanship."
On the economic bill, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas declared dead his talks with Mr. Daschle's principal negotiator, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana. Instead, Mr. Thomas met yesterday with Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, to discuss a House bill that might be acceptable to Mr. Breaux's Centrist Coalition in the Senate.
"It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to send over a bill to the Senate without a sufficient number of Democrats," said Mr. Thomas, a California Republican.
Mr. Breaux was a key vote among the 12 Senate Democrats who approved the administration's tax cuts last spring over the protests of Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
"If they pass a bill that's close to what we offered as a centrist group, that makes it more doable over here," Mr. Breaux said. "If they pass a Republican-only bill, I think that would mean that there's no hope."
Mr. Breaux said he is hoping the new House bill would include a provision for the federal government to pay 60 percent to 65 percent of health insurance premiums for unemployed workers.
Senate Democratic leaders have been demanding 75 percent, but Mr. Breaux said setting the precedent would be a big victory for Democrats. Republicans have proposed tax credits that could be used to purchase health insurance.
"If we could get a premise that the federal government is willing for the first time in history to pay a large percentage of an unemployed person's health insurance, that is a huge step," Mr. Breaux said.
The House in late October approved a $100 billion stimulus bill that features mostly tax relief for businesses. The Senate failed to approve a Democratic bill, prompting direct negotiations with House leaders on a new package, but those talks dragged on for weeks.
Republicans accuse Senate Democrats of holding up a bill to revive the economy because Democrats want to make a campaign issue next year out of the recession.
Democrats in recent weeks have been vocal in blaming congressional Republicans and Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the recession.
The GOP points especially to Mr. Daschle's requirement that any deal be approved by two-thirds of Senate Democrats as evidence he does not want a bill.
Mr. Daschle also is being pressured by liberal members of his party not to agree to a Republican proposal to accelerate the income-tax cuts approved by Congress this spring. He has said repeatedly that a stimulus bill must focus primarily on extending unemployment benefits and paying health insurance for the unemployed.
Said Mr. Breaux, "I don't think the caucus is giving him a lot of flexibility."
The White House had refrained until yesterday from suggesting political motives for the stalled nomination of Mr. Scalia. But after Mr. Daschle said during the weekend that Mr. Scalia would need 60 votes to be approved the total necessary to defeat a Democratic filibuster the White House spokesman fired back.
Mr. Fleischer expressed outrage that Mr. Daschle has raised the bar from 51 votes to 60 for confirmation of Mr. Scalia as Labor Department solicitor.
The 60 votes would be needed to overcome a planned Democratic filibuster.
"It has been done before by both parties to filibuster a presidential nominee, but it is rare, and it is wrong," the presidential spokesman said. "And the 60-vote threshold presents a real setback for the cause of people who seek progress in the Senate."
The White House also scoffed at Mr. Daschle's assertion that senators "have not been given all the paperwork" on Mr. Scalia's nomination by Mr. Bush.
"All paper has been received by the Senate, so it's hard to imagine any reason why this nomination is being held up," Mr. Fleischer said.
For the first time, the White House appears willing to reconsider its earlier aversion to recess appointments. Although senior administration officials said yesterday they would prefer that the Senate confirm Mr. Scalia and other nominees, they would not rule out Mr. Bush making recess appointments during the Christmas holidays.
"Let's put it this way: It should not come to that," said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We believe there is time for this to be taken care of this week."
Mr. Daschle has said he intends to adjourn the Senate subject to the "call of the chair," which would allow lawmakers to return quickly to act on any necessary wartime legislation. The move also would prevent the White House from making recess appointments, because technically the Senate would still be in session.
Democrats say they oppose Mr. Scalia because he does not support President Clinton's proposed workplace regulations on ergonomics, which are considered onerous by business leaders.
But the White House suspects Democrats are punishing Mr. Scalia for his father's vote in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court ruling last year that ended the post-election recount wars in Florida and prompted Vice President Al Gore's concession.
White House officials said Democrats are engaging in an even broader "payback" by holding up the president's judicial nominees much the same way Republicans once blocked Mr. Clinton's nominees.
Democrats point out that they have confirmed just as many judicial nominees for Mr. Bush as they had for Mr. Clinton in 1993. The White House dismissed this as "a half-true statement."
"They have, indeed, confirmed 27 of President Bush's nominees to the bench, while they confirmed 27 of President Clinton's," Mr. Fleischer said.
"The big difference is, President Bush has named far more people to the bench. In other words, the Senate has failed to act on a much greater number for President Bush then it did for President Clinton."

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