- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

A key Senate Democrat said yesterday he has all but given up on passing an economic stimulus bill as his caucus braced for President Bush to make recess appointments of nominees blocked by Democrats.
Despite a last-ditch meeting between Mr. Bush and congressional leaders to reach agreement on a package to stimulate the flagging economy, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said the prospects look grim.
"It appears we're not going to reach an agreement," said the Montana Democrat. "I'd prefer we cool off for a day or two."
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle acknowledged time is running out. He insisted congressional Republicans and the White House concede more on health insurance for the unemployed or Democrats would filibuster a bill.
"There aren't 60 votes for any of these Republican pieces" on tax cuts, Mr. Daschle said. "It's amazing to me that there is the intransigence on the other side when it comes to helping laid-off workers."
Late last night, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, and Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican, said that negotiations had "reached an impasse."
The White House expressed incredulity that the Senate has not been able to pass a bill and began laying the groundwork for placing the blame on Democrats if no deal is reached by the holidays.
"The president simply cannot imagine that the Senate would leave town and go on recess, while leaving the economy in recession," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. He added: "The president is doing his best to help the Senate to help itself."
Meanwhile, Vice President Richard B. Cheney yesterday became the highest ranking administration official to demand a Senate vote on the nomination of Eugene Scalia before the holiday recess. President Bush nominated Mr. Scalia in April to be solicitor of the Labor Department, but Mr. Daschle has blocked a floor vote.
During a telephone interview with The Washington Times from an undisclosed location outside Washington, Mr. Cheney was asked whether Democrats are punishing Mr. Scalia for the vote cast by his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in the historic Bush v. Gore case.
"I'm reluctant to impugn the motives of my colleagues in the Senate," Mr. Cheney said. "But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Scalia is an enormously talented and capable attorney.
"He'd make a great solicitor of the Labor Department. It looks like he has a majority of the Senate behind him. So you have to ask the question: If that's the case, why won't the Democratic leaders allow the matter to come to the floor for a vote?
"What's his motive for holding him out?" Mr. Cheney said of Mr. Daschle. "And I have not heard any credible explanation at this point from Senator Daschle as to why he continues to block Mr. Scalia's confirmation."
Mr. Cheney said the president has not yet made a decision on whether to bypass the Senate roadblock on Mr. Scalia and other nominees by making recess appointments over the holidays.
But Mr. Fleischer suggested the president now views recess appointments as a viable option.
"The administration has under the Constitution the authority to do just that," Mr. Fleischer told reporters yesterday. "Whether or not the administration avails itself of that constitutional authority, I'm not in a position to give to you today."
Mr. Daschle said he does not intend to block the administration from making recess appointments after Congress adjourns for the year, but added: "I do hope there is some consultation" from the White House.
The new Senate parliamentarian, who serves at the pleasure of Mr. Daschle, has ruled that the courts should decide if a president can make a recess appointment when the Senate has not formally adjourned.
But previous Senate parliamentarians have consistently ruled that, regardless of how the Senate adjourns, the new year brings with it "a legitimate recess," during which the president can install appointees, said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican.
"We are recommending to the president that recess appointments need to be considered as an option," said Mr. Craig, chairman of the Senate Republican conference.
The Senate was equally divided on the issue of economic stimulus. While the Senate leadership continued to hold out for further concessions from the White House, a group of centrist Democratic senators met with Mr. Bush late yesterday to seek a compromise.
This same group, headed by Louisiana Sen. John B. Breaux, is working with the House to craft a version of the economic stimulus bill that would be more palatable to liberal Democrats.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Armey said his party would prepare a vote on a new $100 billion stimulus bill today if the talks with senators collapsed. That bill contains about $33 billion in unemployment compensation and tax credits for the unemployed to purchase health insurance.
The House approved a bill Oct. 24 that offers mostly tax relief for businesses; Mr. Armey said the new bill would consist of about 70 percent in tax relief and 30 percent in "Democratic priorities."
"In the final analysis, the House of Representatives is going to do its duty," said Mr. Armey. "Mr. Daschle, for some reason, is the cork in the bottle."
Said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois: "The ball is squarely on the shoulders of the Senate leadership to pass a bill and get it to conference, so we can send the president a bill he can sign into law by Christmas."
Senate Democrats are pushing for the federal government to pay 75 percent of health insurance costs for the unemployed through the federal program that lets people purchase insurance through their former employer's plan. Republicans have countered with an offer to pay 60 percent of health insurance costs through refundable tax credits, but Mr. Daschle said unemployed workers are not guaranteed the ability to purchase health insurance on the open market.
There is also disagreement over allocation of health care aid.
"Under the bipartisan plan that the president is proposing, 100 percent of health care assistance goes to those who've lost their jobs," said Mr. Fleischer. "Under the Senate leadership plan, less than half of the money for health care goes to laid-off workers.
"More than half of the money under the Senate leadership plan goes instead to workers who either take an early retirement or voluntarily leave their jobs," he added.
Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

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