- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

Congress adjourned for the year yesterday after Senate Democrats resisted last-ditch efforts by the White House and congressional Republicans to approve a bill to help the economy.

"This is a very sad way to wind up this day," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "I fear [Democrats] think a good economy is not good politically."

Lawmakers wrapped up one of the longest sessions of Congress in history by approving the final three of 13 annual spending bills: $318 billion for the Pentagon; $396 billion for the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services; and $15.3 billion in foreign aid.

They also approved $430 million in tax relief for families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

But Congress left unfinished several major pieces of legislation, including a national energy policy, a patients' "bill of rights," campaign finance legislation, President Bush's faith-based initiative, a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare, a $170 billion farm bill and election reform.

Lawmakers pledged to resume work on most of those issues when Congress returns on Jan. 23.

The economic bill that was left unfinished, however, caused the most political finger-pointing. The Republican-led House yesterday approved a stimulus bill for the second time in two months, voting shortly before 4 a.m. on a five-year, $214 billion package of tax relief and unemployment compensation that Mr. Bush worked out with swing Senate Democrats a day earlier.

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who controls the floor agenda, refused to allow a vote on the bill. He said the measure contained too much tax relief and not enough permanent aid for unemployed workers who need health insurance.

"We've looked at the compromise one last time and have concluded that it's wrong on all counts," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Said Mr. Bush, "Unfortunately, that particular piece of legislation was declared dead before it even got to the Senate floor. I'm confident that if it was ever voted on, it would pass."

The impasse so frustrated House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert that he urged Mr. Bush to call Congress back for an emergency session immediately after the holidays.

"We had the Senate today stick up their nose and turn their back on it," said Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican. "If I were the president, I would call the Congress back the second day of January and finish the work."

Mr. Daschle responded, "If Speaker Hastert wants to come back the second of January, I'll meet him here."

The White House said Mr. Bush was unlikely to do that.

"Fundamentally, it still remains the job of the Senate leadership to complete their business," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Many lawmakers expressed disbelief that Congress was leaving town without addressing the recession and the nearly 1 million workers who have lost their jobs since September 11. Forty senators took the unusual step of voting not to adjourn.

"We're going home with an empty hand because of the partisanship of the majority leader," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. "I don't know where Senator Daschle is going to spend the holidays. But I would hate to be in South Dakota and face the unemployed workers and try to enjoy Christmas."

Mr. Bush said a majority of senators would approve the bill if Mr. Daschle had allowed a vote. He directed Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill to lobby Senate Democrats one more time, but Mr. Daschle rebuffed the offer.

"The secretary spoke with the majority leader, and the secretary indicated a willingness to work together to reach an agreement on the health provisions," Mr. Fleischer said. "And then I think the secretary was surprised to hear that now everything needs to be rediscussed. It's not just the health issues that are a source of concern in the Senate among the Democrats. They now seem to be indicating that there's no agreement on anything."

Republicans said the inaction proved that Democrats do not want to improve the economy because they want to run on the issue in next year's congressional elections. A recent Democratic memo written by strategists James Carville, Robert Shrum and Stanley Greenberg suggested that Democrats should challenge Republicans on domestic issues but lacked the advantage so far in the debate.

"This was a conscious attempt to do what James Carville laid out embrace the president on the war and stick a knife in his back on domestic policy," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Daschle made a final failed attempt to extend unemployment benefits only, taking a swipe at Mr. Bush and his father in the process.

"We extended those benefits three times during the last Bush recession, in the early '90s, and I think it's important for us to extend them this time," said Mr. Daschle.

He said nobody was to blame for the failure to pass a bill, then blamed Republicans for not giving more ground on tax cuts.

"There is no cause for failure here," said Mr. Daschle. "There's no real reason. We should have been able to do this. But I think their intransigence is something that they're going to have to continue to explain."

The stimulus bill promoted by Mr. Bush and three Senate Democrats John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska would have extended unemployment compensation for 13 weeks and provided $17 billion in tax credits for unemployed workers to purchase health insurance. It would also have provided $60 billion in tax breaks in 2002.

Mr. Miller called it "a reasonable compromise."

"It is the best way to do what we all want that is, to help the workers before it's too late," he said.

Mr. Breaux criticized both parties for blaming each other instead of approving a bill.

"Americans cannot go to the grocery store and buy bread and buy milk with blame. Americans don't want blame as the theme song for their government," he said.

Mr. Hastert said the fate of the stimulus bill was typical of Congress for the entire year at least 20 pieces of legislation produced in the House died in the Senate.

"One of the biggest frustrations of this year has been the lack of production from the other body," Mr. Hastert said. "The House has led the way in implementing the president's agenda, but on too many occasions the Senate has dropped the ball."

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