- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

The September 11 terrorist attacks pushed aside several major battles in Congress that had dominated the legislative agenda until the war changed lawmakers' focus.
Put on hold were issues such as campaign-finance legislation, a patients' "bill of rights," President Bush's faith-based initiative, a new prescription-drug benefit under Medicare, a proposal to increase the minimum wage and hate-crimes legislation. Congress will begin debating many of these matters when lawmakers return Jan. 23.
"We have a lot to do when we get back," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. "We are going to come back and focus on education issues. We have a lot of work to do with Medicare. We want to do a prescription drug bill. A lot of those plans were kind of sidetracked since the September 11th business, but we will have a full plate as soon as we get back."
The Senate last spring approved campaign-finance regulations that would ban so-called "soft money" donations to political parties. But supporters of the bill lost a procedural vote in the House in midsummer, and Republican leaders refused to bring it up again, saying the House had more important business to deal with.
But supporters of the legislation in Congress are trying to force the House to vote on the bill again by collecting the required 218 signatures on a petition. By last week they had 214.
The patients' bill of rights, a subject of pitched debate in the House and Senate last summer over liability issues, has stalled in a conference committee. Its fate is uncertain.
Plans to add a prescription drug benefit under Medicare will be complicated by projections of federal deficits for at least the next three years. But lawmakers said they will take up the issue anyway.
"Any type of reform is going to cost money," said Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat and chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging. "We have less money to do it."
Several other high-profile issues were approved by the House but stalled in the Senate after September 11. An energy bill, which includes Mr. Bush's proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, was put off until late January or early February by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Senate Democrats are expected to filibuster the ANWR provision, despite Republicans' argument that a nation at war needs more domestic sources of energy.
A bill to ban human cloning also was approved by the House, but Senate Democrats postponed action until sometime early next year.

Responding to September 11
Many of these developments were a response to the September 11 attacks, which profoundly changed the political agenda in Washington within a matter of hours. The accompanying bipartisanship, however, soon faded.
"You can't stop politics," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. "It is like a raging river."
The torrent did dry up on September 11 and in the days afterward, if only for a few brief, shining moments.
With America under attack, Democrats and Republicans put aside their partisan feuding and approved war powers for Mr. Bush with lightning speed.
Congress also passed an emergency aid package of $40 billion with the administration's blessing for the Pentagon and New York. Soon after, lawmakers agreed rapidly on a $15 billion bailout for the airline industry.
And despite deep concerns of conservatives and liberals about expanding the authority of federal agents, lawmakers approved new police powers for the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute terrorists.
Issues that had dominated the agenda in Washington prior to the attacks campaign-finance reform, a patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs and a minimum wage increase were all but forgotten and put on hold as lawmakers focused on national security and defense.
"The bipartisanship was real," said an administration official. "And it was short-lived."

The end of bipartisanship
Political unity began to unravel in late September, as lawmakers debated how to revive the faltering economy. Republicans wanted more tax cuts for businesses to promote job creation; Democrats pushed for more government spending and permanent health care benefits for unemployed workers.
The debate brought out the same partisan differences that had surfaced in the spring, when Congress approved the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut.
"That was probably the beginning of the end," Mr. Breaux said of the debate on a stimulus bill. "I can't say that the development of this economic stimulus package is any less difficult than the last tax cut before September 11. It's the same arguments, the same problems, the same debate, the same ideology, the same impasses we had before. Exactly the same."
In a calculated political decision to challenge the president again on domestic policy, congressional Democrats also pushed for more spending on homeland security, above the $40 billion lawmakers had already approved.
The issue came to a head at a White House meeting between Mr. Bush and congressional leaders in late October. As appropriators pressed their case for more emergency spending, Mr. Bush drew a line in the sand: He threatened to veto any spending above the $40 billion this year.
Democrats tried anyway, hoping to get enough support from New York lawmakers from both parties to add at least $15 billion to the recovery package. But the Republican-led House held firm, and Mr. Daschle and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia failed in several attempts to go above Mr. Bush's spending limit.
Democrats also challenged Mr. Bush on his nominations, slowing the confirmation of judicial candidates to a trickle and blocking others, such as Eugene Scalia for Labor Department solicitor.
While Democrats soon were fighting the administration again on several fronts on domestic policy, they made a conscious choice not to take on the commander in chief on foreign policy and the war against terrorism. Mr. Bush's popularity climbed to around 90 percent on the strength of his role in leading the war effort.

Challenging Bush's war
One of the few Democrats who did criticize the president on the war's conduct, even mildly, was Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. Several weeks into the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, Mr. Biden said America was at risk of looking like a "high-tech bully."
The media-savvy Mr. Biden was so roundly criticized for his comment that he virtually disappeared from television talk shows for the rest of the year.
As partisan battle lines resurfaced on domestic issues, Congress was staggered by a new challenge anthrax. On Oct. 15, an aide to Mr. Daschle opened an envelope containing powder and a threatening note.
More than two dozen people were exposed, thousands of Capitol employees were placed on antibiotics and all congressional office buildings were closed while officials assessed the extent of the contamination.
The new attack exposed a rift between the House and Senate that crossed party lines. House leaders said they agreed with the Senate to close for business for several days; the Senate decided to remain in session. Some senators bragged about staying on the job while the House closed.
The bad feelings over the episode still colored the relationship between the two chambers as lawmakers tried to wrap up their legislative business at year's end.
And the Hart Senate Office Building, home to 50 of 100 senators, remains closed; the EPA has failed twice to fumigate the last traces of the bacteria from the building.
Despite the return of partisanship and the disruptions from anthrax, Congress did complete its work in a reasonably routine fashion. Lawmakers approved the annual 13 spending bills, though two months late, and managed to pass Mr. Bush's landmark education plan the week before Christmas.

Passing Bush's agenda
Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act gave Mr. Bush his top two domestic priorities tax cuts and education reform in a year that was anything but ordinary.
"Let's go back to January of this year, when all of you were saying about this weak president who barely won the election with a divided Congress, and the fact that he won't get anything done," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican. "He's passed his top two priorities in the first 11 months of his term. In the meantime, he fought a war pretty successfully.
"I don't know too many presidents in their first year who get their two highest domestic priorities done in a divided Congress plus get near unanimity of support behind a war effort which has been complicated and difficult, and done so superbly," Mr. Santorum said. "I think this will go down as one of the great first years of a term of any president in modern history."
Said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, "I think it's been a remarkable year for achievement and still successfully fighting a war."
Mr. Roberts, whose dry wit and gentlemanly manner has made him popular with his colleagues, offered insight into how his duties as a lawmaker have changed since September 11. Prior to that date, he said, he spent slightly less than half of his time on the four committees on which he serves.

Politics of national security
Now, Mr. Roberts said, he spends more than three-fourths of his workweek on national security issues in those committees.
"I serve on [the Agriculture Committee], so that's agro-terrorism," Mr. Roberts said. "I serve on Health, Education and Labor that's bioterrorism. I serve on Armed Services that is homeland security. I serve on Intelligence, that is the basic committee of jurisdiction to detect and deter [terrorism]. So all four of the committees directly involve what happened on 9/11.
"In my case, probably 75 to 80 percent of my time is going to intelligence hearings, to Armed Services hearings to keep up to date and then trying to put together a bioterrorism bill that includes agro-terrorism," he said. "And then there's the reshaping of our intelligence community."
Some things did not change, even temporarily. The Republican-led House continued to be the engine that drove the administration's legislative agenda, from the $1.35 trillion tax cut in the spring to the president's national energy plan in midsummer to two bills to help revive the economy after September 11.
Yet the Democrat-led Senate, with a clearly different agenda, was often the place where the White House's plans stalled setting the stage for legislative gridlock next year between the administration and Senate Democrats.
"Right now the vision of the Democratic Party is housed in the Senate," Mr. Armey said. "To a large extent, the Senate is the staging area for all the Democratic Party in America, and it is going to be very difficult to get beyond that fact."

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