- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott encountered strong opposition from his own ranks yesterday to a proposal to share power equally with Democrats on all 19 Senate committees.
With the Senate split 50-50 this year, Mr. Lott argued to his Republican colleagues at a private retreat yesterday that the committee power-sharing proposal he negotiated painstakingly with Democratic leader Tom Daschle is the best the GOP will get.
After the majority leader ran the idea up the flagpole, few saluted.
"The general sense was that Lott gave away too much," one Republican lawmaker said. "He didn't have the conference behind him."
Said another: "I've always been supportive of Trent, but I think he got snookered on this one."
Even as Mr. Lott was grappling with that problem, renegade Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona complicated matters by announcing plans yesterday to reintroduce his bill that would require campaign finance regulations.
The divisive issue failed in the Senate last year, and President-elect George W. Bush has sharp disagreements with Mr. McCain on the matter.
The two issues made for a contentious day of intraparty squabbling.
The Lott power-sharing plan, which Democrats favor, would assign equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats to each committee. It would also evenly divide staff and budgets. Committee chairmen would be Republicans; bills that result in tie votes could be sent to the Senate floor.
But many Republicans are opposed, pointing out that Republican Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney will hold the tie-breaking vote, essentially as a 51st Republican senator, after the Jan. 20 inauguration.
"If you're going to be held responsible [as the majority party], you've got to have one more vote than the other guy, that's all there is to it," said Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican, "I'm concerned that we'll tie our hands with this procedural agreement."
Leading the dissenters were Sens. Phil Gramm of Texas and Don Nickles of Oklahoma who has no great affection for Mr. Lott but also Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee and a man usually considered a centrist, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico.
According to an eyewitness, Mr. Gramm complained that under the Lott plan, "Our [committee] chairmen would have the title only. The only thing they'd have the power to do is call a meeting of their committee."
Mr. Gramm and Mr. Nickles argued that under the Lott plan, the Senate Democrats would be able to "sabotage everything we do," as Mr. Gramm put it.
Opponents of the Lott plan said it failed to provide the wherewithal for the majority Republicans to govern and would "leave us with one arm tied behind our back," as one Republican senator said.
The plan many objectors preferred would give four to seven of the committees over to a 50-50 Republican-Democrat split in seats on the committees. These would be committees that are not particularly driven by partisanship or ideology. The remaining committees would have Republican majorities. All committees would have Republican chairmen.
Democrats and Republicans would get the same amount of money for staffing the committees, but Republicans would get an extra 10 percent on top of that because they would have the responsibility of ruling over most of the committees.
Last year, with Democrats at a 54-46 disadvantage in the Senate, they had fewer senators, staff and budget than the GOP on every committee, as is customary for the minority party.
There was no resolution of the issue yesterday. The Senate cannot assign new senators to various committees in the meantime. And some Democrats, such as Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, say they are unlikely to support President-elect George W. Bush's legislative agenda unless they get their way on the committee restructuring.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, said Democrats cannot accept anything less than a 50-50 split on committees.
"That's what the people gave us. We cannot take away the people's vote," said Mr. Hollings, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee through Jan. 20 while Democratic Vice President Al Gore holds the tie-breaking vote.
The issue has opened a split among Republicans, some of whom support the power-sharing plan. Mr. McCain said he supports an even margin on the commerce committee, which he chairs.
"First, we have never passed anything out of this committee on a partisan vote and second, if we had, it would not have gone anywhere," Mr. McCain said. "Third, the political reality is they have a 50-50 margin in the Senate and they still want to have me as chairman … and that is pretty persuasive with me."
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, emerged from the retreat at the Library of Congress yesterday and said, "I voiced my opinion that 50-50 is a reality."
But as he returned to the retreat later with Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, Mr. Stevens also voiced the problem facing Mr. Lott.
"The leader has a terrible job," Mr. Stevens told Mr. Warner. "He's got to show Daschle that his people are with him."
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, said Mr. Lott told Republicans that he and Mr. Daschle have been working so hard on the matter that they even negotiated on Christmas Eve.
"In his mind, he knows this is the best he can get," Mr. Chafee said of Mr. Lott.
But Mr. Chafee added of his Republican colleagues, "There's a lot of denial that it's 50-50."
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and conference secretary, said he believes both parties "can come to an accommodation in a 51-50 Senate." He said he hopes Republicans will reach a consensus "in the next couple of days."
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said it is only fair to split membership evenly on committees. While Mr. Cheney can break a tie vote in the Senate, "he is not a member of the body and he should not be reflected in the ratios," he said.
And Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said reaching agreement on the committee ratios may be one of the last chances for bipartisanship this year.
"The House will continue to be partisan," Mr. Leahy said. "President-elect Bush has at least initially given up an opportunity to seek bipartisan consensus [with some of his Cabinet choices]… . The only place to do it is in the Senate."
Mr. Leahy scoffed at the idea that having Mr. Cheney to break tie votes will be a potent source of power.
"Are they going to have Dick Cheney walking around with a beeper on, never more than 20 minutes away, waiting for the next roll call vote?" Mr. Leahy asked.
But many Republicans yesterday showed little sign of giving in to the Democrats' arguments.
"I'm looking forward to us using our majority," Mr. Gramm said.
Said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, "I still believe we should have a majority [on the committees]."
With only 15 days remaining before Mr. Cheney takes office, Democrats have delighted in taunting the Republicans with their temporary majority status. Staffers at Mr. Daschle's office were answering the phone yesterday as "majority leader."
At the minority staff office for an appropriations subcommittee yesterday, someone had taped a crudely lettered "majority" sign over the "minority" sign that usually marks the office.
Ralph Z. Hallow and Sean Scully contributed to this report.


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