- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2001

President Bush's agenda has begun moving again in Congress amid signs that final action could come this month or early next month on his education, energy and faith-based grant proposals, and perhaps the patients' bill of rights.
Mr. Bush is being helped by a Gallup poll showing his job approval rating jumping to 57 percent and his personal approval score hitting 70 percent, as well as by last week's presidential pep talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill.
After Congress passed Mr. Bush's tax cut plan in May and a disgruntled Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords bolted the Republicans and threw the Senate into Democratic hands, the president's agenda seemed to be in trouble, threatened by a morass of parliamentary delays and political infighting. But all that has changed, administration and congressional officials say.
"A lot of things are moving at once right now, and there's a short time frame before the August recess. But good legislative progress is being made across the board," said Nick Calio, the White House's chief legislative lobbyist.
"What had to happen first is that the Jeffords switch had to shake out, and once that was resolved, the president and the Republicans had to get our footing. Now we're ready to move forward again," said John Feehrey, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
With his agenda in danger of getting bogged down in the aftermath of the GOP's Senate blowup, Mr. Bush called on lawmakers Monday to speed up their pace, urging them "to not get stuck in the process" of endless debate.
Then he went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to rally his forces behind his unfinished agenda. Those actions, plus a renewed White House effort to rebuild its alliances in the House and Senate, appear to have greased the legislative wheels in his favor.
"The president has challenged us to move on several fronts, and we're ready to move. He is hitting his stride," Mr. Feehrey said.
Perhaps the administration's biggest breakthrough came this past week on his Senate-passed education reform bill when Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle — after Mr. Bush called on House and Senate leaders to get moving on his agenda — named Senate negotiators to work out differences with the House version.
Mr. Hastert is expected to name House conferees Tuesday, and Republican leaders and the White House are predicting an early resolution to the remaining differences over the bill. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, has already been at the White House to discuss a compromise.
"We're setting up an aggressive series of meetings. Our staff has been talking to House Republicans. We're trying to move as quickly as possible on this," said a spokesman for Mr. Kennedy.
"We're just trying to work with all willing participants," Mr. Calio told The Washington Times.
No one doubts that a bill will soon pass. The House first passed the education package on May 23 by a vote of 384-45. The Senate soon followed, passing its plan by a vote of 91-8.
"We'd like to get it done before August," Mr. Feehrey said.
Meantime, much of the rest of Mr. Bush's agenda also seems to be moving along, too.
After almost being given up for dead earlier this year, the president's proposal to open up federal grants to religious-based organizations and churches that run social welfare programs for the needy is headed for what looks like an easy victory in the House next week.
The proposal faces a tougher test in the Democrat-run Senate, but the White House has been quietly working behind the scenes with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, to fashion an acceptable compromise, administration officials said.
The House is expected to take up the patients' bill of rights in about a week. The White House is pushing the Fletcher-Thomas bill, which offers most of the medical care mandates that the Senate bill contains, but it would limit lawsuits. House Republican leadership officials say they are close to rounding up the votes they need to pass the Republican alternative. The president has said he would veto the Kennedy-McCain Senate bill if it reaches his desk.
Surprisingly, after weeks of being pounded by environmental activists for his energy plan, Mr. Bush's energy development proposals won strong support in the Senate last week. By a vote of 67-33, the Senate rejected a Democratic amendment to delay oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
The administration has dramatically scaled back its proposed off-shore lease sales in the Gulf to 100 miles off the coast and the Senate's vote was a strong signal that it backed the White House compromise.
Waiting in the wings is the administraton's fast-track trade negotiating authority, which the House is expected to take up by the end of this month or after the August recess.

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