- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Congressional Republicans are waging a concerted attack on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, highlighting his inexperience at the helm in part to undermine any presidential aspirations he entertains.
A day after Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott accused Mr. Daschle of irresponsibly managing defense spending and national energy needs, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, and Republican National Committee Chairman James S. Gilmore III yesterday heaped more criticism on the highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker.
Mr. Armey said he was "particularly concerned" about Mr. Daschle's decision to withhold a vote on a $6.5 billion defense-spending bill until the Senate completes work on a patients' bill of rights.
He said the South Dakota Democrat is "jamming through the Senate a health care bill that the president has promised to veto."
"He obviously wants to have a fight over that issue for political reasons," Mr. Armey told reporters. "It is not good policy to put that political conflict ahead of making sure that our men and women in uniform have the resources necessary."
And Mr. Gilmore, who is also governor of Virginia, yesterday accused Mr. Daschle of ignoring the administration's energy plan by not scheduling debate before September.
"As Americans gas up the minivans and Californians prepare to sizzle through another long, hot summer with rolling blackouts, Senator Daschle is turning out the lights on President Bush's energy plan," Mr. Gilmore said.
Republicans acknowledge privately that the effort is coordinated and serves two purposes: to highlight their priorities by focusing on one Democratic "bogeyman" and to bruise the political career of a media-savvy opponent with few glaring weaknesses yet for 2004.
"Look at who they have left in their stable," a senior Republican staffer said of Democratic presidential prospects. "It's down to him and Gephardt," a reference to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.
Asked if he has become the target for Republicans' criticism, Mr. Daschle replied, "Yeah. That comes with the territory. Senator Lott took a few barbs from me over the years as I was minority leader."
Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, yesterday denied there was a coordinated campaign against Mr. Daschle.
"There hasn't been a coordinated effort between Congressman Armey and myself," Mr. Lott said. "But it's so obvious on its face that there's a need for this [defense] bill, and also that the energy problem in America is not going to get better, it's going to probably get worse. So while we're not coordinating it, we both obviously agree that there's a major problem here."
Mr. Daschle responded, "We're going to take up a comprehensive energy policy that will not include drilling in the Arctic [National] Wildlife Refuge. But it is amusing to see the urgency expressed now when we've waited all these years and Republicans didn't find the time to do it before."
The South Dakota Democrat also dared Republicans to test his threat to keep the Senate working over the Fourth of July recess to finish the health care bill.
"I know that because I've not been leader that long there may be some question about my resolve," Mr. Daschle said. "There will not be any question about my resolve at the end of the week if we haven't finished. We will be here."
Lott spokesman Ron Bonjean Jr. said "it's important for Americans to know what issues Republicans stand for and what issues Democrats stand against."
"Our goal is for the American people to understand what they are not getting with the Democratic majority," Mr. Bonjean said.
Mr. Armey went so far yesterday as to accuse Mr. Daschle of delaying the appointment of conferees on bankruptcy legislation out of concern for a presidential bid in 2004. He said Mr. Daschle is caught between the agricultural industry, which favors the legislation, and liberal Democrats who oppose it.
"Poor old Tom Daschle, he is stuck between a rock and a hard place," Mr. Armey said. "Probably the most significant economic interest in his state wants him to move forward on [the bankruptcy bill]. He wants to keep a high standing with the left wing of his party, probably for some future plans he may have. He is sitting here kind of wrestling with that and then saying, 'Gee, I don't want to lead here.'"
Mr. Daschle said yesterday it is not presidential politics, but a procedural point, that is holding up the conference committee.
"I'd like to be able to announce conferees … perhaps by the end of the week," he said.

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