- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

Republican and White House strategists believe President Bush can push ahead with many aspects of his legislative agenda despite the power shift in the Senate.
"Bush will have to be pretty deft in his dealings with the incoming Senate majority, but its perfectly possible that he will come out ahead," said a Senate Republican official.
A mere four months into his fledgling presidency, Mr. Bush appears to be on a roll. Congress has given him most of what he wanted in his sweeping $1.35 trillion tax cut plan, including an effective 33 percent top marginal tax rate when personal exemptions are factored in. And he is closer to getting his education reform bill through the Senate after the House passed it by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 384-45 vote.
"This is warp speed for Washington. Without commenting on the merits, the administration should be extremely pleased that they have successfully pushed their primary priorities through Congress," said Robert Reischauer, the former Congressional Budget Office director, who is no fan of the presidents proposals. "I think you have to give them an A on that score."
Republican strategists, brushing aside the loss of majority control of the Senate to Democrats following the May 24 defection of Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont from the Republican Party, are now predicting swift approval of the presidents education plan, helped by the momentum from his tax-cut victory.
"The education bill will be the next to pass. We will get into conference when the Senate passes its bill. There will be more confrontation than usual, but our goal will be to move it quickly and in a way that allows the president to chalk up another big win," said a House Republican leadership official.
Several factors make Democratic control of the Senate just as problematic for Democrats as it was for the Republicans. One of them is the use of the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to end debate.
"The key number for [incoming Senate Majority Leader] Tom Daschle is 60-40, not 51-49," said a senior White House adviser. "He is going to have to get 60 votes to bring up what he wants. Is he going to be able to do that with just 50 Democrats plus one independent? Well see."
"The Senate is still basically split down the middle. (The Democrats) are just going to find themselves in our shoes, trying to find a majority, and its not going to be easy to find a majority," said a Senate Republican official.
Meantime, Senate Republicans intend to make life just as difficult for the Democrats as they made it for them when the Republicans were in control.
Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, points out that under the Senates freewheeling rules any senator at any moment can offer any amendment to any legislation, giving the minority extraordinary opportunities to block or change bills — especially in a narrowly divided Senate.
"The Senate has the strongest minority of any minority on earth and the weakest majority of any on earth," Mr. Gramm is fond of telling his colleagues. His point, of course, is to remind Mr. Daschle that Republicans are going to use every weapon at their disposal to fight for the presidents agenda.
"While the majority leader will make decisions on what comes up on the floor, any senator can U-turn that agenda with one successful amendment," said a Senate Republican leadership official.
Other Republican leaders are also cautioning their party not to cave in to Mr. Daschles demands.
"Let us remember what we should not do," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said in a memo to his Republican colleagues. "We should not wring our hands, nor passively let Senate Democrats set the agenda, nor abandon our own common sense agenda in a vain search for approval by pundits and liberals."
There is a general consensus that Mr. Bush will probably get most of what he wants for his defense readiness and modernization proposals. And the administration predicts that it will get fast track trade negotiating authority before the year is out.
But action on an energy bill that includes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge seems doubtful right now, as does the presidents plan to let religious organizations apply for social welfare grants.
Senate Democrats will probably bring a minimum wage increase bill to the floor this month, but Republicans will press for major tax cuts for small businesses to offset its impact and, possibly, another reduction in the capital gains tax rate to 15 percent, an idea that many Democrats support.


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