- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

Senate Republicans will spend their last day in power in meetings to decide how far to push the incoming Democratic majority on protecting President Bushs judicial nominations.
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott will meet today with his team of five negotiators before they sit down with Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle to hash out details of reorganizing Senate committees under Democratic chairmen.
A spokesman for one of those negotiators, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, summed up Mr. Gramms demands from the Democrats this way: "One word — fairness."
Meanwhile, two Republican senators are asking colleagues to sign a pledge to support Mr. Bushs veto of any spending bill that the president thinks is too expensive. The effort by Sens. George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Jim Bunning of Kentucky reflects the concerns of many in the GOP that, with Democrats in charge, spending will spiral out of control.
Before the Senate can act on appropriations bills later this year, however, the chamber first must approve a resolution reorganizing its operations with 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent. That became necessary when Republican Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont announced he will become an independent today and caucus with the Democrats, turning over control of the chamber to them for the first time in seven years.
Democrats are resisting calls to promise quick action on Bush nominees, but Republicans say they can — and will — block the Democrats agenda if they dont win such a concession.
Republicans want a guarantee that Mr. Bushs current and future nominees will be brought up for floor votes. And they believe an unusual feature of the midterm power shift gives the GOP added leverage: Until both parties agree to a reorganization, Democrats will chair committees with Republican majorities.
Under the power-sharing deal struck by Mr. Lott and Mr. Daschle in January, the shift from a 50-50 Senate automatically makes Mr. Daschle majority leader and turns over committee chairmanships to the ranking Democrat on each panel.
But until the parties agree on committee restructuring and other reorganization issues, the composition of each committee reverts to that of the 106th Congress, when Republicans held the majority on each panel. Therefore, Democratic chairmen will preside temporarily over committees made up mostly of Republicans.
And 11 freshman senators who received their committee assignments this year, including Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, would be left without any such posts for the time being.
"Its completely wild," said a former Senate Republican leadership aide. "Theyre not going to get this resolved this week. If you think that at noon Wednesday Hillary will have a committee assignment, youre under an illusion."
Mrs. Clinton currently holds seats on the Budget; Environment and Public Works; and Health, Education and Labor committees.
Although Mr. Lott has been reminding the public that Democrats will hold a plurality, not a true majority, most observers in both parties expect Democrats to emerge from the negotiations with the one-vote advantage on committees called for in the earlier power-sharing agreement.
And Democrats say that if gridlock results from the negotiations, it will also slow down Mr. Bushs agenda and will delay any action on his nominees.
On the move to limit spending, Mr. Bunning said the goal is to guarantee that Mr. Bush will have the 34 votes he needs to sustain a presidential veto.
Mr. Voinovich, a fiscal conservative who wants to pay down the national debt, also has been talking to the White House about ways to hold the line on spending, said his spokesman, Scott Milburn. Mr. Voinovich voted last year against every appropriations bill except one — defense.
"If the bills come in bloated and wasteful again this year, hes going to do the same thing," Mr. Milburn said.
The two senators began circulating the petition shortly after Mr. Jeffords announced two weeks ago that he is quitting the GOP.
Senate Republican leaders are especially concerned about runaway spending with Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, gaining the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Byrd voted against the presidents $1.35 trillion tax cut, saying it drained too much money away from education, Social Security, Medicare, prescription drug benefits and other social programs. He also has been highly critical of Mr. Bushs proposed budget.
When the Senate convenes tomorrow, Mr. Daschle will introduce a resolution naming Mr. Byrd, the Senates most senior Democrat, to replace 98-year-old South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond as the Senates president pro tem.
The largely ceremonial job will put Mr. Byrd, 83, third in the line of succession to the presidency, behind Vice President Richard B. Cheney and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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