- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Democrats will take control of the Senate this morning with Republicans failing so far to win any guarantees of swift action on President Bushs judicial nominees and retreating on their threats to block the Democrats agenda.
"We have a lot of work to do, and were going to do it in as bipartisan a way as I possibly can," said incoming Majority Leader Tom Daschle, ticking off priorities popular with liberal lawmakers, including hate-crimes legislation and an increase in the minimum wage.
Mr. Daschle will be recognized as majority leader late this morning on the Senate floor, marking the first time in nearly seven years that Democrats have controlled either chamber in Congress. The rare midterm power shift was prompted by Sen. James M. Jeffords decision to quit the Republican Party and become an independent who votes with Democrats on organizational matters.
The transfer of power technically took place at 6:30 p.m. yesterday, with the Senate comprising 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and Mr. Jeffords of Vermont as the lone independent.
Capitol workers are to remove Mr. Jeffords desk from its spot in the last row on the Republican side of the chamber around 8 a.m. today and install it on the Democrats side of the aisle.
"I feel anything but giddy," Mr. Jeffords told reporters before joining Democrats yesterday for their weekly luncheon for the first time. They gave him a standing ovation.
Mr. Jeffords told reporters that Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, made an unsuccessful last-minute plea yesterday morning for Mr. Jeffords not to vote with the Democrats. Mr. Specter told The Washington Times it was "a private conversation."
A team of five Republican senators, including Mr. Specter, met with Mr. Daschle last night but did not agree immediately on a resolution to reorganize the chamber. Democrats will become chairmen of the Senates committees today, but details on committee ratios and staffing have yet to be formally approved.
After the 50-minute meeting, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, described the session in Mr. Daschles office as "productive."
"It was a cordial meeting, and we all felt good about it," Mr. McConnell said. Republican negotiators will share the details of Mr. Daschles offer with their colleagues today and then meet again with the South Dakota Democrat.
Republicans are seeking assurances that Democrats will not delay unnecessarily votes on Mr. Bushs judicial nominees and executive branch appointments, arguing that new Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont is a partisan who will block conservative judges.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, is proposing a time limit for committees to either reject nominees or move them forward for floor votes.
Democrats were resolutely opposed yesterday to giving Republicans such guarantees on judges.
"You mean the same Republicans who in six months havent held a single judicial nomination hearing?" Mr. Leahy asked, scoffing. "They must have me confused with some other bald guy. Ill be holding [confirmation hearings] within a week or so after we reorganize."
Republican leaders have been threatening to block the reorganization by filibuster until they get assurances on judges from Democrats, but yesterday Republican senators were showing no taste for that battle.
"I have no intention of filibustering anything," said assistant Republican leader Don Nickles of Oklahoma. "Threatening filibusters is not the way I think we should do it."
Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho, chairman of the Republican policy committee, denied that party leaders had been posturing for the past two weeks with talk of filibusters.
"I dont think its an empty threat," Mr. Craig said. "We expect tough, hard negotiations. Well pick fights … where we can take ourselves to the floor in a strong vote and sustain that."
Said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican and a member of the negotiating team: "Everybody has a stake in moving forward on the nations business."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said there was widespread agreement among Republican senators that demanding promises from Democrats on judicial nominees is "a double-edged sword." He said Republicans do not want to create a precedent that the party might be asked to honor if it regains the majority under a Democratic president.
For their part, Democrats were "strong" in their agreement that they should not promise in writing to give all Bush nominees quick consideration, said Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat.
Leahy spokesman David Carle said the Judiciary Committee will undertake "a case-by-case evaluation of nominees."
"There is a danger when the pendulum swings to the extreme left or the extreme right," Mr. Carle said.
Mr. Daschle already has proposed a bare-bones reorganizational agreement with only two points: that Democrats would get a one-vote majority on all committees and that the party leaders would appoint new committee members.
"I have to prove myself to our Republican colleagues, and I hope I can do so," Mr. Daschle said.
Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, who over the weekend pledged a "war" with the new Democratic majority, yesterday could not quite bring himself to refer to Democrats as the majority party.
"I dont think theres a need to put it — a word on it one way or the other," Mr. Lott said.
And Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Senate Republican chairman, said with defiance, "They have 50 United States senators; we have 49. So they have more than we do."
And while Mr. Lott yesterday defended his declaration of war, some of his closest supporters were backing away from it.
"There is no declaration of war," Mr. McConnell said.
Said Mr. Gramm with a smile: "I prefer love to war myself."
The first legislative business under the Democrats will be to complete Mr. Bushs education plan, which has grown much more costly in the Senate than the president would like.
Mr. Daschle then wants to address reform of health maintenance organizations that would give patients broad new rights to sue doctors and HMOs in state court.
But in the House, where Republicans hold a 12-seat advantage, Majority Leader Dick Armey said yesterday that a litigation-focused HMO bill would be dead on arrival.
"The House of Representatives is not interested in passing HMO legislation that forsakes the patient … in the interests of promoting lawsuit opportunities," Mr. Armey said.
He also said the House will not approve an increase in the minimum wage, one of Senate Democrats top priorities, unless it includes tax breaks for small businesses to offset the costs of paying higher wages.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert met with Mr. Daschle in late afternoon in what his spokesman described as an impromptu greeting. The two discussed HMO reform in general terms.


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