- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

Majority Leader Tom Daschle may run the Senate and rule the committee chairmanships, but he faces a tough, if not impossible, challenge to win back conservative Democrats who have fled their partys liberal agenda.
Lost in the political turmoil of the Senates historic turnover is the fact that not only have up to a dozen Democrats voted with the Republicans this year, but also that some have allied themselves with President Bush on key pieces of his agenda, from tax cuts to education to defense spending.
Despite the magnitude of losing political control of the Senate, White House strategists now believe that the change of command will not weaken the residual Democratic support that they have received thus far in Mr. Bushs presidency.
Mr. Daschle became majority leader yesterday because one liberal Republican senator, James M. Jeffords of Vermont, left the Republican Party to become an independent, agreeing to vote to turn over the evenly divided Senate to the Democrats. The Democrats now have 50 seats, Republicans 49, and Mr. Jeffords is the lone independent.
But Republican leaders and White House strategists say it is hard to see that thin, one-vote Democratic edge hold up in the many rough-and-tumble legislative battles to come. The reason: Mr. Daschle has lost many more of his members on key votes than the Republicans have, a development that has received very little attention in the news media.
Notably, a few days after Mr. Jeffords announced he was leaving the Republicans because the party had become too conservative in his view, he voted for Mr. Bushs $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill. He is also expected to support Mr. Bushs education bill when it comes up for a vote in the Senate next week.
In other words, Mr. Jeffords cannot necessarily be counted on as a sure Democratic vote in the future. But the same could be said of the dozen Democratic senators who broke party ranks and voted for Mr. Bushs tax cuts.
The sweeping, 10-year tax-cut bill, the centerpiece of Mr. Bushs agenda and perhaps the defining legislation of his presidency, was a virtual party litmus test for Democrats. But Mr. Daschle saw 12 of his members, including some within his partys leadership, vote for it on final passage.
Democrats who voted for the Bush tax-cut plan included Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, John B. Breaux and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Jean Carnahan of Missouri, Max Cleland and Zell Miller of Georgia, Dianne Feinstein of California, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey.
The loss of so many Democrats on a hugely important party-line vote was not a reassuring sign that Mr. Daschle will be able to hold his party together as he attempts to block Mr. Bushs agenda on Medicare reform, missile defense and energy, including oil exploration on public lands.
Earlier, five Democrats broke party ranks to vote for the Republican budget plan, which called for slowing the annual rate of spending increases to 4 percent — a position that runs counter to the Democratic Partys bigger spending policies. The five included Messrs . Baucus, Breaux, Cleland, Miller and Nelson.
While Mr. Daschle will undoubtedly be able to hold party ranks together on some bills and amendments, senior White House advisers believe that they will be able to win over enough of these swing Democrats on the big votes to come.
"With only 50 votes on his side, it would only take one or two Democratic votes to win, that is if we hold all of our members," said a legislative strategist for the White House.
Bolstering White House confidence are the legislative alliances that Mr. Bush has made with several Democratic leaders such as Mr. Breaux, who helped to broker the budget and tax-cutting deals that led to the administrations victories on both counts.
Also helping the White House in the pivotal tax-cut battle was Mr. Baucus, who was the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. In a move that enraged Mr. Daschle, he joined with Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, the committees then-chairman, to draft the presidents tax-cut bill that passed the Senate and led to a House-Senate compromise that gave Mr. Bush most of what he wanted.
Now that Mr. Baucus is the committees chairman, the White House hopes he will remain a strategic ally in helping to pass the Medicare reforms that the president will soon propose.
"Grassley and Baucus worked so well together on Finance, were optimistic that axis will still be working. They have a terrific relationship," a White House legislative strategist said.

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