- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

The Republican House will become the "fire wall" against big spending bills that Senate Democrats hope to pass this year, Republican leadership officials said yesterday.
As Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle moves to take control of the Senates legislative machinery in the wake of Sen. James M. Jeffords damaging defection from the GOP, House Republicans say they are reassessing their strategy in dealing with the new Democratic majority in the other chamber.
Some top Republican officials say that whatever legislation Mr. Daschle may attempt to pass, House Republicans will be the administrations last line of defense in Congress when the bills must go through a House-Senate conference before a reaching a final vote.
With Mr. Daschle in charge of the Senate, a House Republican leadership official said, "it is now obvious that Republican leadership in the Congress is going to come from the House."
"Whatever they pass in the Senate, you still have to reach an agreement with the House before you send any legislation to the presidents desk. The House becomes the fire wall in these fights," the official said.
"The House-Senate conference committees are going to become the new battleground for us," he said.
Despite their narrow majority, House Republican leaders have succeeded in getting much or most of what President Bush wanted in the budget and tax-cut bills by insisting on their numbers when they went into a House and Senate conference to iron out differences between the two chambers.
In the battle over the administrations budget proposals, House Republicans managed to cut the Senates 8 percent spending increase to the 4 percent that the White House wanted and to raise the budget amount set aside for tax cuts by the Senate from $1.2 trillion to $1.35 trillion.
House Republicans were equally successful when the administrations tax-cut plan came out of another conference. The Senate agreed to cut the top 39.6 percent income-tax rate to only 36 percent, higher than the 33 percent agreed to by the House. But when the bill emerged from the conference, the top rate was cut to 35 percent and effectively reduced to the 33 percent rate Mr. Bush wanted when tax exemptions are factored in.
House Republican leaders now plan to move as early as possible on several pieces of legislation in Mr. Bushs remaining agenda in an attempt to force Mr. Daschles hand. A patients' bill of rights and an energy bill modeled on Mr. Bushs proposals are expected to be the next major bills that the House acts on, a Republican leadership official said yesterday.
"I see a lot of silver linings in [the Senate's changeover]" said Pete Jeffries, communications director for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.
"This will continue to highlight that its the House Republicans who are passing solid, common-sense legislation. When that legislation gets sent over to the Senate, well see whether Daschle will be the chief obstructionist and joins liberals like Ted Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton in blocking all of the things the House is doing," Mr. Jeffries said.
House Republicans say they are especially eager to see what Senate Democrats do with the education bill, which the House passed last Wednesday by an overwhelming vote of 345-45. Senate Democrats want to add more money to the administrations plan, but Republican House officials say that if they do, the increases will be cut out or significantly reduced when the bill goes into conference.
Meanwhile, the biggest legislative fights to come will be over money in the 14 appropriations bills that must be passed by Oct. 1. The administration and Republican leaders will be fighting to keep to the budgets 4 percent spending levels, so as not to endanger the tax cuts and other priorities in the presidents budget.
"Tom Daschle will be much easier to roll than Bill Clinton ever was, and we went toe to toe with him for six years. But Daschle is no Bill Clinton," said a House Republican leadership official.


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