- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

A Senate building remained closed because of anthrax contamination and National Guardsmen patrolled the Capitol's perimeter, but Congress yesterday returned to normal in one important aspect: Partisan politics flourished.

Senators returning from the Thanksgiving recess wasted no time sparring over a stalled bill to pull the economy out of recession, over the lack of a national energy plan, even over having to wait their turn at the microphone while colleagues gave lengthy floor speeches.

In the House, Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, accused Senate Democrats of promoting "anything that spends money." He said it is increasingly likely that Congress will adjourn for Christmas without a bill to help the economy.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is "morally obligated" to send President Bush bills on energy, defense and economic stimulus before Christmas.

A top House Democrat accused House Republican leaders of "slashing" $1.5 billion from unemployment grants to states that were hardest hit by the weakening economy. The shuffling of money comes as the House prepares to vote today on a defense spending bill with more money for New York's recovery.

Lawmakers had been quick to promote their bipartisan cooperation in the weeks following the September 11 terrorist attacks. As Congress reconvened yesterday, Senate chaplain Lloyd John Ogilvie prayed for "civility, creativity and compromise that will get the work done expeditiously."

Within an hour, however, the partisan floodgates opened.

Mr. Daschle announced Democrats' intentions to vote on a railroad pension bill and a farm bill this week, prompting Republicans to charge that Democrats were ignoring more urgent matters, such as an economic-stimulus package and an energy bill, the latter of which Mr. Daschle had scheduled for early next year.

"We shouldn't be doing anything else until we get an agreement on a stimulus bill," said Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, noting that the economy is officially in a recession.

Mr. Daschle blamed Republicans for voting down the Democrats' $69 billion stimulus bill two weeks ago. He said Republicans are blocking negotiations because they will not promise to allow a vote on a $15 billion Democratic homeland-security bill.

"I ask my Republican colleagues, which part of the homeland-security bill do you oppose?" the South Dakota Democrat said. "Smallpox vaccine? How about transportation security?"

But Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and assistant minority leader, told Mr. Daschle that the Republicans were backing up Mr. Bush's threat that he would veto any more new spending this year.

"You defended your president very well President Clinton," Mr. Nickles told Mr. Daschle. "Some of us want to defend President Bush in trying to make sure we don't go too far too fast on spending. Some of us do believe in budgets."

The floor debate irritated Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who was waiting to discuss a proposed ban on human cloning.

"I have been here for 21 years I don't think a senator should have to wait for an hour while there are people who can gain recognition [to ask a question] when there really aren't questions, but speeches," Mr. Specter said.

Amid the feuding, one glimmer of hope emerged for a stimulus bill in the Senate. Republican leaders decided to support a proposal to suspend the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax for one month, a plan that would pump about $40 billion into the economy almost immediately.

The proposal by Republican Sens. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri would replace plans to retroactively repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax and to give $300 rebates to low-income workers.

Republican leaders said their package would include extending unemployment benefits for 13 weeks, and providing $5 billion in emergency block grants for states to help the unemployed buy health insurance.

But Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, who met with Senate Republicans yesterday, said the proposal was merely one option discussed and that the Senate needed to reach an agreement on its own.

Congressional leaders are expected to discuss their options with Mr. Bush this morning at a White House meeting.

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