- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert sharply criticized the Senate yesterday for thumping its chest in the face of the anthrax scare, the latest sign of lingering bitterness between the two chambers.
In a closed meeting of House Republicans, Mr. Hastert likened the Senate to a Cold War adversary, telling lawmakers that he would "trust but verify" in future dealings with Senate leaders.
The normally low-key Mr. Hastert also said Senate leaders had turned "180 degrees" last week after initially agreeing to close Congress in response to the anthrax attack. He called senators' bragging about remaining on the job, while the House closed, "unacceptable."
As word of the Illinois Republican's comments reached the Senate, a senior Republican aide retaliated, accusing the speaker of losing control of his appropriators in the current budget negotiations and jeopardizing the tentative spending agreement with the Senate.
Mr. Hastert and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said they agreed with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, last week to close Congress until environmental testing for anthrax could be completed.
But after Mr. Hastert announced the House would close, senators prevailed upon Mr. Daschle to keep the Senate open. The split angered many House members and spawned newspaper headlines calling House leaders "wimps."
Several senators criticized the House for overreacting. But days later, authorities discovered anthrax in a House office building and two postal workers in the District died from anthrax infections.
"Some of those who were pounding their chest broke egg all over their face since then," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "I think it's been proven that the speaker made the right decision."
Some House members said the episode has caused lasting damage between the two chambers.
"I thought it was disgraceful," Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said of the Senate's performance. "It's done significant damage. They were self-important, pompous windbags. There should have been none of this stuff like [New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert G.] Torricelli saying of the House, 'This is not their finest hour.'
"Maybe they're insecure about their manhood," Mr. King said. "They have to somehow act as if being in the Capitol in a hideaway office is like being in the front lines of Afghanistan."
Mr. Gephardt took some criticism from his members yesterday at a closed meeting, with some Democrats complaining that closing the House last week made them look weak compared with the Senate.
Mr. Daschle said he does not sense a frayed relationship with the House, pointing to a civil breakfast meeting among congressional leaders and President Bush on Tuesday.
"I'm not concerned," Mr. Daschle said. "The four of us [House and Senate leaders] have to work together. We talked about the work that we had in front of us this week. And I don't think it could have been any more cordial than it was."
Most of the anger in the House has been targeted at Mr. Daschle, with some saying the episode has raised Mr. Gephardt's profile over Mr. Daschle as the primary spokesman of the party.
"Gephardt has clearly become the more statesmanlike of the two," said a House Republican leadership aide. "That moment was very important. [Mr. Daschle] made a pretty big mistake when it comes to how people will size him up and deal with him in the future. Politics is ultimately a very personal business. People rely on handshakes."
The incident also has fostered a closer working relationship between Mr. Hastert and Mr. Gephardt.
"We've been working very closely with the minority leader so we can make sure House members and their staffs are in the loop," said Hastert spokesman Pete Jeffries. "This [House] leadership seems to be getting results."
Relations between the House and Senate typically vary from friendly rivalry to outright contempt. Mr. Hastert clearly knew his audience yesterday when he accused the Senate of causing last week's embarrassment.
Those who attended the weekly House Republican meeting said members did not give Mr. Hastert their usual warm chant of "coach, coach" when he entered the room. But by the time he had finished laying the blame at the Senate's doorstep, they gave him a standing ovation.
"I was at first angry at the speaker, but two people have died," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican. "We're being a little more cautious than our initial reaction."
But a Senate Republican aide showed that the Senate is ready and willing to fire back at Mr. Hastert.
The senior staffer noted that House appropriators this week have proposed $40 billion in extra spending above the $686 billion framework on which House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement with the White House. He said Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense, wants $20 billion more in emergency defense spending and Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, has proposed $20 billion for homeland security.
"When people start breaking the agreement, other subcommittee chairmen probably will, too," the Senate aide said. "The [budget] agreement could come apart at the seams unless Speaker Hastert controls the committee chairmen."
Reflecting on the atmosphere in the wake of the anthrax attacks, the House Republican leadership aide said the two chambers have gone from "an air of congeniality to a new era of confrontation."

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