- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, after days of criticism by the White House, blamed Republican "obstructionists" yesterday for holding up legislation and accused the administration of a weak effort to enact its energy plan.
After a breakfast meeting at the White House in which President Bush twice urged Mr. Daschle to act more quickly on judicial nominations, the South Dakota Democrat emerged to blame Republicans for blocking a dozen bills, including those on economic relief and homeland security.
"It's awfully hard for us to get to the president's priorities or to our priorities with an obstruction list that long," said Mr. Daschle, whom Vice President Richard B. Cheney labeled an "obstructionist" last year. "It's important for the truth to get out."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, also attended the White House breakfast and said Mr. Daschle didn't raise the complaint with the president and Republican leaders.
"It's funny how he talks in the presence of the president, and then the press conference in the driveway is so different," Mr. Lott said.
Republicans say Mr. Daschle is trying to divert attention from the Senate's inability to approve a budget for fiscal 2003. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert questioned Mr. Daschle about that yesterday.
"I said, 'Do you plan to pass a budget?'" Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, told reporters. "He said, 'Well, it is on our plan.' I said, 'Well, did you get a budget?' And he said he wasn't sure if they were going to get a budget or not.
"We passed [the House budget] that week of the 15th of March," Mr. Hastert said. "So you have got a whole month that has gone on. Nothing has happened. So if they can't get one, we are going to have to find an alternative."
The Senate Budget Committee on March 21 approved a budget for fiscal 2003 that calls for a $92 billion deficit, twice as much red ink as the budget the House approved. But Democratic leaders have not decided how to bring it to the Senate floor because of opposition within their ranks. One alternative would be to offer last year's budget approved by a Republican majority.
Mr. Lott said the Senate has not failed to approve a budget since 1974.
"Are they going to blame us if they don't do a budget? [Mr. Daschle] is saying he doesn't even know if he's going to call one up. Now how is he going to blame that on us? I don't get it," Mr. Lott said.
Congressional Republicans have complained further that the Democrat-led Senate is holding up at least 51 bills that have been approved by the Republican-led House in the past 15 months, including a national energy policy that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Some Senate Democrats have vowed to block the provision. Republicans have been working behind the scenes on strategies to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome Democratic objections.
Mr. Daschle said ANWR drilling is failing in the Senate, in part, because the White House isn't fighting hard enough for it.
"I don't get the impression that the administration has weighed in substantially on ANWR," Mr. Daschle said. "They may have expressed themselves, but I don't see them walking the halls looking for votes."
The White House and Senate Republicans have enlisted the Teamsters union and several interest groups to lobby wavering senators for months in what they describe as an aggressive effort to reach 60 votes. A spokesman for Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said she has lobbied on the Hill every day this week and spent the past 30 days touring the country promoting Mr. Bush's energy plan.
"She's been on the Hill so much, Sen. Daschle should kindly offer her her own office," her spokesman said.
Republicans' latest strategy for passing the ANWR measure involves appealing to steel-belt senators by attaching a bailout for the steel industry, using oil royalties to pay for pensions and health care to laid-off workers.
Mr. Lott said the "steel strategy" could affect as many as 14 votes in the Senate. Supporters of ANWR say they have 52 or 53 votes in favor of the provision.
Mr. Daschle yesterday called the steel-industry proposal "an act of desperation" by Republicans and dared the GOP to introduce the amendment.
"The energy bill, of course, is keeping us from doing almost anything else," Mr. Daschle said. "We're still hoping the Republicans will offer the ANWR amendment. You know, for a caucus that wanted a debate on ANWR as badly as they said they did all last year, it's amazing to me that, after spending a month on this bill, they still can't find an amendment. We've got to get on with an ANWR debate, and we'll do it."
Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, acknowledged that the steel effort is still a long shot but said Mr. Daschle is worried that it will work.
"He has a legitimate reason to be concerned," Mr. Santorum said.
Republicans say they plan to introduce the ANWR provision next week.
Senate Republican leaders plan a news conference for today to call attention to what they contend is Mr. Daschle's weak leadership of the chamber. Mr. Lott said Democratic disorganization and Mr. Daschle's dictatorial style are to blame for Senate inaction.
Mr. Lott said Mr. Daschle is bypassing committees where legislation is normally drafted and bringing it straight to the floor to be crafted. He said two committees were bypassed for the energy bill. The legislation yesterday continued to drag on for the 20th day.
Mr. Daschle also took the farm bill away from the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and "wrote a totally partisan farm bill, and it became a disaster on the floor," Mr. Lott said.
"The Senate has become a cesspool of inactivity, and it's still continuing to drag along," Mr. Lott said.

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