- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Partisanship in the Senate rose to a wartime high yesterday as Democrats blamed Republicans for stalling bills and the Republican Party created a mock Web site dedicated to what it regards as Democratic ineptitude.

"We have a crisis by inaction," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, listing more than 50 bills approved by the Republican-led House but stalled in the Senate.

Yesterday's partisan bickering came on the heels of comments made Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who blamed Republican "obstructionists" for holding up legislation in the chamber.

The legislation on hold includes the Bush administration's national energy plan and the president's initiative to encourage charitable donations to religious groups.

Democrats, however, responded to Mr. Lott's finger-pointing by blaming Republicans for stalling bills in order to make Mr. Daschle look bad.

"We're kind of like a bicycle built for two," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. "We're up front pedaling uphill, and they're in the back seat with the brakes on. We've made a lot of progress, no thanks to some."

Republicans advertised a Web site they said they are designing called "www.disappointed.senate.gov" to give the public a running tally of bills stalled in the Senate.

The back-to-back partisan news conferences yesterday were the latest example of how far party relations have plummeted since the immediate aftermath of September 11, when Congress united to approve several pieces of emergency legislation aimed at combatting terrorism.

And Republicans said relations in the Senate have worsened since March 14, when Democrats on the Judiciary Committee rejected the nomination of Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi for an appeals court seat. Judge Pickering, a friend of Mr. Lott's, was defeated in a party-line vote after a bitter confirmation process in which opponents suggested that he was a racist.

Mr. Lott said Mr. Daschle has never extended him any courtesy over the Democrats' bashing of his friend.

"He has never to this day said, 'Look, I'm sorry about Pickering, and I feel badly about it. It shouldn't have happened, and I could have done more and I didn't do more, and it won't happen again,'" Mr. Lott said. "Not one thing. [But] I'm not going to be that petty on these things."

The Republican leader said he has called Mr. Daschle several times this week to work on issues such as border security, although he said Mr. Daschle has not communicated with him.

"A couple of times I've said, 'Hey, Tom, I'm calling you again, you know this phone does go both ways,'" Mr. Lott said.

Democrats said they have approved several important bills since they took control of the chamber last June. They cited a patients' "bill of rights," an economic-recovery package, an airline-industry bailout and reauthorization of the main federal education program.

"It's strange that anybody should be here defending Tom Daschle, who has been doing a superb job as leader," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

But Republicans targeted Mr. Leahy as one of the prime culprits of worsening relations, saying that, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has blocked or torpedoed conservative judicial nominees. Mr. Lott said more than 50 judicial nominations are pending, including some submitted a year ago.

Mr. Leahy replied that Democrats are not about to roll over for the White House.

He said Republicans "have a different definition of bipartisanship, and the definition is simple: Democrats should simply adopt whatever the Republican agenda is, lock, stock and barrel and pass it."

"If we don't take it lock, stock and barrel, it's obstructionism," Mr. Leahy said. "Well, voters didn't send us here to be a rubber stamp for anyone, and we're not going to simply rubber stamp judicial nominees. The Constitution says 'advise and consent,' not 'advise and rubber-stamp.'"

The renewed partisan tensions are likely to get another test next week, when the Senate considers a White House plan to allow for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Several Democrats have promised to filibuster the measure, meaning supporters would need 60 votes to defeat the opposition.

Republicans and some conservative Democrats argue that Iraq's decision last week to stop exporting oil for 30 days is another example of why the United States needs to develop more domestic sources of oil.

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