- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota More than a year after President Bush appeared here with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle to insist bipartisanship was not dead, he returned yesterday to suggest the South Dakota Democrat, now majority leader, was blocking his agenda.

Mr. Bush was cordial to his political nemesis at an ethanol plant, but then spent the rest of the day raising money to strip Mr. Daschle of Senate control. The president appeared at the most lucrative fund-raiser in the state's history, helping raise $350,000 for Rep. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.

That would return Senate control to Republicans, a scenario that the president views as his best hope for enacting his agenda. In the meantime, he and his top aides are using the carrot-and-stick approach on Mr. Daschle, hoping to pass legislation on agriculture, energy, trade and taxes.

"Tom, I'm honored you'd come," Mr. Bush told the Senate majority leader, who was among an audience of hundreds at a Dakota Ethanol warehouse. "We need to put aside all the posturing, all the noise, and for the good of American agriculture, get a trade bill to my desk and a farm bill to my desk."

While Mr. Bush employed the carrot approach, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman tried the stick. She suggested to reporters that Mr. Daschle was playing politics by blocking the Bush agenda, including with a farm bill stuck in a conference committee.

"There have been two or three times during this conference process where they believed they had an agreement on something fairly major," Mrs. Veneman said. "And then the Senate Democrats have pulled back."

She said the administration has concerns "about whether or not there's really a real desire here to help farmers, or whether there's a little politics being played."

Mr. Daschle said the conferees made "real progress" on the farm bill at meetings that lasted late into the night Tuesday and were expected to continue last night.

"I think there is an outside possibility we could finish this week," Mr. Daschle said after the president's speech at the ethanol plant. "I think we're making the kind of progress now that gives me encouragement and gives me a little more optimism."

Democrats blamed the White House for opposing an amendment by Mr. Johnson that would mandate labels on meat telling consumers the countries of origin.

"We've had some terrible instances of filthy packing plants in Mexico and other parts of the world," Mr. Johnson said. "Americans want to buy an American product, or at least know what it is they're buying.

"Unfortunately, the administration so far has opposed the country-of-origin labeling," he added.

Nonetheless, Mr. Johnson was careful to make an appearance at the president's speech, which also was attended by his opponent, Mr. Thune.

"I wanted to be here to personally welcome the president and make sure that he understands that our hospitality is right there for him," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Bush said: "Thank you, Tim, for coming." He also joked about his regular meetings at the White House with Mr. Daschle.

After his speech, the president shook Mr. Daschle's hand and gave him a hearty pat on the shoulder.

"He said he'd kiss me, but people would talk," Mr. Daschle quipped to a reporter moments later.

The majority leader acknowledged the presidential visit would help Mr. Thune.

"Obviously, when the president of the United States comes to support your candidate, it's a big boost," he said.

Mr. Johnson disagreed.

"I think that the election comes down to the candidate," he said.

The president last visited South Dakota in March 2001, two months before Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont defected from the Republican Party to become an independent, giving Democrats control of a 50-49-1 Senate. At the time, Mr. Bush toured a medical center in Sioux Falls with Mr. Daschle and was asked to respond to a remark by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, House minority leader, that "bipartisanship is dead."

"Doesn't look like it's dead to me," replied Mr. Bush, who turned to Mr. Daschle for confirmation. The South Dakota Democrat grinned and nodded his head.

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