- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

Negotiations over how to organize the Republican-controlled Senate next year are running into problems, with Senate Democrats pushing for an almost-equal split in committee funding and threatening to offer their own organizing plan in January if Republicans do not agree to that.
Republicans, meanwhile, say since they have the clear majority in the Senate, incoming Republican committee chairmen should be able to split committee funding two-thirds for Republicans and one-third for Democrats.
"Absolutely," said a senior GOP aide. "The Democrats won Louisiana, but the bottom line is that we're still the majority."
Democrats encouraged by the fact that Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana managed to win her close runoff election last week are not accepting that.
"There's a real strong feeling within the [Democratic] caucus that we're not going to let Republicans jam something like two-thirds, one-third down our throat," said one Senate Democratic committee aide.
"It seems to me that everyone's in bunker mentality and no one is budging right now," the senior GOP aide said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office said negotiations over organization are between him and Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
Ranit Schmeltzer, spokeswoman for Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said, "We are hopeful to conclude the negotiations in an amicable way prior to the convening of the 108th Congress."
But behind the scenes, Democrats are threatening to offer their own plan of how the Senate should be organized when Congress reconvenes in January.
The Senate Democratic committee aide said party leaders are urging top committee Democrats "not to cut their own deals" with incoming Republican chairmen and "to hang together."
Another Senate Democratic aide said Mr. Lott's office is "dragging its feet" in negotiating "probably because they're trying to figure out how to push for the two-thirds, one-third" plan.
Democrats want the same setup that was agreed to when James M. Jeffords of Vermont gave Democrats control of the Senate in June 2001 by leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Under that plan, the minority party received nearly the same funding on committees for staff and other resources as the majority party. That also reflected the plan both parties agreed to in the first half of 2001, when Republicans controlled the 50-50 Senate due to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
"They resolved that this is how a 51-49 Senate should operate," the Senate Democratic aide said. "Everyone knows that that's what they agreed to when the Senate changed hands back in June 2001."
But Eric Ueland, incoming chief of staff to Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who is taking control of the Senate Rules Committee, said, "The overwhelming history is on the side of the majority controlling the lion's share of the resources."
Mr. Ueland also explained that while Mr. Lott and Mr. Daschle will decide committee size and membership, the funding issue is left up to the Rules Committee.
He said under Mr. Lott's direction, Republican committee chairmen are conferring among themselves currently about funding and will consult with their ranking Democrats once they learn the official makeup of their committees from Senate leadership.
Most incoming committee chairmen "are not enamored with the idea" of near-equal funding," Mr. Ueland said.

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