- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

Lawmakers left behind a lot of unfinished business last month that should be at the top of Congress' "to do" list when it reconvenes on Jan. 23.
But 2002 is also a pivotal campaign year when, usually, very little gets done, as both sides battle for political advantages in the upcoming midterm elections. Congress finished 2001 in a slugfest of bickering, blocking and backstabbing. And this year, with control of the House and Senate at stake, the legislative warfare is likely to get worse.
President Bush will offer his own budget proposals later this month that will reflect the nation's focus on national security, the anti-terrorism war and the economy. And with his approval scores in the 90s, he will be a formidable force on Capitol Hill, though presidents do not often have the same legislative clout in their second year that they did in their first.
In any event, here's how this year's legislative terrain is likely to shape up:
First, there is the critical question of whether the economy still needs a tax-cutting stimulus bill, which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, killed last month because he and House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt think taxes aren't high enough.
Mr. Bush had enough guts to reject Mr. Daschle's demands for a lot more new entitlement spending and virtually no tax cuts, knowing the Democrats' plan would do nothing to rev up the economy's job-producing machine. "Let's wait and see what happens to the economy," a resigned Mr. Bush said on the day Congress shut down and went home.
There are some signs that the economy is turning around on its own, with a little help from the $40 billion in emergency federal spending in response to the terrorist attacks and another $70 billion in the continuing Bush tax rate cuts that take effect this month.
But if layoffs continue, unemployment jumps significantly and retail sales sag, the president will make a renewed pitch for a quick stimulus plan and the battle will begin again.
This time, though, it will be harder for Mr. Daschle to get away with his leftist, class-warfare demagoguery, which has created a rift with his party's conservative members, like Georgia Sen. Zell Miller. If the economy shows no signs of recovery, America's workers will be demanding action and Mr. Bush will be leading them.
The trade expansion and energy independence bills are two other key pieces of unfinished legislation. The House has acted on each and there is bipartisan, majority support for them in the Senate. Mr. Daschle and his liberal gang of obstructionists have prevented an up-or-down vote on both.
With the OPEC cartel boosting oil prices this year, further endangering our national security, and with America's biggest trade competitors capturing emerging overseas markets at our expense, political pressure will grow to pass these bills.
But the nation's two other major concerns, homeland safety and the war against terrorism, will continue to dominate Congress' work this year.
The president will ask for much more money to make sure America is protected from terrorist attacks. Homeland defense will get additional funding to help states and communities who are the "first-responders" in any attack.
He will propose funds for a reorganized terrorist defense system that will guard airports and the rest of our transportation structure, energy facilities and other security-related plants and structures; more money to respond to biological warfare, including increased vaccine stockpiles for anthrax and smallpox; funding to speed research and development for new high-tech sensor and screening technology, including devices that can quickly pinpoint and identify biological, chemical and nuclear materials and other explosives.
There will be more funding for the Pentagon to increase the number of aircraft carriers that played the key role in the war in Afghan- istan and to expand our special forces who are trained to hunt down and kill terrorists. Mr. Bush will also call for beefed up budgets for our intelligence services, including black bag units authorized to assassinate terrorist leaders and their agents.
Mr. Bush's budget will also call for much less spending in low priority programs to keep the expected fiscal 2003 deficit to a minimum. The grumbling coming out of the departments and agencies is that Budget Director Mitch Daniels is cutting deeply elsewhere in the government to offset the increased costs of homeland defense and the war on terrorism.
When Mr. Bush sends these and other proposals to Congress, they will be presented within the framework of protecting American national security in time of war. That kind of argument drives liberal Democrats up the wall when it is applied to things like tax cuts, fast-track trade authority and drilling for oil here at home. But in an increasingly dangerous world, economic security is a critical weapon of war.


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