- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

President Bush plans to use the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress to enact as much of his stalled agenda as possible and then announce new legislation for next year's Congress to take up.
Now that Republicans have taken over the Senate and padded their lead in the House, the administration plans to move swiftly on a variety of initiatives that had been blocked by Democrats. The GOP-controlled lame-duck Congress will get first crack at many of these measures.
"There are many initiatives that could have and should have been done in the last Congress that got bottled up and stopped that now have a much stronger chance of getting done," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
"The most important item of unfinished business for the Congress to deal with this year is the creation of the Department of Homeland Security," he said.
Defying historical trends for the president's party in a midterm election, Republicans gained at least two Senate seats in Tuesday's election, taking control of the body by a 51-47 margin, with one independent and a Louisiana seat requiring a December runoff. In the House, the GOP also gained at least four seats, fattening its edge to 227-203, with one independent and four seats still undetermined yesterday.
Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the incoming Senate majority leader, exhorted Mr. Bush to start pushing the Republican agenda.
Mr. Lott told reporters on Capitol Hill that Mr. Bush had called him first thing yesterday morning and "started off the conversation by saying, 'Majority Leader, where are you? Are you still at home?'
"And I said, 'No, Mr. President. I'm in my office. Let's go to work.' And that's the way I feel about the opportunity we have here," Mr. Lott said. "I'm excited to be able to be on offense."
Mr. Lott called Tuesday's stunning election results a mandate for moving forward with Mr. Bush's post-September 11 agenda on terrorism and national security.
"I do think issues made a difference in this election," Mr. Lott said. "America did change on September 11 over a year ago.
"I think that did have an effect on this election. People do want security here at home. I think they didn't understand why we couldn't come to an agreement on creating a new Homeland Security Department," he said. Voters "want Congress to support and work with our president as the commander in chief."
While Mr. Bush kept a low public profile yesterday, he called dozens of candidates both Democrats and Republicans to congratulate them on their victories.
With Senate control, Mr. Bush also will push for ratification of the Treaty of Moscow, which slashes the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia by two-thirds during the next decade.
Domestically, Congress has passed neither a budget resolution nor almost all of the appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Beyond the essential spending measure to keep the government operating, it was not clear last night the issues on which Senate Republicans will move first.
"Obviously, there's a lot of unfinished business that still sits there that we'd like to see moved forward," said White House Political Director Ken Mehlman.
Besides homeland security, the Republican wish list is topped by tax breaks and defining an energy policy.
"We will do a budget. We will have a process to allow us to consider tax policy and prescription drugs. We will do Homeland Security Department," Mr. Lott said.
Mr. Lott also said he wants to get an energy bill passed, which the Democrats blocked on the issue of drilling in Alaska, and he wants to have a vote next year on making permanent those parts of the president's tax-cut package that are set to expire at the end of this decade.
White House officials said other issues the president would like to move on include a ban on human cloning, an increase in funding for community health centers and the use of churches to help distribute federal aid.
Mr. Bush will call for legislation to make his tax cuts permanent. If that is not accomplished by the lame-duck Congress, it will be presented to the next Congress, along with a host of new initiatives that will be rolled out in the weeks leading up to the president's State of the Union address in January.
Along the way, Mr. Bush plans to make up for lost time on his judicial nominations, most of whom have been blocked by Senate Democrats.
"The process was used to keep them bottled up and killed in committee," Mr. Fleischer said. "But I think those days may be over."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who is expected to return as chairman of the Finance Committee, said his early priorities "will include working for full Senate passage of legislation that passed the Finance Committee but stalled under the Senate's Democratic leadership."
Despite his enthusiasm for the Republican agenda in the 108th Congress, Mr. Lott was cautious about how much could be accomplished in the lame-duck session.
"I am not an advocate of lame-duck sessions, whether I'm in the minority or the majority," he said. "I've never seen one that served the American people well, and I've been through a lot of them."
While the White House reveled in the GOP's historic sweep of the midterm elections, Mr. Bush was careful not to gloat for fear of imperiling his newly attainable agenda.
"It is a big victory, and the president thought that the most appropriate way to mark it today would be with a touch of graciousness," Mr. Fleischer said. "And so the president is not going to have any public statements today."
Mr. Mehlman also said that a central tenet of the Democratic strategy calling attention to the economy backfired.
"Over the weekend, the [Republican National Committee] took an internal poll that showed that Republicans were trusted over Democrats by eight points on the economy," Mr. Mehlman said.
Mr. Bush campaigned furiously for fellow Republicans, betting much of his presidential prestige on a long-shot quest for congressional control. He was rewarded with a "historic result," according to Mr. Mehlman.
"No Republican president has ever gained net seats in the House in their first midterm," he said. "And no president from either party has ever won back the Senate in a midterm. Both happened last night."
In addition to leading the GOP to victory in both chambers of Congress, the president helped prevent Democrats from realizing their long-standing goal of taking over a majority of governorships. Republicans retained control of at least 25 governorships, including Florida, where Jeb Bush, the president's brother, handily defeated Democratic challenger Bill McBride.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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