- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Even by the flexible standards of Washington, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle displayed a nearly incomprehensible level of chutzpah when he blamed Republican "obstructionism" for the Democratic-controlled Senate's sorry record of ever-expanding failure. As legislators left the capital last week to either campaign for the midterm election or to get a breath of fresh air, Mr. Daschle bemoaned the missed opportunities that resulted in a "very disappointing Congress."

While it is objectively impossible to challenge Mr. Daschle's assessment of a "very disappointing Congress," his blaming Republicans for missed opportunities is absurd on its face. Yes, there is much unfinished business, but virtually all of it can be traced to the Senate.

Let's begin with something as routine as the federal budget process. The Republican-controlled House passed its budget resolution for fiscal 2003 in March. For the first time since the budget process was reformed in 1974, however, a body of Congress Mr. Daschle's Senate failed to adopt a budget resolution. To be sure, there is more than enough blame to go around for Congress' failure to meet its Oct. 1 appropriations deadline, including the inability of House Republican conservatives and appropriators to reach agreement on the health-labor-education bill. Nevertheless, Mr. Daschle deserves a disproportionate share of the blame for his leadership failure.

Regarding homeland security, the House passed its version in July by a 295-132 vote, whose majority included 88 Democrats. On this issue, Mr. Daschle and his party's Senate caucus have proved to be particularly obstructionist. After witnessing the indefatigable efforts of Senate Democrats carrying water for the Big Labor bosses, who have been filling their party's campaign coffers, it is impossible to argue with the observation of Sen. Phil Gramm, who commented, "Their problem is they love public employee labor unions more than they love homeland security."

The Senate, of course, plays a unique congressional role in approving nominations to the federal courts. When legislators departed last week, Mr. Daschle's Senate had approved only 80 of President Bush's 130 nominations to district and appellate courts, or 62 percent. Measured against the Senate's performance during the first two years of the four other presidencies, that record of intentional futility compares with 93 percent (Jimmy Carter), 98 percent (Ronald Reagan), 95 percent (George H.W. Bush) and 90 percent (Bill Clinton), according to the Congressional Research Service. Even if the Senate acts during its lame-duck session on the 18 judicial nominations that were belatedly approved by the Judiciary Committee, more than half of Mr. Bush's appellate nominees, including several announced on May 9, 2001, remain stuck in committee. When Mr. Bush took the oath of office, there were 80 district and appellate vacancies. Today, there are 77.

If Mr. Daschle's Senate has failed in its constitutionally prescribed fiscal and judicial roles, it hasn't done much better with its other duties. Congress knew six years ago that welfare-reform legislation would have to be reauthorized in 2002. The House passed its bill in May and is still waiting for the Senate to do its part. The House passed a plan for prescription-drug coverage for seniors in June. So far, nothing from Mr. Daschle's Senate. In the wake of the Enron debacle and even before the WorldCom implosion the House passed a pension-regulation bill. The Senate has yet to act.

Missed opportunities? That is one issue on which Mr. Daschle qualifies as Congress' leading expert.

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