- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

A leading Senate Democrat said yesterday that the Interior Department spending bill should be shelved because no agreement can be reached on President Bush's forest-protection plan.
"We really need to move off of the Interior appropriations bill; it is obvious that because of the forest-fighting feud that's in the legislation, that bill is not going forward," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
"It's not going to go forward, and we shouldn't be wasting mornings standing around here doing nothing," Mr. Reid said.
The Senate has employed a "dual-track" approach to legislation on the floor, debating one bill in the morning Interior spending and a second bill creation of a homeland security department in the afternoon.
Republicans say blame for inaction should fall on Democrats, who control the Senate, specifically Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said the lack of progress is "shocking" and that Mr. Daschle has "mired the Senate into a pit of legislative quicksand," including the Interior bill, which has been debated since Sept. 3.
"It remains at an impasse because the Senate Democratic leadership will not work to find a compromise that will allow Western senators to provide their dry states with a way of logging of forests in fire-prone areas. However, Senate Majority Leader Daschle has allowed himself this luxury in his home state," Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, said in a memo yesterday.
Mr. Bush's forest plan is based on an exemption from environmental regulations and court appeals that Mr. Daschle included for a project in his home state of South Dakota in another spending bill.
One Republican staffer said the negotiations resembled a football game between "Peanuts" cartoon characters Charlie Brown and Lucy.
"We are done falling on our backs; we just want a vote," the staffer said.
Meanwhile, Republican House lawmakers issued statements calling on their leadership to pass the president's plan before Congress adjourns for the session.
The Senate plan stops short of the full exemptions allowed in the Daschle plan but puts limits on court appeals.
"The Healthy Forests Initiative will allow foresters to spend more time in the forest and less time in the courtroom battling environmental lawsuits," said Rep. John Thune, South Dakota Republican.
"For too long, exhaustive administrative regulations and frivolous environmental lawsuits have stopped sound and balanced forest management. It's time we cut the red tape, and protect lives and preserve habitat instead of watching it go up in smoke," Mr. Thune said.
More than 6 million acres have been burned and 28 persons have been killed during this wildfire season, which continues through next month.
Dave Boyer contributed to this report.


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