- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

With the Nov. 5 congressional elections that will determine which party controls each house barely two months away, Congress reconvenes this week. Before members will be permitted to depart for their crucial fall campaigns, though, the House and Senate must address more substantive issues in a shorter period of time than they have faced in years.
Congress will be meeting not only in an increasingly partisan environment, but also in an atmosphere clouded by a weakening economy and invigorated by the prospect of a debate to authorize a pre-emptive military attack on Iraq. President Bush's impending national address on the latter issue may set the stage for historic congressional action. In the middle of these powerful domestic and foreign-policy forces, Congress must pass the largest reorganization of the U.S. government in more than 50 years, an immense undertaking that will completely redesign the nation's approach to homeland security. Meanwhile, Congress must also consider the 13 annual spending bills to fund the government beginning Oct. 1. Congress' plate also includes bankruptcy overhaul, welfare-reform re-authorization, a national energy plan, the faith-based initiative, pension protection, a Medicare prescription-drug policy, election-law reform and the patients' bill of rights.
Given the constitutional requirement that each piece of legislation must be approved by both bodies of Congress, one might be inclined to conclude that both houses have equally contributed to the sizeable workload still confronting Congress at this late hour. That would be wrong. While both houses have passed different versions of bankruptcy, energy-policy, election-law and patients' rights legislation, the fact is that only the Republican-controlled House has produced bills on many of the other important issues that must still be resolved. In case after case, the Democratic-controlled Senate has been the laggard. On no issue is the comparison more stark than the federal budget. Despite an overabundance of rhetoric from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad bemoaning the return of deficits, today's Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget the first time that has happened since the process was changed by the 1974 budget-reform act.
Specifically, the House passed a Medicare prescription-drug bill in June, while the Senate spent two weeks futilely debating the issue in July but failed to pass its own plan. The House passed a pension bill in April; the Senate has yet to do so. The House re-authorized welfare reform in May; the Senate has failed to pass its version. Homeland security legislation passed the House before the August recess, an achievement the Senate failed to match.
Having passed its budget resolution in March, the House has committed itself to staying within specific spending limits a pledge it will seek to honor by considering the health, labor and education appropriations bill before any other remaining spending bills. Meanwhile, the Senate's failure to pass a budget has set the stage for a spending orgy that is distasteful even by congressional standards.
It would be one thing if the Democratic-controlled Senate failed so far to pass comparable legislation because it was performing its unique constitutional mandates, such as confirming federal judges. Yet, the Senate has failed in this regard as well. It's going to be a long, hot autumn for Washington, but especially for the Senate.

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