- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2003

The Senate adjourned for the summer with Republicans arguing they have made gigantic strides compared to when Democrats controlled Congress, but Democrats are claiming a big win after forcing the Senate to accept the energy bill they wrote when they controlled the chamber.

In a flurry of late-session activity, the Senate passed free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore and sent them on to President Bush for his signature. They also passed a supplemental appropriation to replenish funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Republicans pointed to a $350 billion tax cut package, a ban on partial-birth abortion, $15 billion over five years to help stem the spread of AIDS in Africa, and passing a prescription drug benefit as part of a $400 billion Medicare package as major accomplishments.

And on Thursday they added an energy bill, which passed 84-14 after Republicans accepted Democratic leaders’ suggestion to take up last year’s bill, which was written under Democratic control but never made it out of a House-Senate conference, and pass it.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was beaming when he told reporters Thursday night he never dreamed a Republican-controlled Congress would pass a Democratic bill.

“If Republicans were prepared to declare victory over passage of a major Democratic bill once, why stop there? We have lots more Democratic legislation ready to take up and pass — under whatever name Republicans choose,” Mr. Daschle’s office said in a statement yesterday.

But Republicans said they outsmarted Democrats just by getting a bill through the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he believed “in my heart of hearts” that Democrats didn’t really want an energy bill and that Mr. Daschle made a mistake by offering to pass the 2002 bill.

“He didn’t intend to. He said he didn’t intend to,” Mr. Frist said.

Now, Republicans have a bill to take to a House-Senate conference controlled by Republicans.

“I think they concluded about the only way they could salvage anything out of the situation was to claim the Senate passed their bill. We were happy to let them make that claim and to move on and write the final bill,” said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Some observers said accepting the Democrats’ bill didn’t really change the outcome.

“What ultimately happened was more or less what was going to happen anyway. The terminal point of this was going to be some kind of parliamentary maneuvering,” said Michael McKenna, who lobbies Capitol Hill on energy issues.

But environmental lobbyists and some Democrats said Republicans did win by passing a bill.

“The question was were they even going to be able to get a bill out of the Senate. That they’ve done,” one Democratic aide said.

The aide said the question now is whether House Republicans overreach in conference — possibly by trying to include provisions to allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That provision, which the House passed but which failed in the Senate earlier this year, could be a deal-breaker for both Democrats and some more liberal Republicans.

Either way, the Senate seems more and more to be deferring to the House in producing a solid bill.

“How many times have you heard somebody in the U.S. Senate say to you, the House will work it out in conference? The House will strip that out,” said one strategist who asked not to be named. “That is a recurring theme now. It is tantamount to the Senate essentially abrogating its role as one of a bicameral legislative body.”

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