- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

Senate leaders last night reached a deal to organize the chamber's committees more than a week after the 108th Congress convened, allowing Republicans to finally wield the gavels.
"After negotiating in good faith we are bringing this to a conclusion," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.
He said the final agreement was fair to both parties and would "allow us to proceed with the nation's business."
"It accommodates the needs of both of our caucuses," agreed Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
The Senate last night passed a resolution by unanimous voice vote that appoints Republican committee chairmen and members, and a separate resolution that appoints Democrats to the panels.
Normally, such resolutions are passed soon after a new Congress convenes. But Democrats demanded a nearly equal split in committee funding before they would agree to a resolution appointing panel chairmen and members.
Without such a resolution, the panels remained as they were in the 107th Congress, with Democrats in charge and new senators with no committee assignments.
Republicans this week had angrily accused Democrats of launching a "coup" to negate November's election results by blocking organization of the Senate, which would put Republicans in control of committees.
"They have reached new levels of obstruction," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. "They've been blocking something that has never been blocked in the history of the Senate, and that is appointing people to their committees."
Some Republicans said their criticism of Democrats was effective.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said earlier yesterday that "ratcheting up the heat is what caused the agreement to get done."
She said "when people saw Republicans were being kept from their ability to run the Senate, the pressure was great" on the Democrats.
But the funding agreement gives the Democrats "exactly what we asked for," said Daschle spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer.
Mr. Frist said that under the agreement, general funding for committees' administrative costs, travel and most other purposes will be split 60 percent for Republicans and 40 percent for Democrats. However, Democrats will get 49 percent of the money designated for staff salaries, as they had asked. This means they will not have to lay off staff members.
Mr. Frist said "both sides moved to a center ground," though Democrats would have preferred to get 49 percent of the funding for all expenses. He also said office space will be "commensurate" with the general 60-40 committee funding guideline.
Mr. Frist said that the agreement on funding, space and other issues is not included in either committee resolution, but was submitted into the Senate record in the form of a joint leadership letter. By doing it this way, he said, it does not set a precedent for future committee arrangements.
Republican John E. Sununu, New Hampshire's new senator, called the agreement "terrific" because it "allows me to be a member of the Commerce Committee," instead of just "attending hearings out of the politeness of the chairman."
The last holdup to the organizing agreement was a disagreement over how to organize the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
Leadership aides said a verbal agreement had been reached, but that details were not available late last night.


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