- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Sen. Bill Frist's honeymoon as majority leader lasted about as long as it took to swear in this year's new slate of senators, thanks to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
A deal that the Tennessee Republican said he thought had been brokered with Democrats to extend unemployment benefits by unanimous consent evaporated yesterday if only temporarily when Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat, insisted on an amendment to double the extension from 13 weeks to 26 weeks.
"I think on the first day they wanted to try and test me," Mr. Frist said. "And the fact that it had been agreed to before I think was confusing to me because usually when you have an agreement like that across the aisle, the agreement is carried through to the bill."
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he was unaware of any bipartisan agreement to pass the unemployment benefits bill so quickly.
"I don't know who they had the deal with," Mr. Reid said. "They didn't have the deal with me."
Mr. Frist's Republican colleagues in the Senate said it would take more to rattle their new leader than what he experienced on his first day.
"There are some Democrats who will challenge and teach him a lot more than he wanted to know about floor procedure," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican. "But I think he can handle it."
After 20 minutes of private discussion, Mr. Frist shook hands with Mrs. Clinton and sealed the deal to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks by unanimous consent in exchange for his promise to consider expanding the program.
It was the first order of real business yesterday after getting several routine organizing resolutions and cordial speeches out of the way. The bill extending unemployment benefits had to be approved yesterday, Mr. Frist said, so the president could sign it by tomorrow and no one would miss a benefit check.
Mr. Frist lamented the quick beginning to what promised to be a contentious relationship with Senate Democrats, who were relegated to minority status in no small part because of Mr. Frist's work last year as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"I guess that is what I can come to expect," Mr. Frist said on the Senate floor.
The quick political fight which included some heated exchanges between Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat belied the session's warm beginnings.
After Mr. Frist's opening speech, in which he said he hoped the session would be "defined by achievement and cooperative spirit," Mr. Daschle paid the new majority leader a compliment.
"I have little doubt we will be led well and led fairly," he said.
Upon passage of the unemployment benefits bill, which is expected to be taken up by the House of Representatives today, Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, joked with reporters that he congratulated Mr. Frist on a prolific first day's work.
"He's been majority leader for two hours, and he's already increased spending by $7.2 billion," Mr. Nickles said.
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said it was "unfortunate" that Democrats "tried to surprise our new majority leader."
Freshman Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican, said he worried about what an unusually contentious first day would mean for the 108th Congress.
"I'm concerned because I hope this is not a precursor for what the session is going to be like," Mr. Sununu said. "We think we've negotiated an agreement in good faith, and then there appears to be some political games to play."
Those political games and Mr. Frist's lack of experience in such a high-profile position are what worry some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"[Mr. Frist] has a little way to go on leadership how it works," a senior Republican aide said.
To cut a deal on the unemployment extension bill, which differed in many ways from the House proposal, Mr. Frist had scheduled a meeting with House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, for Monday at the White House, sources said.
The meeting, which eventually was canceled, would have "put Thomas on the spot," and House Republicans notified Mr. Frist that "that's not how we do things."
"It was just a pure green move," said the senior aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He has a lot to learn about being majority leader, especially on how to deal with the House."
Ironically, it was the Republicans' concern for accord with the House that created a point of conflict yesterday.
During the Senate debate over the unemployment benefits extension, Republicans refused to add Democratic amendments because they would scuttle the deal for quick passage cut with the House.
Mr. Daschle expressed little regard for that argument.
"I hope this chamber is never dictated to by the House of Representatives," Mr. Daschle said. "This is the U.S. Senate."
Mr. Daschle's comments were met with mutterings of "that's right" from Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, the longest-serving member of the Senate.

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