Tuesday, October 12, 2004


The 108th Congress soon will be history, a tumultuous two years that, depending on party affiliation, was the best of times or the worst of times.

Republicans, who control both the House and the Senate, expressed pride in a Congress that passed a major Medicare prescription drug bill, gave President Bush the money he needed for Iraq and substantially increased spending for defense and homeland security.

“It’s been a Congress of big ideas, and it’s been a Congress of big reform,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

Democrats saw the session in a different light, blaming Republicans for failing to pass important highway spending and welfare overhaul bills, dealing inadequately with the nation’s health insurance problems and security needs, and passing tax cuts that contributed to record-high budget deficits.

Both sides deplored the partisanship that has impeded compromise and become progressively spiteful this year in the run-up to the Nov. 2 elections.

“From Day One, Republicans have wasted and squandered the 108th Congress,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. She accused the Republican Party of being “fiscally irresponsible and ethically unfit.” The latter phrase was aimed at Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, the fiercely partisan House majority leader who has been admonished twice in recent weeks by the House ethics committee for his political activities.

Across the Capitol, Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, criticized Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and a favorite target of Republicans. Opposition by Democratic senators that blocked several of the Bush administration’s judicial nominations has particularly rankled Republicans.

“Tom Daschle used procedural measures that had never been used in the history of the Senate to stop bipartisan reforms from happening,” Mr. Santorum said.

Mr. Daschle said it’s “ludicrous that the Republican majority is blaming others for their failure. They control the White House, the Senate and the House.”

Some of the biggest accomplishments were in the past year, when Congress passed the Medicare legislation and a $15 billion bill for global AIDS relief, funded war and reconstruction in Iraq, and approved a ban — now held up in the courts — on a procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion.

Congress also:

• Passed legislation, sought by social conservatives, making it a double crime to injure a pregnant woman and her fetus.

• Sent to the president a $5.6 billion bill for developing and stockpiling antidotes for chemical and germ attacks.

• Approved a pension relief package that could save employers about $80 billion.

• Passed a $146 billion package to extend three popular middle-class tax breaks.

After a rare weekend session, the Senate joined the House on Monday in approving sweeping legislation to provide $136 billion in tax breaks for corporations. It also endorsed $14.6 billion in aid for hurricane victims in Florida and neighboring states and for drought-hit farmers in the Plains states.

Because some of the provisions have been hotly debated, the White House has kept a low profile during the legislation’s move toward passage. It has signaled, nevertheless, that Mr. Bush will sign it.

The House and Senate might have to come back later this month to finish work on an overhaul of the intelligence community in line with recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Lawmakers also are expected back in mid-November to vote on a huge spending package for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Every year, Congress must pass 13 spending bills for federal operations, but only four had been enacted into law as the lawmakers recessed Monday for the elections. Democrats want more money for health, security and education programs, while fiscal conservatives have balked at worsening the federal deficit, expected to surpass $400 billion this year. Just three years earlier, the government enjoyed a $127 billion surplus.

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