- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Congress’ Republican leaders are postponing politically thorny votes on overtime, imported prescription drugs and other issues until after the November elections.

Republican leaders say they are not motivated by a desire to sidestep difficult showdowns on disputes, some of which have pitted Republicans against each other or drawn veto threats from President Bush. With the House and Senate aiming to adjourn Oct. 8 for the presidential and congressional campaigns, they say they are simply running out of time.

“You’re creating a story that ain’t there,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said yesterday.

Democrats say Republicans want to avoid election-season votes on delicate issues like raising the federal debt limit, lifting trade restrictions with Cuba, and financing veterans’ health care.

“They don’t want to vote on them. They want to duck them,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.

Whatever the motivation, the political impact is significant.

Republicans will avoid difficult pre-election votes — or embarrassing fights with the White House — over issues as diverse as overtime pay, highway spending and Mr. Bush’s plans to give civil-service jobs to private contractors.

Democrats were hoping for a pre-election debate on increasing the government’s borrowing ceiling so they could use it to highlight the record budget deficits of recent years.

But it appears that although the current $7.4 trillion debt limit is about to be breached, the Treasury Department will be able to use accounting maneuvers to keep paying government liabilities. Congress probably won’t address that issue until mid-November, Republican aides say.

Many of the disputes are embedded in the spending bills that Congress is supposed to complete by tomorrow, when the government’s new budget year begins.

Only one of the 13 bills — the one financing the Pentagon — has become law, though four or five others might be completed before lawmakers leave to campaign.

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