- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

The House and Senate deadlocked late yesterday, unable to agree on legislation that would let federal courts review the case of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman whose food and water will be stopped today by state court order.

In a race against time to save Mrs. Schiavo, accompanied by a flurry of activity elsewhere in Washington and in Florida, each chamber passed a different version of the legislation, and lawmakers angrily blamed each other.

Rep. Dave Weldon, the Florida Republican who led the effort in the House, called it “baffling” that convicted murderer Scott Peterson “will be afforded a review of his constitutional rights” before his execution, “but we cannot get the same for Terri Schiavo.”

The legal battles over Mrs. Schiavo have been going on since 1993.

Mr. Weldon accused Senate Democrats of parliamentary gamesmanship, for taking all day to agree to move any legislation on the issue and then passing a different bill after the House adjourned.

“I find it disingenuous that Senate Democrats would not come to terms with it until after the House adjourned,” he said.

Late last night, senators said a slight chance remains to get a deal done next week, when both the House and Senate have scheduled pro forma sessions, originally intended to adjourn each chamber for a two-week recess.

“We’re going to be in session on Monday. We’re going to continue to work and negotiate on this over the weekend,” said Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican.

But any deal would require unanimous consent in one or both chambers — a difficult hurdle to achieve.

The Senate by voice vote yesterday passed a narrow bill that would have applied only to this case, allowing Mrs. Schiavo’s parents — who have been fighting to keep her alive — to move the case from Florida courts to federal court.

On Wednesday night, the House passed a broader bill that would have allowed any case like Mrs. Schiavo’s to go to federal court.

The Senate passed its bill after the House left town for its two-week break. House Republican leaders angrily blamed Senate Democrats for failing to pass the House bill.

“House Republicans knew we had a moral obligation to act, and we did just that,” read a joint statement issued by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. “As Terri Schiavo lays helpless in Florida, one day away from the unthinkable and unforgivable, the Senate Democrats refused to join Republicans to act on her behalf.”

Earlier yesterday, Senate Republicans had tried to bring the House bill to a Senate vote, but Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, objected. He later said these efforts might interfere with his state’s physician-assisted suicide law.

Efforts to save Mrs. Schiavo in the Florida legislature also sputtered yesterday.

The Florida House passed a bill to block the withholding of food and water from patients diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state who did not leave specific instructions regarding care.

But the state Senate defeated a different bill, and those on both sides of the state debate said that vote made it clear that nothing can pass before 1 p.m. today, when Michael Schiavo will be free to remove his wife’s food and water and starve her to death.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler, was on Capitol Hill yesterday, lobbying for his sister’s life. He said he is grateful to the lawmakers for their efforts.

“It’s just been an emotional roller coaster,” he said.

Efforts to keep Mrs. Schiavo alive suffered defeats elsewhere yesterday:

• Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer refused the state Department of Children & Families time to investigate accusations that Mrs. Schiavo was abused. The state then turned to the Florida Supreme Court, which promptly dismissed the appeal.

• The U.S. Supreme Court last night refused an emergency appeal from Mrs. Schiavo’s parents to allow lower courts to consider whether their daughter’s religious freedom and other rights have been violated.

In Washington last night, Senate Democrats blamed House leaders for the impasse.

“If the House Republicans refuse to pass our bipartisan bill, they bear responsibility for the consequences,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Although House Republicans blamed Senate Democrats, Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, acknowledged “broad opposition” to the House bill “on both sides of the aisle” in the Senate.

Mr. DeLay said the House simply couldn’t act on the Senate bill because members who had concerns with it would have objected.

One was House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican. In a phone conversation off the House floor, Mr. Sensenbrenner was overheard saying he would object if House leaders tried to bring up the narrow Senate bill.

Some House conservatives were angry that leaders of both chambers did not try harder. Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, said lawmakers had two legislative vehicles they could have used.

“I have told them they need to get past their differences and pass something, so that we know Terri is safe,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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