- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

With few options left to save the life of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed Friday, House Republicans agreed to vote today on a slightly altered Senate bill that would give her family access to a federal court review of the case.

House and Senate negotiators yesterday agreed to the compromise and the House, which left Thursday for a two-week break, will reconvene today in hopes of passing it by unanimous consent. If House Democrats allow that to happen, the Senate could reconvene as early as today to pass it as well.

“We’re pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement on legislation, which provides an opportunity to save Mrs. Schiavo’s life,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said yesterday.

Last night, however, one House Democrat — Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida — said he would object to the bill’s consideration today because, he said, “Congress is opening a dangerous can of worms with this action.”

Mrs. Schiavo’s husband, Michael, has been fighting for more than a decade to have her feeding tube removed. That happened Friday afternoon, after congressional Republican leaders were rebuffed in their attempt to save her life by subpoenaing her to testify before Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court late Friday said it would not enforce the subpoenas.

House and Senate Republicans had been feuding over legislative language since each chamber passed a different bill Thursday. The Senate bill applied only to the Schiavo case, while the House bill would have applied to any case like Mrs. Schiavo’s.

The new bill — whose passage is not guaranteed — tracks closely with the Senate version. It would give Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, who are fighting to reinsert the feeding tube, the right to have their claim heard before a federal judge. It does not direct the federal judge to reinsert Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube — language along those lines was removed in negotiations — but supporters say the feeding tube clearly would have to be reinserted in order to preserve her life while the federal hearing takes place.

The federal judge could agree with the lower court ruling and allow Mrs. Schiavo to die.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, conceded yesterday that he preferred the broader bill, but he agreed to a narrower version because he believes it will accomplish the main goals of reinserting Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube and giving her parents access to federal court.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and head of the House Judiciary Committee, had repeatedly insisted on the House bill. He was notably absent from the press conference announcing the compromise, though Mr. DeLay praised his involvement in the process as “stellar.”

But Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who supports the compromise bill, strongly criticized House Republican leaders for refusing to agree to the Senate bill on Thursday, before many legislators left town. “This could have been completed on Thursday night,” he said.

Since the House had already adjourned, the Senate came back yesterday to pass an adjournment resolution as well, which under congressional rules is the only way the House would be allowed to come back today.

Mr. Frist said both parties “worked nonstop over the past three days” to get an agreement. “I’m committed as leader to seeing this legislation pass and give Terri Schiavo one last chance at life,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, worked the phones from Jerusalem, where he is on a trip.

The House Republican leaders’ goal is to get all members to agree to the bill and avoid a roll call floor vote. To that end, they were busily talking to Democrats, hoping to smooth the path.

Mr. Wexler said he will object today, which means House leaders will bring the bill back early tomorrow morning on a special expedited track that they say will allow them to limit any delaying tactics and pass the bill by voice vote.

If anyone requests a recorded vote, House leaders could hold the vote open all day, until enough members could return to Washington to cast their votes.

Ultimately though, the bill will pass, said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. He said Democrats should ask themselves, “Would a majority of members vote to keep this woman alive? And the answer is ‘yes.’ ”

President Bush, who was vacationing at his ranch in Texas until Easter, will return to Washington today to be on hand to sign the legislation.

Meanwhile, Mr. Schiavo lashed out at Congress’ aggressive efforts to intervene. “They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said in an interview on CBS’ “Early Show.” “Leave my wife alone. Leave me alone.”

House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. David Dreier, California Republican, conceded that he believes “passionately in states’ rights,” but said Congress “had no other choice” but to intervene in this case, “to ensure these parents… have a chance to be heard in federal court.”

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