- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

None of the elements of the newly minted Democrats’ congressional agenda have made it to President Bush’s desk, and the prospects of signature bills such as federal funding for stem-cell research or homeland-security improvements becoming law any time soon are doubtful.

Much of the Democratic agenda — dubbed “Six for ‘06” — sailed out of the House with bipartisan support, but all of it has stalled in the Senate as leaders scramble to deal with the Iraq war.

“I don’t think they’ve gotten anything done,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said of the Democrats. “How many bills have they sent to the president? None? Somewhere around there.”

A minimum-wage increase, which seems the most likely of the Democratic plans to get Mr. Bush’s signature, has not yet been sent to the president because House and Senate leaders are still bickering over its specifics.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland last week grumbled over what he called a “slowdown” in the senate, while acknowledging his counterpart in that chamber has an uphill battle to pass legislation in a closely divided body.

“I would like to have passed them all by now,” he said. “I’m frustrated by it, yes.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada responded later that day: “Steny is my friend, and he hasn’t spent much time in the Senate. They [the House] have expedited procedures on everything.”

Mr. Reid noted Democratic successes in his chamber, adding, “I think we’ve done really, really well.”

Yesterday, the Senate leader said his chamber will consider a bill to federally fund stem-cell research the second week of April, which is “as soon as we can,” given all the other items on the agenda.

“We’re moving down the road on what we’ve set out to do,” he said.

However, Mr. Bush has promised to veto the stem-cell bill, identical to one passed by both chambers last year under the Republican Congress.

A bill that has passed both chambers — implementing the remaining recommendations of the September 11 commission — also has drawn the president’s ire. The measure that overwhelmingly passed the House triggered a veto threat from Mr. Bush when the Senate attached a provision allowing airport screeners to collectively bargain. Republicans say they will back the president, making it impossible for either chamber to override a veto.

Mr. Hoyer seemed especially irritated that his signature issue, increasing the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour, has been bogged down as the House and Senate negotiate a possible tax break for small businesses to offset the cost of raising the wage.

“I cannot understand why anybody would want to trap hardworking people in the richest country on the face of the earth working 40 hours a week in a framework of 1997 wages,” he said.

Senate Republicans have attached the tax package to their chamber’s version of the bill. The House passed a $1.3 billion tax cut for small businesses as a compromise, but the two chambers must still come up with a final conference report before the bill can be sent to Mr. Bush.

The sluggish Senate is nothing new on Capitol Hill, but the speed of the House’s initial actions — leaders there passed their 100 hours agenda in less than 50 hours — highlights the stalled agenda.

What’s more, Iraq has dominated everything lawmakers are trying to do.

Senators spent weeks negotiating resolutions on Mr. Bush’s troop surge to Iraq, and House actions slowed to a crawl as Democrats offer smaller bills while huddling to come up with an Iraq plan.

Now House leaders are building support among Democrats for the strategy, in the form of a troop-withdrawal timetable attached to a $124 billion war supplemental spending bill.

Any spirit of compromise the Democrats and Mr. Bush felt in January has further eroded as the president sends down veto threats and as the new majority party challenges his administration’s every move.

Mr. Hoyer noted the difficulty Mr. Reid faces in a body where 60 is the magic number to pass any legislation and he controls only 51 members, but he made sure to add that “on almost every one” of the elements of the Democratic agenda passed the House with 60 percent of the vote or more. “We averaged 62 Republicans,” he said.

The remaining “Six for ‘06” bills cut the interest rate on student loans, make changes to the Medicare prescription-drug plan and roll back the subsidies for big oil companies.

“I think the student-loan bill has overwhelming votes I’m sure in the Senate as it did here,” Mr. Hoyer said. “We’d like to see it move.”

Democrats are also quick to quell any discontent at the lack of action, and point to what they label the “Do Nothing Congress” run by Republicans in recent years.

Both Democratic leaders assailed their Republican predecessors for failing to pass the appropriations bills last year, and applauded themselves for passing a continuing resolution to fund the government in both chambers.

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