- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Opening a legislative session likely to be short on bill-passing and long on point-scoring, congressional Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday tried to tag one another as being weak on key national-security issues ahead of November’s election.

In a move that could pose problems for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, two supporters of Republican rival Sen. John McCain are pushing for a vote on a resolution hailing the “strategic success” of the military surge in Iraq since mid-2007, an escalation of U.S. forces that Mr. Obama opposed.

“We hope you will join us as a co-sponsor … to send a bipartisan message of national unity that we salute our heroic troops for their extraordinary achievement,” Sens. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday.

Mr. Obama acknowledged in recent interviews that the surge has succeeded “beyond our wildest dreams.” But he argued it has not produced comparable political gains in Iraq and said the surge had not altered his determination to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq early in his term.

Mr. McCain, by contrast, not only backed the surge, but lobbied President Bush heavily on the idea in the months before the White House announced the plan, according to an in-depth recent report by The Washington Times.

Public-opinion polls show that Mr. McCain enjoys a substantial edge over Mr. Obama with voters over which candidate is better able to handle national security and military issues.

For their part, Democrats on two House committees released a 53-page report slamming the Bush administration’s record in implementing the recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, on security threats ranging from weapons proliferation to protecting ports and borders.

“The Bush administration has not delivered on myriad critical homeland and national security mandates set” by the Sept. 11 commission, concluded the report issued by Democratic lawmakers on the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees.

The report’s title: “Wasted Lessons of 9/11: How the Bush Administration Has Ignored the Law and Squandered Its Opportunities to Make Our Country Safer.”

With just three weeks until recess and eight weeks until Election Day, both parties are looking to force the other into politically delicate votes.

The only mandatory item on the docket is the need to pass an omnibus spending bill to keep the federal government operating into the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The White House also is pressing for approval of free-trade deals with Asian and Latin American countries and passage of a major new nuclear accord with India.

But far more likely to command the Senate and House floors in the coming days are partisan measures designed to embarrass the opposition.

Mr. Obama and some congressional Democratic leaders are pushing an economic-stimulus package worth up to $50 billion, saying the first $168 billion package signed by Mr. Bush in February was not enough. Designed to highlight the soft economy, the package could include new infrastructure spending, assistance for jobless and low-income workers and a new round of rebate checks.

“With the unemployment rate at a five-year high, it is clear we must take immediate action to strengthen our economy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters late last week.

Republicans, in turn, are seeking to force a vote on lifting the freeze on drilling off the U.S. coastline, either in the spending bill or in a major energy bill now under discussion.

Mr. McCain has made lifting the drilling ban a central plank of his energy policy, and Mr. Obama has had to modify his initial opposition to lifting the ban. Mrs. Pelosi and other congressional Democratic leaders say they would only consider an easing of the ban as part of a bigger energy measure that would include new taxes on oil companies and subsidies for alternative fuels and mass transportation.

In just one example of how the maneuvering in Washington plays out on the campaign trail, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued statements blasting 14 House Democrats for failing to support a “discharge petition” to force an up-or-down vote on lifting the drilling ban.

A group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators has been trying to draft a compromise energy bill, but face strong political headwinds from both parties before the expected final adjournment early next month.

Also seen as a long shot in the next few weeks is a major tax-reform bill to extend certain tax credits and ease the bite of the alternative minimum tax. Lawmakers also have scheduled hearings on the administration’s rescue plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but no legislation is expected.

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