The Last Days of the Democrats

  • Share
  • Read Later

DASCHLE: Majority leader, for now

These are bittersweet days for the Senate Democrats; for a short while longer, they maintain a 50-49 majority and hold the chairs of the country's most powerful committees. But don't expect a last-minute surge of left-leaning legislation. With last week's Republican sweep hanging over their heads, and the looming promise of GOP control, the Dems know it would be extremely imprudent to spend their last weeks in power single-mindedly advancing their own agenda. Payback time, after all, is just around the corner.

Instead, these next weeks will be a time of compromise. And packing. Even as they wrangle through lingering legislation, departing members of congress will be filling up boxes, labeling files and preparing their offices for incoming lawmakers. And one, Minnesota Independent Dean Barkley, won't even bother to unpack; he's there filling in for the late Paul Wellstone, and has dashed hopes on both sides of the aisle by declaring his intention "not to side with either party." His resolution will face tough challenges from the White House and leading Democrats, both eager to count him, however briefly, among their ranks.

Still there is work to be done: in the Senate, it continue through the holiday season, with attention focused on passing 13 appropriations bills critical to the continued functioning of the federal government — as well as the Big Kahuna: the plan to establish a Department of Homeland Security.

This bill has been a major sticking point over the last four months; the House passed a similar bill easily, while the Senate is still in a deadlock. Senate Democrats want to ensure Homeland Security staffers will be protected under union membership, while Republicans would prefer the President be given as much leeway as possible to hire and fire employees as the department grows and changes. President Bush, frustrated by the Senate's refusal to pass a bill allowing him ultimate control over the department, announced that lawmakers will stay in Washington as long as it takes to get the legislation to his desk. "I will not give up national security authority at the price of creating a department we badly need," he said Tuesday.

Happily, it looks like no one will have to miss their holiday turkey — Sunday morning, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott announced he was confident the President would have a bill by the end of this week. Later that day, leading Democrats and Republicans came forward with plans for a compromise that would provide congressional mediation for disputes over changes to union rules, and Tuesday, moderates on both sides were reported to have reached a "tentative agreement." Labor union leaders and Tom Daschle are said to be "not pleased" with the compromise language.

Other items of interest facing the Senate include several judicial nominations that have not yet been considered; Republicans will likely stall deliberation over potentially problematic candidates until they are back in the driver's seat in January. Appropriations will take on critical weight as the end of the year deadline approaches; Congress was supposed to have approved spending bills by October 1st, and will be forced to use stop-gap measures if funding isn't in place by the end of their session.