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Senate Closes In on Organizing Resolution Deal

Senate leaders said Friday they hope to wrap up negotiations over the resolution that funds committees today, or at least by early this week.

A quick end to the debate over the organizing resolution would pave the way for Senate Republicans to begin pushing their agenda, but the first order of business would be to clear an omnibus package of the 11 remaining appropriations bills from last year.

Republicans also want to begin moving judicial nominations, 30 of which were sent to Capitol Hill by President Bush last Tuesday, the first day of the 108th Congress.

But without first clearing the organizing resolution, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Friday, “We can’t fully address the issues before us.”

Frist and Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in an exchange just before the Senate closed up on Friday, agreed that things were moving ahead in the organizing negotiations and that a deal should be reached imminently.

If no deal is reached, one Democratic presidential aspirant will get a public-relations boost. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who is expected to announce his 2004 campaign today, is still considered Governmental Affairs Committee chairman.

Without a new resolution, Lieberman will chair Tuesday’s historic confirmation hearing of Tom Ridge, the nominee to head the new Homeland Security Department.

Republicans were already trying to point to the quick negotiations, which realistically only began last week because of the internal GOP turmoil in December, as a sign of Frist’s stewardship of the chamber. Aides contrasted the last organizing negotiations, which took more than a month to conclude, with the seeming quick pace of this effort.

That round of talks, however, took place after Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) bolted the GOP and, for the first time in history, prompted a change in power by a defecting Senator, a much more unusual circumstance than this round of talks.

And the deal is still not final, as Democrats continue to hold out for the best possible funding percentage for their ranking members on panels. Senate traditions have allowed the majority party to claim up to two-thirds of all funds for each of the 20 committees, but more recent precedent has provided for a slightly more equitable sharing of resources, including a 50-50 split in funding at the start of the 107th Congress to mirror the then-evenly divided chamber.

Democratic ranking members have been furious with some Republicans, particularly Republican Conference Chairman Rick

Santorum (Pa.), who are pushing for a two-thirds share in committee funding.

Most other issues appear to have been

resolved, giving the GOP a one-seat edge on each of the panels. All that’s left is the funding split. “It’s always about money,” one senior GOP aide quipped.

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