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Senate GOP Plans Blitz After the State of the Union

Social Issues May Be at Top of the List While Republicans Wait for Completion of the Budget Resolution

Republican Senators are preparing to launch a two-month legislative blitz following President Bush’s State of the Union address to try to score some quick victories before the chamber is consumed in negotiations over the fiscal 2004 budget.

The short window between Bush’s Jan. 28 speech and the expected arrival of the budget on the Senate floor could provide Republicans the opportunity to promote issues as parochial as public-land management to the controversial ban on partial-birth abortion.

Republican leaders met last week to discuss this short-term agenda and have called on their chairmen to draft a list of bills that could be ready for Senate floor action in February and March.

“Each one of us chairmen are making recommendations to the leadership,” said Foreign Relations Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.).

A spokesman for Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Friday that he’s still reviewing the legislative options and is waiting to meet with his colleagues to finalize the list.

With a budget resolution not expected to be in place until at least the spring, however, GOP leaders will refrain from addressing such hot-button topics as tax cuts and prescription drugs. There are no parliamentary protections available to them until a resolution is adopted.

“We need to pass the budget for a lot of reasons,” said Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.). “If you are going to do a tax bill; if you are going to do appropriations bills; if you are going to do any type of cap or budget restraints; the budget has got to happen.”

Democrats, too, are preparing a plan to promote their own legislative agenda and point to the 12 bills Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) unveiled Jan. 7 as a guide to their priorities. The bills range from an increase in the minimum wage to a boost in education funding.

“I think Senator Daschle is going to work to try and make sure we get clear hearing and clear opportunity to consider those items on the agenda,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). “I think he understands Republicans are the majority and in control of the Senate.

“We want to cooperate, but I think we also made it clear to the Republican leadership we want to have an opportunity for consideration for some of our priority items too.”

Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he plans to try to make available as many of President Bush’s judicial nominees for a full vote by the chamber during this time period.

“I am going to try and move them as quickly as I can and there will be some screaming and shouting,” Hatch said. “But I am just going to try to do my job.”

GOP Senators said they also may consider bringing up bans on human cloning and partial-birth abortion, issues that are likely to spark sharp debates in the chamber, while they are waiting for the budget resolution to get to the Senate floor.

“The Congress needs to do some things,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). “For example, on partial-birth abortion, there is overwhelming support for stopping that procedure. I believe the votes are there to pass it, and this might be the opportunity to bring it up.”

“It may be the chance where we do get to do items like partial-birth and cloning,” added Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

A senior Senate Democratic aide predicted if Republicans try to advance either of these issues it will result in “a long, drawn-out debate” on the Senate floor.

“Several of our Democratic Senators will demand a lot of time to voice their opposition,” said the aide.

While there has been some speculation the GOP will try to quickly address the nation’s energy concerns, new Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said Friday that the bill “won’t be ready in time” for quick consideration.

Republicans said other issues that might receive attention include: faith-based charities, mental health parity, the medical malpractice crisis, racial profiling and helping to reinvigorate the nation’s vaccine industry.

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