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Republicans, Democrats Offer Conflicting Reviews on Congressional Accomplishments in 2003 - 2003-12-10


The U.S. Congress has adjourned for the year, after the Senate delayed action until next month on a sweeping spending bill that would fund a number of government agencies. Correspondent Deborah Tate has a look at the Republican-led Congress' accomplishments, as well as its unfinished business, over the past 12 months.

Among the accomplishments cited by Republicans are House and Senate passage of the $87 billion spending measure for Iraq and Afghanistan, legislation to reform the federal health care program for the elderly known as Medicare, and a $350 billion tax cut package aimed at stimulating the U.S. economy.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist says he is pleased with what Congress has done this year.

"In January, we set our sights high, and I would argue we exceeded expectation. We moved America forward, and we will continue to do so in the coming months because there is a lot more to do," Sen. Frist said.

On senator Frist's agenda when Congress reconvenes next month are several key measures that remain stalled in the Senate. They include an energy bill - a key priority for President Bush, and a massive catch-all spending measure that would fund foreign aid, transportation, education, health and other programs. Both bills have been passed by the House.

Congress should have approved the 13 spending bills needed to fund federal agencies by October 1, the start of the new budget year. But so far, only six have been signed into law. The rest are included in the so-called "omnibus" spending measure awaiting Senate action.

Majority Republicans, including senator Frist, blame Democrats, saying their "obstructionism" is the reason the Senate did not complete its work on time.

"We simply cannot allow the obstruction of a few in the United States Senate to continue to harm the interests of millions of Americans," Sen. Frist said.

But Democrats defend their parliamentary moves to block the energy and omnibus bills, saying the measures contain too many provisions that benefit what they call special interests. They say Democrats were left out of the process of crafting the compromise measures.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle goes even further, offering a harsh assessment of the congressional year.

"This session has been a major disappointment, the result of misguided priorities, and a refusal by Republicans to compromise in any of their radical agenda," Sen. Daschle said.

Observers say it is too soon to judge the impact of Congress' legislative record on next year's presidential and congressional elections.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it is too soon to tell what effect Mr. Bush's victories in Congress will have on next year's elections. He notes Americans are divided over whether the U.S.-led war and occupation in Iraq have made the United States safer, whether the Medicare reform bill will enhance or undermine the program, and whether the tax cut package, which is contributing to record U.S. deficits, will help the economy.

"It remains to be seen whether the public will judge the actions of the Congress and the President as generally positive and helpful, or negative and harmful," he said. "The work of this president and the Republican Congress is unusually controversial. Many split verdicts as to whether the policies enacted are helping or hurting the country and the beneficiaries of those policies."

Although Republican leaders are hoping to complete an ambitious legislative agenda next year, Mr. Mann says, traditionally, neither party is eager to compromise with the other in an election year. He believes next year will be no different.

"The president has decided that he now has the pieces in place for running for re-election, that he is not much interested in making any further concessions to Democrats," Mr. Mann said. "He wants to keep his base energized. Democrats have no incentive to compromise with the president now. They want to draw the line and give voice to anger of Democrats out in the country and try to make the case against the President rather than negotiate with him."

The House and Senate are to return to work January 20.

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