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Congressional Republicans, Democrats Clash Over Progress on Key Domestic Issues - 2004-05-21


With Congress about to adjourn for a week-long Memorial Day break, Democrats and Republicans were again locked in partisan battles over key pieces of legislation, while continuing to debate Bush administration handling of the situation in Iraq.

As Americans ponder the impact of the Iraq prisoner controversy, and face steadily increasing gasoline prices, lawmakers traded more accusations over responsibility for a lack of progress on key domestic issues.

Opposition Democrats used news conferences to blast majority Republicans on a range of issues, from transportation and energy to slow-moving efforts to approve the 2005 federal budget.

Democrats also took Republicans and the Bush administration to task over Iraq, as in these comments by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

"The president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the costs to our taxpayers," she said.

Her questioning of the president's competence provoked an angry response from House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, who said the remark "crossed the line."

But it was on domestic issues, especially rising energy prices, that Democrats directed most of their criticism.

One day after President Bush blamed higher gasoline prices on what he called Democrat's blocking of key energy legislation, Democrats hit back.

"Republican infighting, and refusal to abandon their right-wing agenda, has stalled the 2005 budget, which is key to reigning in out-of-control deficits, slowed down the transportation bill which would produce millions of jobs in a sluggish job market, allowed the European Union to impose billions of dollars of penalties on struggling U.S. manufacturers, and put the brakes on the energy bill at a time of record gas prices," said Congressman Steny Hoyer.

Disagreements in Republican ranks have been notable on budget and energy issues. There has also been tension between the House Republican leadership and the White House.

House speaker Dennis Hastert caused controversy when he chastised a Republican Senator, John McCain, for his criticism of Republican spending policies.

President Bush's visit to the Capitol Thursday was as much an attempt to calm jittery Republican nerves regarding his weak public approval ratings, as it was an effort to end the infighting Democrats highlighted in their news conferences.

On energy issues, the president faced strong criticism from one Senate Democrat, Robert Byrd.

"When it comes to securing America's energy future, the Bush White House is stuck in shortsighted, high-risk initiatives which seem largely guided by big dollar campaign contributors," he said. "Despite its rhetoric, this White House's lip service and corporate coddling have been the sum total of its energy policy."

Those remarks brought this response from Senate Republican Pete Domenici, who accused Democrats of obstructionism.

"Now, isn't it something? So we didn't get alternative fuels," he said. "We didn't get a fix to electricity blackout potential. We didn't get a bill that produces huge quantities of American natural gas. And on and on and on. All the things and more that were spoken of by the distinguished Senator Byrd. And to talk about the fact that our country needs them, or that the president didn't do them, is to forget in a short period of time, it didn't take long to forget, that all of these proposals have been voted down by the Democrats in this Senate."

The final moments of House of Representatives activity Thursday provided another example of partisan tensions, once again over Iraq.

At the last minute, Democrats tried to turn back otherwise bi-partisan defense spending legislation by attaching a demand that Congress investigate the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by some members of the U.S. military.

The effort was unsuccessful, and the bill, including $25 billion requested by the administration for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, was approved by an overwhelming 391-34 margin.

The Senate must still approve its version of the defense spending legislation.

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