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108th US Congress Nears End of Term

The House of Representatives and the Senate are winding down their legislative business as Congress prepares to conclude its 108th session. Concluding hours of action on Capitol Hill featured a combination of farewells from members who will be ending political careers, and continuing partisan bickering between Democrats and Republicans over issues that are sure to surface again when lawmakers return in January.

It is typical in the waning hours of a Congress, for those who do the nation's business, as the expression goes, to look back at what was or was not accomplished, and look ahead to work they will face returning to Washington in the new year.

It's also natural, especially following a general election, for those who are departing Congress to reminisce about their political careers, and leave a message for legislators who remain.

On Friday, it was the turn of Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic (minority) leader whose defeat in the November congressional elections was a major victory for Republicans, and spelled an end to his political career.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Mr. Daschle said he was proudest when lawmakers practiced what he called the politics of common ground, and remembered how Democrats and Republicans came together after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "I'm proud of those times, in this body, when we showed our very best. I'm proud of that moment on the capitol steps, when we joined hands and sang. I'm proud of the effort we made after September 11 (2001) to come together to pass legislation that our country so desperately needed," he said. "Not just for what it said but for the message it sent."

Republican Majority leader Senator Bill Frist responded. "I want to say how much I deeply respect his abilities, and his judgment, as a U.S. senator, as Democratic leader, and as a person," he said.

Appeals for partisan cooperation may have been welcomed in spirit by many on Capitol Hill. But on certain issues, familiar partisan battles continued, as they strained to complete unfinished work.

This included a massive $388 billion omnibus [collection of bills] measure to keep government agencies running, a combination of nine spending bills never passed by Congress.

The Senate and House also acted with a 208 to 204 vote to increase the limit on how much the federal government can borrow by more than $800 billion.

Lawmakers argued about government spending and what is now a debt of some eight-trillion dollars, sharply increased under the Bush administration.

In the House, opposition Democrats accused Republicans of economic mismanagement, while Republicans cited what they called Democrat's history of over-spending, as in this exchange between Democratic Congressman John Tanner and Republican Kevin Brady.

Tanner: "You are literally mortgaging our future economy, to anybody in the world that will give us money on the cheap today, so we don't have to face up and pay our own bills from my generation, pass it on to somebody else."

Brady: "Today, the issue is are we going to pay the bills of America, pay for the spending that has been incurred, and take responsibility for our own actions."

There were other examples of partisan conflict, including one involving ethical standards in Congress, as charges and counter-charges flew between the House Democratic majority leader, Congressman Tom DeLay, and lawmakers accusing him of wrongdoing.

But for every instance reflecting too familiar partisan political animosities, there were others designed to leave positive feelings, both for departing lawmakers and those who remain.

In a speech marking his retirement from the Senate, John Edwards, who ran for Vice President of the United States on the unsuccessful Democratic ticket with Senator John Kerry, had this reflection. "Our job is to make sure that no one, no one, is lost in America. That that dream is everlasting. And together we will continue to make it stronger and more alive for all who grace our lives," he said.

At the end of the 108th Congress, Republicans cited numerous examples of legislative accomplishments they say reflected well on their control of Congress and made the United States and Americans more secure and prosperous.

Democrats, for their part, highlighted what they said were the majority's failings that left the nation less secure and economically ailing.

What was left undone by the 108th Congress, will be taken up again beginning in January, along with many other matters, as the 109th Congress begins its work.