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Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott: Republicans Ready to Work with Democrats - 2002-11-06

The man who will become the new majority leader of the Senate, Trent Lott, says it is up to Republicans and Democrats to work together to pass important legislation. VOA's Dan Robinson, reports on prospects for bipartisan cooperation in the upcoming "lame duck" session of Congress, as well as the 108th Congress that convenes early next year.

Trent Lott says he is not the kind of politician who likes to "gloat" over victory at least not for long. Now that Republicans control the Senate, he says it is time to get down to business.

In Congress since 1972, Mr. Lott became majority leader in the Senate during the Clinton administration. He remained in that position for six months under President George W. Bush - until a party switch in 2001 by former Republican Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords tipped the balance to Democrats.

Mr. Lott says his return to the majority leader role will give him the opportunity to get things done. More importantly, he adds, it places more responsibility on Congress.

"The American people have indicated that they want the Congress, the House, the Senate, the president, to work together to get things done, to produce results, not get tangled up in the partisan politics that we saw so much of this year, here in the Senate. They want us to take up those issues that are important to the future of our country, and our children," he said.

When Congress adjourned in October to prepare for elections, lawmakers left Washington without finishing important legislation including spending bills to keep the government running.

Democrats and Republicans traded allegations over who was responsible for gridlock on creating a homeland security department, which stalled in the Senate after passage by the House and approval of presidential nominees for federal judgeships.

The Senate and House of Representatives return next week for a "lame-duck" session - a "lame-duck" session of Congress follows an election, but precedes the inauguration of the newly elected lawmakers.

Mr. Lott is consulting with outgoing majority leader, South Dakota Democrat, Tom Daschle, and the House Republican leadership, on what lawmakers need to accomplish.

For Mr. Daschle, the election result does not mean voters ignored the key issue Democratic candidates used in their campaigns - the economy.

"The economy is soft, we have got two million people that are unemployed that were not unemployed two years ago," he said. "We have more long-term unemployed than we have had in a long, long time. So clearly, this is going to demand a lot more attention than it has gotten so far. Without a doubt, that is still the issue regardless of the [news] coverage it got or how much it might have been out-shown by the issues relating to Iraq, and the war on terror."

As for Mr. Lott, he says he is going into what he calls his "offensive mode" in pushing the Republican agenda, and the interests of the president, on Capitol Hill. But he adds that Republicans are also concerned about economic problems and are prepared to work with Democrats.

"I do not think it ought to be a 'gotcha period,'" said Mr. Lott. "I think we ought to sit down together, with the leadership and the president, and say all right, what can we do in a limited period of time. And then go back with out constituencies and be prepared to start fast next year."

Congress convenes its "lame duck" session November 12. It is expected to last perhaps two weeks, long enough to pass essential spending bills and perhaps another piece of legislation.

After that, all eyes will be on the new 108th Congress convening January 7, to see if Republicans, controlling both Senate and the House, can move forward with issues they say Democrats did their best to block in the first two years of the Bush presidency.