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US Lawmakers Trade Partisan Charges on Eve of Summer Break - 2004-07-22


As Congress prepares to adjourn for its summer recess, Democrats and Republicans are trading allegations over how much work has been done on key legislative objectives. While it is normal for lawmakers to sum up what they see as their accomplishments, all the while engaging in verbal battles over domestic issues and foreign policy questions, the level of partisan discord this time has reached new heights.

Democrats say Republicans have taken a do-nothing approach to legislating, providing a laundry list of what they call failures by the majority party on key pieces of legislation.

Republicans respond by listing what they say are major accomplishments, the most prominent of which is providing more resources to protect against future terrorist attacks.

And they are doing everything they can to drive home what has been their key election year message: that President Bush, helped by Republican control of Congress, is responsible for making Americans more secure against terrorist threats.

"We have made great progress, thanks to the leadership of President Bush and some of these people who are gathered right here behind me," said House speaker Dennis Hastert. "We took the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan, in Iraq. We strengthened our homeland defense. We strengthened anti-terrorist laws with the Patriot Act. We prepared ourselves for the worst case scenario by passing important legislation on first responders."

"We provided $27 billion to our nation's first responders, an increase of over 1,000 percent since September 11, 2001," said Congressman Christopher Cox, head of the House Homeland Security Committee. "Just as important as our domestic security plans, fighting the war here at home, we have taken the war to the terrorists."

Yet, two of Mr. Cox's security-related bills were being thwarted by partisan disagreements, as Republicans and Democrats continued to argue generally over the war on terrorism.

Democrats, predictably, don't see things the same way. Congressman Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, had this to say about the Republican record.

"Republicans are jetting out of town after failing to lead on virtually every critical issue facing this nation," he said. "There is no budget, there is no budget enforcement act, there is no transportation bill, there is no action to end four-billion dollars in European sanctions on American manufacturers, there is no plan to combat rising health care costs, and there is no energy policy."

Democrats attribute inaction on key issues to what they call infighting among Republicans, while Republicans blame Democratic obstructionism.

The House of Representatives did pass a number of appropriations bills. But the Senate has not been as efficient, and many bills will have to wait until both chambers return in September.

The House and Senate did approve key free trade agreements with Australia and Morocco, and a $418 billion defense spending measure including emergency funds for Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Bush signed into law Project Bio-Shield aimed at strengthening medical defenses against potential biological terrorism.

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to highlight American casualties in Iraq, now numbering more than 900, while arguing with Republicans over the significance of the final report of the independent commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Republican Congressman Porter Goss, chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence, also credits President Bush with making Americans safer, but says, "we have learned some critical lessons and we are winning the war on terror. We are safe, but we are not safe enough."

Congress will have some six weeks to digest the 9/11 Commission report before returning in early September. Then, lawmakers will have a few more weeks to complete remaining legislation in advance of adjournment to prepare for the November congressional and presidential election.