Jeffords defection presents challenge to Bush agenda

By Zeb Eckert
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
May 25, 2001

One day after Vermont Senator James Jeffords left the GOP, Democrats are preparing to take control of the Senate — a shift in power that could set back President Bush’s legislative agenda.

With six months of Republican domination in both houses of Congress and the White House, Jeffords’ departure could put the brakes on high-profile GOP initiatives. Missile defense, education and environmental policy could face substantial hurdles in the new Senate despite President Bush’s vow Wednesday not to alter his plans.

“Our agenda for reforming America’s public schools and providing tax relief for every taxpayer represents the hopes and dreams of Main Street America,” President Bush said from Cleveland Wednesday. “Our agenda for reforming our military and modernizing our military to defend America and our allies represents the best hope for peace.”

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Wednesday Republicans will have difficulty gaining an edge in the Senate.

“It will make it more challenging, more difficult to move some of the president’s agenda, but we will work very hard to make sure that that does happen, and there are many ways you can do that,” Lott said.

Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) agreed.

“It’s a challenge when you had 50-50, and it’s going to be a challenge at 50 and 49 and with one independent,” Nickles said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Incoming Majority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) called for “tripartisan” leadership as Jeffords’s switch to independent causes a 50-49-1 Senate.

“What does not change with this new balance of power is the need for principled compromise. This is still one of the most closely divided Senates in all of our history,” Daschle said in a press conference Wednesday. “We still face the same challenges. Bipartisan, or I guess I should now say tripartisanship, is still a requirement.”

The current 50-50 Senate is expected to vote on the president’s tax plan by early June, after which the shift in power will occur. If debate on the tax plan continues as expected, Daschle said he is prepared to take the reigns.

“Senator Lott had already indicated that he will send the campaign finance reform bill to the House,” he said. “Obviously, if it hasn’t been done when I become majority leader, that will be one of the first things I do.”

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