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By Rowland Evans and Robert Novak
© 2000, Evans and Novak Political Report
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WASHINGTON -- Relations between Republican House and Senate leaders have collapsed over the slow pace of approving spending bills, while several vulnerable GOP Senators are leaving town to campaign this week.
- At a closed-door House GOP Conference meeting last week, Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, heaped criticism upon Senate leaders for holding up spending bills. He urged members to publicly pressure the Senate to complete its work. DeLay also criticized the Senate for advocating a general capitulation on spending. DeLay favors going to a lame-duck session, which he believes will give Republicans some leverage in budget negotiations.
- Senate Republicans are accusing Democrats of intentionally delaying appropriations bills. They point to comments by Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., who privately relayed to GOP leaders that Democrats will not help expedite the process. Moreover, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has not backed down from his obstructionist tactics.
- Anticipating a protracted budget fight, Republican senators -- especially those in tough races -- including Sen. Spence Abraham (Mich.), Sen. Rod Grams (Minn.), Sen. Slade Gorton (Wash.), Sen. John Ashcroft (Mo.), Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), are planning to leave town to campaign and defer endgame spending decisions to Appropriations Committee members and aides. As for the House, Republican leaders also have allowed their vulnerable members to leave town to escalate their last-ditch campaigning.
TRENDING: Is this what you voted for, America?
Energy and Water Appropriations: President Clinton's veto of the $23.6-billion Energy and Water Appropriations bill could factor into the highly competitive presidential race in Missouri.
- Clinton objects to language in the bill preventing the Army Corps of Engineers from manipulating water levels in the Missouri River to protect three endangered species: the piping plover (a bird), the least tern (a bird), and a pallid sturgeon (a fish).
- But his veto is being strongly opposed by many in the bipartisan congressional delegation, as well as Gov. Mel Carnahan (D), who is mired in a tough race against Sen. John Ashcroft (R).
- Other Democrats, including House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, are very worried about how the issue will impact the presidential race in the state. They are concerned that the Bush-Gore race could now go decidedly in Bush's favor.
- Clinton's veto also could trickle down to key congressional races. The Missouri River cuts through the 6th district, now held by retiring Rep. Pat Danner (D). This seat presents a solid takeover opportunity for Republicans and the issue could help State Sen. Sam Graves (R), who has a slight lead in polls, defeat state Sen. Steve Danner (D).
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Senate Leadership: A chaotic budget endgame and a GOP majority in jeopardy has spawned considerable dissatisfaction with Sen. Trent Lott's (R-Miss.) leadership.
- The grumbling over the recent budget breakdown is reminiscent of 1998, when Republicans held Lott largely responsible for the omnibus spending debacle. Insiders say criticism of Lott's leadership is now at its most strident level.
- Much of the criticism is directed at Lott's accommodation to Democratic demands. Also, many GOP senators contend that Lott has not always been a forthright negotiator.
- As of now, no one is whipping votes to determine their chances of unseating Lott in the next Congress. But there are two names being privately talked about as potential challengers: Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Asst. Majority Leader Don Nickles (Okla.).
- Hagel has been very outspoken against Lott's leadership. Insiders tell us that if there is a shake-up after the election, he could very well enter the fray. But Hagel will have trouble garnering support, in part because of his endorsement of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential bid.
- Nickles is very well regarded in the conference. He is the favorite of conservatives and viewed positively by moderates.