Frist threatens to cancel recess as organizational fight continues

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Monday threatened to keep the Senate in session next week unless senators approve an organizing resolution and remaining fiscal 2003 spending bills this week.

Vowing to cancel the Senate's planned Martin Luther King Day recess, Frist said, "We will remain in session to get our work done." Earlier in the day, Senate Democrats urged Frist to keep the Senate in session in order to move legislation to revive the economy.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., cited the 100,000 jobs lost in December and said the Senate "should be here next week debating the right course for putting American families back to work and getting our economy moving again, and not taking an unneeded vacation."

First also threatened to bring to the Senate floor a GOP-drafted resolution to reorganize the committees if Republicans and Democrats are unable to reach agreement on a broader resolution that divvies up funding and staff space between the parties.

"If an agreement is not reached shortly-and by that I mean very soon-we will be moving forward with a committee resolution" that names committee members and committee chairmen, Frist said on the Senate floor Monday evening.

At issue is a procedural resolution required by Senate rules to reorganize the chamber to reflect the GOP's newfound majority.

Although the 108th session is one week old, the chamber continues to act very much as it did at the end of last year, when Democrats were in the majority. While First is recognized as the Senate's majority leader, the committees are still run by Democrats.

As a result, Republicans have not been able to make any progress on the 11 remaining fiscal 2003 appropriations bills, because Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., remains Appropriations chairman.

Another casualty of the impasse was the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's scheduled hearing Tuesday on the nomination of Tom Ridge to become secretary of the Homeland Security Department. That hearing was delayed until Friday.

The organizing resolution has been held up by a dispute over funding for the committees. Republicans argue that the Senate should follow the precedent of recent history, in which the majority party holds a large funding advantage.

For this year, they are pressing for two-thirds of the total funding for the panels. However, Democrats believe the chamber should follow the precedent set after last session's historic mid-year shift in control to the Democrats, when the chamber was split 51-49 in the Democrats' favor.

Since the chamber is once again is split 51-49-this time with the GOP in control-Democrats believe the Senate should approve a similar resolution.

"If it was good for a 51-49 Senate a month ago, it ought to be good for a 51-49 Senate today," Daschle told Frist on the floor.

In addition to delaying action on the appropriations bills, the ongoing talks on the resolution have frustrated Frist's hopes for a quick start to the year.

That frustration was exposed Monday in the new majority leader's threat to keep the Senate in session next week.

If a deal is not reached, the Senate will "return Tuesday and remain each day and evening until our work is done," he said.