Senate Dems stall reorganization in dispute over funds

Senate Democratic leaders, angling for political leverage, could hold off for weeks on agreeing to a procedural resolution needed to reorganize the chamber for the 108th Congress-a move that could prevent the Senate from addressing legislative business until February.

Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has dug in his heels on a GOP request to give the party's incoming committee chairmen two-thirds of the funding for the panels-and is in no rush to reach an agreement. Since Republicans enjoy only a one-seat majority in the chamber, Daschle believes committee funding should be more evenly spread between Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans had hoped to settle the issue this week in order to officially take over the chamber and install Republicans at the helm of the committees. Without control of the committees, Republicans will not be able to move the remaining fiscal 2003 spending bills through the Appropriations Committee by the end of next week, as they had hoped. By delaying the reorganization resolution-or at least threatening to do so-Democrats hope to force Republicans to share more committee funds.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., continues to wield the gavel at the Governmental Affairs Committee, calling a hearing Tuesday to hear from Homeland Security Secretary-designate Tom Ridge.

Democratic leaders continue to struggle with decisions about which rank-and-file members to remove from a handful of key committees to reflect their new minority status. Because Republicans have refused to expand the size of committees, Democrats must drop two Democrats from each committee in order to give the GOP a majority. Sources said Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is likely to retain his seat on the Judiciary Committee, probably forcing out Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Democrats must shed members on these committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Banking, Budget, Energy and Natural Resources, Environment and Public Works and Judiciary. On the remaining committees, Democrats do not need to drop existing members due to retirements or re-election defeats.

Democratic leaders have refused to discuss the matter publicly, saying the issue is premature because the Senate has not adopted an organizing resolution. However, private speculation is rampant. On the Environment and Public Works Committee, for example, Democrats say either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York or Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey could find themselves off the panel. Both could be forced out if newly elected Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey claims a seat.

According to Democratic sources, Lautenberg will not be credited with his full seniority from three previous terms in the Senate, but he could receive enough credit to land on the committee. If Clinton and Corzine are forced off the panel, they will have soft landings: Corzine was recently named chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee while Clinton took the reins of the Democratic Steering Committee.

It is unclear which Democrats will leave the remaining committees, although Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware has said he expected to be forced off the Energy and Natural Resources panel.