WASHINGTON – After all the talk of urgency to pass legislation in the wake of terror attacks on America, Congress has been unable to accomplish anything in the last two weeks, and for the foreseeable future, it doesn't look like it will.
It only took a month for Congress to get back to old form after a united front following terror attacks on Sept. 11. But both chambers are now deadlocked on virtually every piece of major legislation before it.
Republicans are blocking passage of spending measures. A Republican and a Democrat held up Senate action on anti-terrorism measures that the White House says are top priorities. And an aviation security bill deemed vital a week ago was mired in haggling over Amtrak, baggage checkers and laid-off airline workers.
"This is rapidly turning into a farce," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who Wednesday brought debate on the anti-terror legislation to a halt to register his objection over his stalled aviation security bill.
Old Habits Die Hard
The Republican-controlled House was scheduled to take up a giant spending bill to fund major federal health, education and labor programs in 2002 but postponed debate over a dispute whether to allow a vote on banning schools from offering the so-called "morning after" birth control pill to girls under 17. The spending bill pays for schools in America.
Congress is supposed to finish its 13 spending bills by the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1. Congress approved a continuing resolution to fund emergency spending of the nation's agencies until Oct. 16 but that date is rapidly approaching with little progress and a new emergency spending provision will have to be passed.
While committees on both sides of the Capitol are taking action on the spending bills, none has advanced to the point where it can be sent to Bush for his signature or rejection.
Republicans are demanding that Senate Democrats agree to approve more of Bush's judicial nominations before allowing the spending measures to come to a vote. Only six judges have been confirmed this year.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Senate was ready to move the White House-approved version of legislation giving police new powers to hunt down and jail suspected terrorists but was blocked by McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., wanted to bring the bill to a vote without adding any amendments that could keep the measure bottled up another week. Feingold refused to go along with that after failing in Senate Judiciary Committee negotiations to add safeguards wanted by civil liberties groups.
"I can't quite understand why we can't have just a few hours of debate," Feingold said.
The House version was ready to go last Thursday but GOP leaders delayed the vote because the White House doesn't like a provision that would have the new police powers expire in 2004. House Republican leaders suggested that the president implement the provisions through executive order to avoid the debate on Capitol Hill.
The Bush administration has made clear it prefers the Senate bill, which more closely resembles the package proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
One congressional member who originally opposed Ashcroft's proposals but later voted for the House bill with its sunshine provision expressed his disappointment.
"This legislative package is too important to defer to the Senate's actions," Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said Wednesday.
Daschle tried to switch to the anti-terrorism bill after Senate debate on an airline security bill stalled over federalizing screeners and other issues. Some GOP senators complained the bill would make federal employees of too many airport screeners while Democrats want to add billions of dollars for an Amtrak bailout and aid for laid-off airline workers.
In response to the amendment offered by Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., to add $3 billion for airline workers, which Republicans said was not relevant to the bill, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., offered an amendment on opening drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
But even as the bill gets further bogged down, one Democratic leadership source said it's not too late to get the work done, even by Friday, but it will require a lot of "heavy lifting."
"We are still bogged down but at least it's pending. Tiny steps for tiny tots," the source said.
Meanwhile, the frustration mounts.
"Here we're telling the American people that we are working together, that we're dedicated to the proposition that we'll take whatever measures are necessary in a bipartisan fashion to assure their security and safety both home and overseas," McCain said. "And here we are nearing the end of our second week mired in such a situation that we've made no progress whatsoever."
"This is unforgivable that hour after hour after hour and day after day after day this Senate is not doing the business that it's supposed to do," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Fox News' Julie Asher and the Associated Press contributed to this report.