WASHINGTON – Republicans tore into Democrats Friday for suggesting there may not be a federal budget resolution this year, perhaps the most fundamentally important legislative document produced by the U.S. Congress.
"What better example of whether or not you can govern is whether or not you have a budget for the year?" asked Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Lott said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told President Bush this week that they don't have 51 votes for their own budget resolution but don't want to vote for a Republican alternative.
An hour earlier, Democrats held their own news conference to say that no decision has been made on the budget, but any legislative gridlock is the fault of Republicans.
"We're kind of like a bicycle built for two in the U.S. Senate. We're all in the same vehicle, it's just that we're in the front pedaling uphill, and they are in the backseat with the brakes on," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Republicans have disrupted some Senate business to protest the Democrats' handling of judicial nominees. They say that the failure of the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm only one quarter of Bush nominees to the federal bench has created a crisis in the judicial system.
But their tactics – for instance limiting the time of committee hearings – have had little impact on the overall legislative process, which the majority Democrats control.
Making a pile of bills that haven't been voted on yet, the GOP argued the failure to make progress on several measures, including tax reform, a bipartisan ban on human cloning, and a bipartisan faith-based initiative, is the result of actions by Daschle to block debate.
"The stack continues to get higher," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
But Democrats say they have been productive. Without acknowledging that many stalled bills have Democratic support, they paraphrased the GOP complaint and mocked it as single-minded partisanship.
"Democrats should simply adopt whatever the Republican agenda is, lock, stock, and barrel, and pass it. If we do that, it's called bipartisanship. If we don't take it lock, stock, and barrel, it's obstructionism," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "The voters didn't put us here to be a rubber stamp for anyone."
Trying to win over voters during an election year often hampers legislative progress, and Republicans accused Democrats of starting the campaign season early.
"Defense, national security, homeland security. These issues are critical right now. I had hoped that we would not get into a full political cry hopefully until this summer. We have work to do, we can't just spend a whole year campaigning," Lott said.
Of course, both sides are campaigning, and if majority Democrats can be made to look bad for failing to get bills and even a budget blueprint passed, look for Republicans to drag their feet all the more.