108th Congress Goes Into Overtime

Political theater took to the gridiron this week as Republican senators began wrapping up the latest session of Congress with an outline of their accomplishments and calls of foul play by their Democratic opposition.

"Illegal procedures" and "pass interference" helped Democrats with their "obstructionism" in confirming judicial nominees and vouchers for D.C. schools, Republicans said Tuesday in a "halftime report" in which they pledged to gain more yardage after the long winter recess.

We ran "into some snags when the Democrats intentionally grounded the president's judicial nominees," said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Democrats successfully blocked six of President Bush's judicial nominees this year through procedural moves that forced one nominee, attorney Miguel Estrada, to withdrawal his name from contention.

But the Republican all-stars said they were still "advancing for America" the issues that mattered, and the public so far has plenty to cheer about, including the institution of a big crowd pleaser — the "do-not-call" registry (search), which aims to keep telemarketers from calling people's homes. 

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said after a third and long carry, Congress also finally completed a partial-birth abortion ban.

"This has been a good year for American families," he said.

Congress scored when it passed additional tax cuts that will create more jobs for the American people, added Sen. George Allen, R-Va.

Republicans also took credit for Tuesday's final passage of the mammoth Medicare (search) prescription drug bill, the first major overhaul of the entitlement program for seniors since its inception in 1965.

"We've had our moments of drama, not the least of which [was] in the last 24 hours, but we've been able to move the ball forward," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shortly after final passage of the bill that will provide discounts on pharmaceutical purchases by the nation's 42 million seniors.

Democrats responded that despite calls of obstructionism on their part, the Republican leadership punted on several key issues — failing to get some bills done and handling others badly.

"They passed a bad Medicare bill that will leave up to one-quarter of seniors worse off than they are today and will prohibit the government from doing anything to reduce the price of prescription drugs," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Santorum defended the cost of the package, saying the legislation came in under the self-imposed limit of $400 billion while still providing universal coverage.

"We've done so in as fiscally responsible fashion as anyone could have ... given the hand we were dealt," Santorum said. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the captain of the Republican team and a heart and lung transplant surgeon, claimed the prescription drug benefit as one of the GOP's biggest victories.

Republicans also handed Daschle a penalty for failing to line up enough Democratic votes for the energy bill, particularly from farm states that would have benefited from the ethanol (search) provision in the bill. While pledging to take up the bill early next year, Republicans said the Senate's inability to complete it after having gotten so close to the goal line was a major disappointment.

"Democrats delayed the game" by failing to pass the energy bill, Frist said. "What they denied the American people was a comprehensive energy plan."

"The energy bill would have been a great bill for the American people, for energy independence," said Allen, the former University of Virginia quarterback who showed he still has game by literally throwing a five-yard pass to Santorum in the Capitol's Mansfield Room.

Not playing into the tortured metaphor, Daschle blamed the Republican leadership for blowing the chance to pass the $31 billion energy bill by including in it billions in tax incentives that he said were rewards to special interests.

He also criticized the GOP for not further extending unemployment benefits and failing to pass more than half of the appropriations bills that make up the federal budget.

"This session has been a major disappointment — the result of misguided priorities and a refusal by Republicans to compromise in any way on their radical agenda," Daschle said. "This has to change next year. The American people will not tolerate another year of missed opportunities like this one — nor should they."

Both receiver and referee, Santorum threw down a flag against Democrats, whom he said forced Congress to miss opportunities to help American families.

"One area in which we let down families is vouchers for the District [of Columbia]. As much as we tried, we were off to false start after false start," he said, adding that he is not giving up hope on the school choice provision

"We hope with the omnibus [spending package], we'll be able to extend those opportunities," he said.

The House and Senate both return in the second week of December to try to wrap up the $328 billion omnibus spending package that would include funding for the eight outstanding annual spending bills that were supposed to have been completed at the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Just as any Thanksgiving is not complete without football, Congress managed to start the holiday not only with turkey, but pork as well, said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

Byrd chided Congress for leaving for the holiday without completing the appropriations process. He said Republicans also passed bills that included excessive amounts of spending on pet projects.

"On Thursday, the nation will pause to celebrate Thanksgiving. But our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have decided to deliver to the Senate a turkey of an omnibus appropriations conference report. This turkey is filled with stuffing and all the trimmings, but as we stand here today, few senators know what it is stuffed with. What we do know is that this turkey has been specially carved for special interests," Byrd said.

Fiscal watchdogs Citizens Against Government Waste (search) agreed with Byrd that spending has been out of control and legislation has been stuffed with goodies for lawmakers to take home to constituents.

Saying Congress recklessly failed to come up with funding for Medicare, the $87 billion Iraq emergency supplemental and other measures, CAGW President Tom Schatz said he would have liked to have seen a lower spending scoreboard at the end of the year.