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Bush uses election to demand wish list from Congress
Republicans on the rampage

By Eric Ruder | November 22, 2002 | Page 2

THE NEW Congress, where Republicans control both the House and Senate, won't take office until January. But George W. Bush's party is already on a rampage. The White House is using the Republican election victory as an excuse to push for legislation that has been deadlocked.

First on the wish list is a new Department of Homeland Security. The main point of the legislation is the elimination of union rights and civil service protections for the department's 170,000 workers--a bold slap at organized labor. But the version of the legislation passed by the House last week included slew of other add-ons to reward various corporate interests.

One provision, for example, would exempt drug companies from lawsuits stemming from any component or ingredient used in a vaccine--which could wipe out even currently pending lawsuits if they relate to an "ingredient" also used in war-related vaccine development. Another provision blocks Senate-approved legislation to bar government contracts with corporations that have moved their headquarters offshore to avoid U.S. taxes.

Senate Democrats say they will try to strip out these provisions before passing the legislation. But they won't fight the anti-union measures--or any of the Big Brother-style provisions of the bill, such as new restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act.

Indeed, new House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)--the "San Francisco liberal" who is supposed to revitalize the Democratic opposition--showed her willingness to work with the White House by voting for the homeland security legislation.

Meanwhile, Republicans stumbled when it came to pushing through a bankruptcy "reform" law that will make it much harder for ordinary people to get out from under a big debt burden. Credit card companies and banks have been pushing for this for years. But in an eleventh-hour vote last Friday, anti-abortion House Republicans stripped out a provision that would have made it more difficult for pro-life demonstrators facing fines resulting from violent attacks on abortion clinics to declare bankruptcy. As a consequence, it's unlikely that the legislation will make it through Congress before next year.

This scuffle reveals that even with a majority in both houses of Congress, fights among Republicans could slow down the GOP juggernaut. And even some conservatives see a backlash in the making as Republicans push their pet projects. "Many Republicans in Congress want the president to be hard-line on their issues," said Norman Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. "But that carries risks for the president's re-election."

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