Congress Poised for Month-Long Break
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Senate today gave its approval to a wide-ranging energy bill that's been years in the making. Later senators overwhelmingly passed a highway bill that would send some $300 billion to states for transportation. Then lawmakers started heading home for August recess. It's been a productive week for Congress and a fulfilling one for President Bush. He's seen some longtime priorities come to fruition. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
When President Bush traveled to the Capitol for a pep talk with Republican members of Congress earlier this week, Republican Congresswoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio says he spent much of the time passing out laurels.
Representative DEBORAH PRYCE (Republican, Ohio): The president spent over an hour thanking House Republicans for all the hard work we've done, all our great accomplishments, gave us a lot of credit for the economy coming back around and went through a litany of successes that we have helped him achieve.
NAYLOR: And in fact, Republicans have done some heavy lifting for the president this week and produced some key victories. Thanks to a little midnight arm-twisting by GOP leaders, the House narrowly approved CAFTA, a free trade agreement with six Central American nations that Mr. Bush said was vital to this nation's security. And bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate approved the energy bill, one of the administration's top priorities since the beginning of the president's first term. Stripped of some controversial features, the measure sailed through both chambers this week, even though Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici of New Mexico conceded it won't do much to lower prices at the gas pump.
Senator PETE DOMENICI (Republican, New Mexico): So if you can't get it done, do you not do a bill? I think the answer is no. You do a bill. And this bill will do this for America: It will create more jobs, more secure jobs and cleaner energy. And over the next five to 20 years, you will see that.
NAYLOR: Democrats, naturally, are more reserved about the work done by Congress this week. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid says Republican priorities are wrong.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Minority Leader): Looking back to January, they suggested this has been the most productive session in the last 10 years. If you're an Exxon lobbyist or a right-wing judge or a White House leaker, then, yes, this has been a productive session. But if you're a working family, struggling to afford health care and looking for help from Republicans in Congress, you must be wondering whose side they're on.
NAYLOR: But what Reid didn't mention was that without 15 Democratic votes, CAFTA wouldn't have passed in the House. And there were also large numbers of Democrats supporting the energy and highway bills. While Congress has something to crow about, the legislation lawmakers approved this week was, in some ways, hard to oppose. The highway and energy bills both deliver large amounts of money, or pork, back to congressional districts. Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, says it's not likely the president's successes this week will translate into political momentum for the battles ahead.
Mr. THOMAS MANN (The Brookings Institution): Social Security has been in a near-death condition for some months, and certainly, these bills being passed will have no bearing whatsoever. Immigration looms on the horizon in September. It's an issue that divides the Republican Party and remains as tough after today as it was a week or a month ago.
NAYLOR: But those fights seem a long way off. Congress returns to Washington the day after Labor Day. Between now and then, lawmakers will be back in their districts with projects and dollars from the highway and energy bills to show off, able to tell their constituents there are some things Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.