Pre-Election Mood Adds Punch to Lawmaking Session

Congress returns Tuesday for a short pre-midterm election session. As the political season starts in earnest, the mood on Capitol Hill is becoming more partisan. So what's ahead in the campaigns and, more important, what's going to happen on the Hill?

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Congress returns tomorrow for a short, pre-midterm election session, and with the political season starting in earnest, the mood on Capital Hill is becoming more partisan.

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, is looking ahead at the battle lines being drawn.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

In dire danger of losing the House, the Republicans appear to be planning to play the national security card in the last 15 legislative days before Congress recesses for the election. The Wall Street Journal says security may not be the trump card for Republicans that it has been in the past. And yet, the legislative calendar goes heavy on national defense and light on domestic concerns.

Priority is being given to a defense spending bill, to endorsement of warrantless wiretapping, to a port security overhaul, legitimizing of military tribunals and a resolution commemorating the 9/11 anniversary.

A resolution which may be the first order of business concerns toughening rules against the slaughter of horses. What may be left by the wayside until after the election - a budget blueprint, appropriations to run the government, immigration reform and border security, control of lobbyists, a minimum wage increase and health for senior citizens who missed a deadline for choosing a Medicare prescription plan.

All in all, recent polls reflect an electorate unhappy with the status quo and open to change. The latest Times/CBS poll indicates only 29 percent of voters believe that the country is headed in the right direction. A faith-based campaign may not be working for Republicans, either, to the extent that it has in the past. A Mason-Dixon poll found that only five percent of Republican voters said they were most concerned about moral issues. Many more expressed concern about rising property insurance rates after Hurricane Katrina.

According to recent polls, Democrats now enjoy a three point advantage on the issue of which party can best deal with Iraq. If the Republicans cannot count on their preeminence as America's defender, which they've used successfully in the last two elections, then they are in trouble, possibly starting with a Democratic push for a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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