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Senate to convene for lame-duck session

Barkley won't caucus with Democrats or Republicans

Senate leaders Tom Daschle, left, D-South Dakota, and Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, say they believe a compromise can be reached on homeland security legislation.
Senate leaders Tom Daschle, left, D-South Dakota, and Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, say they believe a compromise can be reached on homeland security legislation.

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With control of both houses of Congress, President Bush has a better chance of implementing his agenda. Among his top priorities:

  • Department of Homeland Security : Despite agreement on most of the issues for merging 22 agencies into a homeland security agency, the legislation has been hung up over the labor rights of its 170,000 employees. Democrats say workers should maintain collective bargaining rights. Bush insists he needs the flexibility to fire, demote or transfer workers for national security reasons.

  • Economic package : The economic plan would make the president?s 10-year $1.35 trillion tax cut permanent. A friendlier Congress could add more tax cuts.
  • Terrorism insurance : Bush has proposed a $100 billion measure to cover insurers? losses in any future terrorist attack. The insurance industry, building owners and developers back the bill.

  • Judicial appointments: Bush has proposed a streamlined process, asking the Senate to hold a hearing on each judicial nominee within 90 days and to accept or reject the president?s choice within 180 days.

  • Energy bill : The White House proposes a mandate that would increas the amount of gasoline with ethanol to reduce air pollution and lessen the nation?s dependence on foreign oil. Bush also hopes to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil drilling.
  • WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One week after the midterm elections, the Senate is set to convene Tuesday for a lame-duck session -- with Democrats in control -- that's expected to focus on legislation creating a homeland security department.

    Democratic and Republican Senate leaders have said they are hopeful a compromise can be reached on the legislation, which has been stalled over the question of labor rights.

    Democrats will retain control of the Senate during the lame-duck session because independent Dean Barkley, appointed by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura to fill out the remainder of the late Paul Wellstone's term, decided late Monday that he would not align himself with either Republicans or Democrats.

    "I am an independent, the governor who appointed me is an independent, and I believe the best way to serve the people of Minnesota is to remain an Independent," said Barkley in a written statement.

    Daschle and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, each met with Barkley last week trying to woo him. Barkley said his decision to remain Independent is in part a tribute to Wellstone, killed in a plane crash October 25.

    "Senator Paul Wellstone, whose term I have been appointed to fulfill, was one of the most independent thinkers in the long history of the Congress. Rather than adding to the partisanship that so often characterizes Congress, I would like to focus on bridging differences and helping to move important legislation forward," said Barkley.

    Before the midterm elections, Democrats maintained control of the Senate, holding 50 seats and enjoying the support of Sen. James Jeffords, an independent from Vermont. With Wellstone's death, Democrats now hold 49 seats and still have the support of Jeffords. Republicans hold 49 seats.

    Though Democrats will have control during the lame-duck session, Republicans will soon be in the driver's seat. Before the end of the month, Rep. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, is expected to be sworn in to replace Sen. Jean Carnahan, a Missouri Democrat. Talent's swearing-in comes early because he won a special election.

    Republicans will control the Senate when the new session of Congress begins next year, holding at least 51 seats. Two races remain unresolved. In South Dakota, incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson has claimed victory over Republican John Thune, but the slim margin of about 500 votes could lead to a recount. And in Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, faces a runoff against Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell

    The outcome of those races won't affect the lame-duck session, which President Bush pressed for last week.

    The president cited the creation of a homeland security department -- which his administration had initially opposed -- as his top priority.

    The House has already passed its version of the bill, but the Senate has not yet resolved a dispute over how much flexibility the president would have in hiring, firing and transferring workers. Democrats say the administration wants to undermine workers' rights, but Republicans say the president needs greater authority to run the department as he sees fit.

    Barkley said Monday he does not know how he will come down on the labor-rights issue snarling the legislation. He said he is still reading the fine print of each party's proposal for how to deal with the collective bargaining rights of an estimated 170,000 federal employees in the new department.

    While there are several other issues the president said he wants to advance -- including tax cuts and action on various judicial appointments -- there remains some doubt about whether the Senate's lame-duck session will accomplish much beyond homeland security.

    "Lame duck sessions, as they go on, get more difficult, become acrimonious, cost money," Lott said over the weekend.

    --CNN Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash contributed to this report


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