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GOP Blamed On Disaster Aid

Poll shows public faults Republicans for the impasse; Democrats stage all-night vigil

poll WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 11) -- As the political stalemate over disaster relief continues, a handful of Senate Democrats staged an all-night vigil, while Republicans sought to portray the president as uncompromising. But a new poll shows the public siding with the Democrats.

About 55 percent of those polled in a new CNN/USAToday/Gallup survey faulted congressional Republicans for the hold-up in passing a disaster-relief bill to aid the flood-ravaged Northern Plains states. Some 25 percent of the 651 adult Americans contacted by phone on Tuesday blamed President Bill Clinton. Asked how closely they were following the story, 53 percent answered "some" or a "great deal," while 46 percent said "not much." The poll's sampling error was +/- 4 percent.

The political jockeying has been intense in Washington since Clinton, objecting to two GOP-backed provisions, vetoed the first disaster relief bill Monday. One seeks to avoid future government shutdowns by freezing spending at the previous year's levels, in the event of a budget stalemate. The other would forbid the Census Bureau from using sampling methods in place of comprehensive counting in the 2000 census.

Late Tuesday, Democrats sought to keep the Senate in session all night in an attempt to approve a revised bill. But they were beaten back on a party-line vote, 55-37. In the House, Republicans prevented consideration of an $8.6 billion Democratic alternative.

Hoping to galvanize public opinion, several senators, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and North Dakota's two Democratic senators, Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, retreated to Daschle's office where, in three-hour shifts, they continued to hammer their message home over radio waves and the Internet.

"This is not something that ought to be politicized," Daschle told listeners. "This is something that should be dealt with extreme care and sensitivity. People's lives and livelihood are on the line and there is no reason why anybody should use those people for leverage to get things they want for whatever legislative agenda they may have." (128K wav sound)

Earlier, Republicans sought to embarrass Democrats by bringing up legislation designed to reduce birth defects. When Democrats used parliamentary procedures to block debate, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) declared, "I don't see how there could be objections to it."

As the wrangling has continued, Republicans have given frequent assurances that enough funds remain in the pipeline to sustain current relief aid into the near future. They've cast Clinton as unwilling to compromise.

"I think you owe an explanation to the disaster victims why you would stand for the authority to shut down government," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) challenged the president in a speech from the Senate floor.

But some Republicans are worried they are on the losing side of this political spat. South Dakota House Republican John Thune told The Associated Press that his constituents believe "this institution, Washington, D.C., is playing politics with disaster assistance."

And Lott may be beginning to feel the heat. "I am ready. I am ready. Help me," he said in the Senate Tuesday. "I think we can find a way to get this thing done. But it doesn't work this way. It doesn't work if the president says send me down a full plate of money -- $8.6 billion -- 'oh and by the way we don't want any of your language on it.'" (192K wav sound)

Where compromise can be found remains uncertain, though. Democrats have dismissed a suggestion from Lott to drop the two riders, while targeting a cheaper bill -- $2-3 million -- for the hardest hit areas.

They say they are willing to consider the two GOP measures separately, but want to proceed with the full $8.6 billion, $1.9 billion of which was allotted to the Bosnia peacekeeping mission.

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