Senate approves 50-50 power-sharing plan
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The full Senate agreed Friday to a blueprint for floor and committee procedures intended to even the chamber's partisan playing field, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Sens. Daschle, left, and Lott announce the power-sharing agreement
Senators' approval was granted on a voice vote late Friday afternoon. The chamber's committees will now be split evenly among Democrats and Republicans -- both parties occupy 50 seats in Congress' upper chamber -- with Republicans retaining the chairmanships, but staffing and resources evenly divided.
"We don't want a prescription for gridlock," Republican Senate leader Trent Lott told reporters Friday. "We cannot allow that. We have to extend the hand of friendship to our colleagues and try to find a way to get the substantive issues to the floor of the Senate."
A number of concessions needed to be made by both parties during the lengthy negotiations, members said Friday, and every possible legislative and procedural eventuality had to be considered. Among those:
-- In the case of a tie vote in a committee, the Senate majority leader can bring the measure to the Senate floor for a full vote. This includes tie votes on any Bush Administration official up for confirmation.
-- In the case of a tie vote on a subcommittee, the issue will be sent to the
The agreement was greeted on the floor of the Senate with a level of praise and comity that belied the long, tough negotiations that brought it about.
"I will ... with every bit of ingenuity, wisdom or the opposite thereof if required, try to make this thing work," said Sen. Pete Domemici, R-New Mexico, chairman of the Budget Committee.
"I congratulate Mr. Lott and Mr. Daschle," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-West Virginia, to the chamber's party leaders. "I would never have thought it could be done."
In one of the many consequences of this past year's razor-thin electoral margin, Lott, R-Mississippi, and Democratic leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, have temporarily reversed roles: As long as Vice President Al Gore retains his title of president of the Senate -- until he leaves office January 20 -- Daschle will be the Majority Leader of the Senate.
Lott takes over once more when Republican Dick Cheney -- who chose his Senate office on Friday -- takes his oath of office. With the edge Cheney will afford them, effectively giving the Republicans a 51-50 majority, some GOP members said Friday that accountability and responsibility must be recognized and exercised to avoid deadlock.
Republican senators, many of whom initially objected to the new rules,
begrudgingly agreed to the terms Friday.
"I'm wrestling with it," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma. "My position has
always been to have a one-vote majority, but we'll make this work. We're
going to accept it and make it work."
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho said, "I think we're all recognizing the reality
of 50-50. It's obviously a bit frustrating, but it's the reality we have to
deal with it."
"The November election changed the character of the United States Senate. Elections have consequences," Craig said later on the floor.
Senators and aides from both parties said the power sharing negotiations were just about the hardest thing Lott and Daschle have ever had to deal with.
"Were it not for the fact that we demonstrated good faith today, we would not be able to demonstrate good faith when challenges and difficult circumstances arise," Daschle said.
Other issues are also on the table -- including the doling out of patronage jobs, control of legislation on the Senate floor, and procedures for Democrats to preside over the Senate as well as Republicans.
Now that the issue of power-sharing has been decided, the chamber's 11 new senators are likely to be given their committee assignments.
CNN Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash and Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this report.