Robert Novak

 "Last night," a bristling Sensenbrenner told the House, "the other body [the Senate] ignored the will of the House" as well as a majority of senators. He pushed through a mere five-week extension to pressure the Senate into finally accepting the conference report next year. Sensenbrenner privately had the full support of House Republican leaders, who were furious with Frist's performance in the Senate. Sensenbrenner and the House members then left town for good, and Warner had to conduct his one-man Senate session to keep the act from expiring Dec. 31.

 Simultaneously, a conference report on the budget bill came over to the Senate from the House and provided another illustration of congressional decline. As has become their tendency, House Republicans excluded Democrats from final consideration of the measure and passed the bill at dawn on a party-line vote.

 Sen. Kent Conrad, the Democratic budget specialist, pounced on the conference report with three technical points of order, which alleged violation of the Senate's arcane rules in the budget bill. Conrad congratulated himself on his forbearance: "I could be raising 12 or 15 points of order and ask for a vote on every single one of them. . . . Yes, some of these matters are technical, but they are because we have rules." Conrad actually was against trimming $50 billion in projected increases from a $2.5 trillion budget, but he stopped the budget on technicalities when Republicans could not muster the two-thirds majority to suspend the rules.

 With John Warner playing passer and receiver on the Senate floor, Congress adjourned until Jan. 31 without taking final action on the budget and tax bills and the Patriot Act. With Social Security and tax reforms going nowhere, it is hard to justify congratulating a Congress that looks bad while it is doing little.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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