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Congress Leaves Some Priority Bills Unfinished

Legislation to reauthorize and update the 1996 welfare bill, including new work rules and funding for child care, was sidelined by Senate Republicans after Democrats threatened to add some of their own legislative priorities, including a minimum-wage increase.

House bills aimed at curbing class-action lawsuits and limiting damages from medical malpractice lawsuits died in the Senate, and lengthy negotiations on the creation of a fund to compensate asbestos victims failed to produce an agreement.

The Senate rejected a bill to protect firearms manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits after gun control advocates attached provisions to extend the ban on assault weapons and require background checks at gun shows. As a result, the assault weapons ban expired last month.

A Bush-backed proposal providing new tax breaks for contributions to religious and other charities failed in the Senate, and Democrats lost efforts to extend unemployment benefits. A bipartisan Senate bill to expand the federal hate crimes statute was rejected by House Republicans in a conference committee. Immigration initiatives, including proposals by Bush, went nowhere.

Congress failed to agree on a budget for the year, contributing to the delay in passing appropriations bills. Only bills dealing with defense, military construction, homeland security and the District of Columbia have been passed. With the government running out of borrowing authority, Congress will also have to raise the federal debt ceiling, which lawmakers were reluctant to tackle before the elections.

Republicans and Democrats drew sharply different conclusions from the record.

"In just about every field, we have moved America forward," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told reporters as the Senate was about to leave Monday.

While praising the Senate's bipartisan cooperation on the intelligence bill, Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) described the overall record as "mixed" and said the Republicans too often pursued an "all-or-nothing strategy" that thwarted agreement on important issues.

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