GOP Focus on Security Issues to Sideline Other Matters

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), with Chris Murphy in Waterbury, Conn., said Republicans
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), with Chris Murphy in Waterbury, Conn., said Republicans "have weakened our military, hurt our position in the world, spent away our children's future and . . . not made America safer." (By Jessica Hill -- Associated Press)
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 3, 2006

Congress will return to Washington this week with the Republican majorities in both chambers at risk and GOP leaders planning to turn the floors of the House and Senate into battlegrounds over which political party can best protect the country from terrorists and other security threats.

But in devoting the few remaining legislative days almost exclusively to security issues, Republicans will leave major domestic tasks undone, including President Bush's prized immigration overhaul and long-promised legislation to toughen the restrictions on lobbying after a wide-ranging corruption scandal. No budget plan for 2007 will be completed. Promised relief for seniors struggling with their Medicare prescription drug plans will have to wait. And as many as eight of the 11 bills needed to fund the government will not be passed before the November elections.

That has some Republicans worried.

In Michigan, "the number one issue is the economy," Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) said. "The emphasis they're putting out there now is related to world events and the fact that the national economy is not facing what Michigan is facing. But if you're hungry, you've got less time to delve into international affairs."

With Senate and House leaders hoping to adjourn by Sept. 29, Congress will have as few as 15 legislative days to finish its work and try to send members on the campaign trail with fresh accomplishments to tout.

Work promises to start slowly. After a five-week summer break, the centerpiece of the House's schedule for the coming week is a bill to toughen rules against horse slaughtering.

If Republicans succeed in the weeks that follow, their accomplishments will be focused on national security. Republican leaders hope to complete a defense spending bill, a defense policy bill, legislation to give Congress's blessing to the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program and to bring the president's military tribunals into constitutional compliance, and a port security overhaul.

A resolution commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will also likely be a vehicle for heated debate on the policies that followed.

Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said it is not politics but a confluence of events that has forced the security focus on Congress, including the foiling of the London bombing plot, a federal judge's ruling against the NSA surveillance program and the Supreme Court's ruling against the administration's military tribunals.

"There's a certain acceptance on both sides of the aisle that we're looking at the House floor as a political arena in the next month," said a senior House Republican leadership aide who requested anonymity because he was not cleared to speak in political terms. "This will be a test of ideas on military security and homeland security."

Democrats will counter with maneuvers to push for a vote of no confidence on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and with multiple calls to fully implement the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Our fight is with the Republicans," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "They have weakened our military, hurt our position in the world, spent away our children's future and again not made America safer."

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