The Senate last night resolved a rancorous dispute over committee budgets and other issues that gave the chamber its first partisan clash of the year and held up its business for more than a week.
An accord to resolve the dispute, approved last night by unanimous consent, provides for the same relatively close division in committee funding that had existed during most of the last Congress and that Democrats had demanded.
The pact paved the way for appointment of GOP committee chairmen, assignment of freshmen to committees and a belated start for the Senate's major business.
Under the agreement, negotiated by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), funding for committees would be apportioned to reflect the party division of the Senate, which Republicans control 51 to 49. The Republican committee chairmen would get an additional 10 percent for administrative expenses.
Daschle described the agreement as a "mirror image" of the financial arrangements for the last Congress, and said he believed Republicans agreed to it to avoid further delays in Senate business. Republicans, who expressed satisfaction, said the total allocation would give them nearly 60 percent of all resources.
The dispute arose when Democrats demanded more of the panel's roughly $50 million budget than Republicans wanted to give them, leading to an impasse that delayed transfer of power within the Senate's 20 committees.
Republicans, relying on pre-2001 precedents, contended they were entitled to two-thirds of the committee money. Democrats argued that, with the 51-49 split, the division of committee resources should more nearly reflect the near-even division that prevailed when Democrats controlled the Senate by a one-vote majority.
Republicans accused Democrats of using the disagreement over funding to perpetuate their power in the Senate and to slow action on President Bush's agenda. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a member of the GOP leadership, said the Democratic tactics were "tantamount to an attempted coup."
Democrats denied the allegations, which Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) denounced as "reckless" and "inappropriate" in a Senate floor speech yesterday morning. They contended that committee organizations took longer in the last Congress, and said they were only seeking to match the distribution of funds to party breakdown in Senate membership.