INTERNATIONAL

Two 'remarkable years' for U.S. Congress

Washington NOV. 24. The 107th Congress is coming to an end, and with this the analysis of what lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate had achieved in the last two years.

That Congress went through some really heady days in the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is for all to see. This apart, the question still has been some of the unfinished agenda that had a particular domestic appeal and focus. To say that Capitol Hill was glued for the most part on domestic and international aspects of terrorism in the last one year would seem to state the obvious.

But the 107th session did start off with the President, George W. Bush's $1.35-trillion, 10-year tax cut. But one of the major achievements of the lawmakers before they went home this week was the passage of the Homeland Security Department, a creation of not only a new Federal department but a major revamping exercise of the bureaucracy and the Government.

Mr. Bush insisted that the Senate take up the legislation this session itself and not wait until the Republicans were "better placed'' next January in the 108th session of Congress. "It has been a remarkable two years. There were clearly disappointments as well'', the outgoing Senate Majority leader, Thomas Daschle, said. By virtue of what happened on Nov. 5, Mr. Daschle will be returning as the Minority Leader for what will be another two years of critical period for Republicans and Democrats.

The parties are already gearing for the Presidential election of 2004. Where there has been lack of progress on legislation, finger-pointing by the Republicans and Democrats have not been found wanting. And the areas have to do with patients bill of rights, prescription drugs, national energy policy and tougher bankruptcy laws.

Democrats still maintain that a tighter rein has to be kept on big businesses. Lawmakers of the 107th session went into the Nov. 5 elections with the war with Iraq as the major and dominating issue.

The Congressional resolution on Iraq was out of the way, but still the Democrats failed to come up with a coherent message — or even with messengers — on the alternatives.

The Democrats simply could not capitalise on the fact that the economy was faltering, markets were dwindling and that the administration had to pay more attention to setting the house in order.

To say that there was deep disappointment within the Democratic Party as results of the election trickled in would be an understatement.

The Grand Old Party walked away with the Senate and improved its position — albeit marginally — in the House.

As the 107th Session winds down, Capitol Hill paid warm tributes to Senator Strom Thurmond, the soon-to-be 100-year-old who has spent an unprecedented 47 years in the Senate. For a person who has cast nearly 15,000 votes, one of his last came on Wednesday on the Homeland Security Department.

Lawmakers also remembered Senator Paul Wellstone who died in an air crash two weeks before the elections. Wellstone, who was locked in a tough re-election battle with Norm Coleman, was replaced at the last minute by the Democratic Party with Walter Mondale. The one-time Vice-President lost the election.