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Friday, March 21

Frist steers Senate to support troops, debate budget

By Larry Bivins | GNS

WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist struck a business-as-usual demeanor Thursday, just hours after bombs struck Baghdad signaling the start of a U.S.-led war to depose Iraq President Saddam Hussein.

Frist, R-Tenn., scheduled time for debate on a resolution expressing the Senate's support for the war effort, the troops and Bush as commander in chief. But he was adamant about not sacrificing other business, particularly work on a budget blueprint, because of the war.

"Just like people all over the United States of America went to work early this morning and will be there late today, we have a responsibility," Frist said. "And that responsibility is to prioritize, to pass a budget."

While some Democrats argued that Congress should postpone any legislative action for a few days because of war, most lawmakers called for a united voice in support of the military effort and the president.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., expressed sentiments similar to Frist?s, saying lawmakers had a duty to work on domestic issues. Still, he said, "Our discussions about the budget and our everyday jobs seem a little less important today compared to what our men and women overseas and our commander in chief is doing."

Frist called for an end to the verbal attack fellow Republicans have launched against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota for criticizing White House diplomatic efforts on Iraq shortly before Bush gave Saddam and his sons 48 hours to flee the country on Monday. That deadline passed about 90 minutes before bombs descended on Baghdad.

"It's time to move on," Frist said during a news conference with GOP leaders. "It's time for the United States Senate to pull together."

Roughly two hours later, Frist and Daschle stood shoulder to shoulder on the Senate floor to present the resolution, which passed the Senate 99-0. Daschle noted Congress historically has spoken with one voice in times of armed conflict.

Frist also applauded Bush?s leadership and the skill and readiness of the U.S. military. He said he was confident victory would be sure and quick, though war was a last resort.

"This is a moment we had hoped to avoid," he said. "We prayed for peace. We worked for peace. But the Iraqi regime chose a different destiny."

The GOP leader added that the war was "justified by our own laws, by international laws, and by the laws of nature, which state that all people are created equal and with a right to live in liberty."

Still, the day did not proceed without some measure of political mischief as Frist warned that he would not allow Democrats to spend so much time speaking on the resolution that they, in effect, stymie debate on the budget that includes Bush's call for more tax cuts.

"We have statutory deadlines that we?re going to meet," Frist said, "and thus I?ve made it very clear that we're not going to have delaying tactics which might push the budget back a week, a month or even a year. We may well be here to Friday midnight and Saturday to fulfill our responsibility."