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House, Senate Tension Fuels Impasse

“Most people recognize that accomplishment on good bills is important to Republicans in both houses,” another well-placed Senate GOP aide said. “We’ve got enough gridlock coming from the Democrats. We don’t need to create any of our own.”

Added another Republican aide: “We’re joined at the hip, so it’s imperative that we pass legislation that is going to give our guys ammo when they head back home and campaign this fall.”

Republicans in both chambers agreed that they can set aside their differences on most of the major items, with the exception of immigration reform, where the parties in the two bodies are in starkly different camps. Republicans privately concede that it could be an impossible task to advance a comprehensive bill this year. Instead, they may have to settle for a watered-down version that can meet the test of both chambers.

“Immigration will prove if we can all pull in the same direction or not,” a Republican Senate staffer said.

The path to completion for an immigration bill also is complicated by differing opinions over whether a mediocre bill is better than no bill at all.

House Republicans are convinced that the public — and particularly the GOP’s base — supports their enforcement-only bill more than the Senate’s comprehensive approach, leading some lawmakers to say privately that they would rather run in November on the House-passed bill than on a potentially weaker conference report.

But other Members and aides believe Republicans will be punished at the polls even more if no bill makes it to the president’s desk.

Separately, conferees are currently hammering out a compromise on the supplemental spending bill — the Senate version of which came out nearly $14 billion bigger than the House version. President Bush has threatened to veto the measure if it comes to his desk much above the $94 billion mark.

But appropriators, known for their bipartisan approach to working through spending bills, are expected to come up with a conference report within the coming days. Those lawmakers will be called on again when some of the regular appropriations bills come up, although few are expected to advance before Nov. 7.

As for other pending bills, immigration conferees should be named within the coming days, while lawmakers in both chambers are seeking to strike final deals on the pension bill and lobbying reform. Republicans also say they may be able to advance legislation targeted at gas prices as well as small-scale health care reforms this year.

One GOP Senate aide said that even while Republicans struggle among each other on some of the pending legislation, there are areas where the party can and will continue to agree.

Expect Republicans, led by Bush, to continue to talk up the country’s economic success and to press for heightened fiscal discipline — an area that has produced electoral gains for the party in the past but has been overshadowed by a ballooning federal deficit in recent years.

“You are going to hear a lot more about spending — and that’s something most of us in both houses can agree on,” a Republican aide said.

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