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Senate moves toward power-sharing; deal 'still fluid'

Washington (CNN) -- Senators are close to the framework of a deal on power-sharing between the two parties in a Senate that is evenly split.

According to Democratic leadership aides and Republican senators participating in day- long meetings Thursday, committees would be split evenly among Democrats and Republicans, with Republicans retaining the chairmanships but staffing and resources evenly divided.

Both sides cautioned that the deal is still fluid and there are still details to be worked out.

Under the tentative agreement, if a committee's vote on legislation ends up in a tie, there would be a "mechanism" to allow that bill to come to the full Senate for a vote. The details of that mechanics are still under discussion.

A mechanism for avoiding gridlock in evenly split committees is a key element for most Republican senators, who say with Dick Cheney's tie-breaking role as president of the senate gives them a 51-50 edge. With that edge, say Republicans, comes accountability and responsibility to avoid deadlock.

Senate GOP leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., presented the latest plan to his caucus after taking to Democratic leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, mid-day Thursday.

The two are in constant contact and aides to both say they hope to have a final deal by the end of the week.

Senators and aides from both sides say these negotiations are just about the hardest thing either Lott or Daschle have ever had to deal with.

"This is the toughest thing we've had to do since impeachment. It's really heavy lifting," said a spokeswoman for Daschle.

Committees that reflect the evenly divided Senate has been a top priority for Democrats since Election Day because they say it is essential for pushing their legislative agenda.

Other issues also are the table -- including the doling out of patronage jobs, having control of legislation on the Senate floor and procedures for Democrats to preside over the Senate as well as Republicans.

Until the issue of power-sharing is decided, the 11 new senators will not get their committee assignments. However, committees are proceeding with confirmation hearings of Bush Cabinet designees.


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Thursday, January 4, 2001


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