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DEMOCRATS take Senate in historic shift to divided government

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate met under new, Democratic management on Wednesday, completing an unprecedented shift in power that dislodged Republicans and ushered in a new era of divided government. Majority Leader Tom Daschle swiftly suggested changes in the GOP-crafted budget.

``Both sides have to come to the middle. We can't just lob bombs,'' the South Dakota senator said, although he also made clear he was prepared to oppose President Bush on occasion in his role as leader of a ``very, very slim majority.''

Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the GOP leader, ceded power to Daschle with a pledge of ``continued friendship'' _ and a list of accomplishments forged in six years of Republican rule.

``I think you will not see him more combative but much more aggressive,'' Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said of Lott. ``He'll be able to more closely define and articulate Republican views without having to pay respect to the other side.''

The new power relationships will take weeks or months to develop, and negotiations resumed during the day on a plan to reorganize committees along lines that reflect the new party breakdown. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, told reporters a ``rough draft'' of an accord could be ready by Thursday, and final agreement approved next week.

Other changes took place swiftly.

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, 83 and the longest-serving Democrat, replaced South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond, 98, as president pro tem, a constitutional office that makes him third in line for the presidency.

Senators debated education legislation, picking up where they had left off on Tuesday _ almost. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., supplanted James Jeffords of Vermont as the Republican manager of the bill.

Jeffords, whose switch from Republican to independent aligned with Democrats triggered the seismic shift in power, sat on the Democratic side of the aisle for the first time. ``I was at awe knowing that I was entering a new phase in my life,'' said Jeffords, whose desk had been moved overnight.

Daschle praised the Vermont lawmaker for his ``courageous decision.'' It was a topic that Lott did not mention.

The formal switch occurred as House Republican leaders reviewed an internal poll that reported a slight slippage in support for congressional Republicans as well as for Bush.

``Senator Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party was clearly not good news and had two significant ripple effects _ however temporary _ for House Republicans,'' said a memo circulated by Rep. J.C. Watts, a member of the leadership.

``It fostered a national forum for criticism'' of Republicans, he wrote, and news of the switch ``saturated the media coverage of politics, making it much more difficult to communicate to the American people'' at a time when the House was considering Bush's education legislation.

The change in command brought to an end the first period in 50 years in which Republicans held control of the White House and both houses of Congress. It also marked the first time in history that one party ceded power to another without an intervening election.

The Senate had been split 50-50, meaning that Republicans held control by virtue of Vice President Dick Cheney's ability to break ties. Lott and Daschle forged a unique power-sharing agreement last winter that gave Republicans committee chairmanships but handed Democrats equal representation on each committee.

Jeffords' switch ended that, and the two sides bargained behind the scenes over a new organizational plan. Republican talk of a filibuster has faded in recent days. And while Daschle said Democrats would rely on precedent in dealing with judicial and other administration nominees, he was at pains to pledge fairness when dealing with Republicans and Bush's appointments _ a key demand made by the GOP.

``You've heard us lament and in some ways criticize the majority when we were in the minority for the lack of fairness. I think it would be hypocrisy at its worst if we were to take the same tactics. So we're not going to do that,'' he said.

Daschle, 53 and his party's Senate leader for six years, began his day before dawn, coming to the Capitol for a series of television interviews in which he talked of bipartisanship as well as a desire to put a Democratic stamp on the nation's legislative agenda.

Daschle said that sooner or later, ``we're going to have to revisit'' the tax cut that passed Congress late last month. He and other Democrats say it is too costly, and he told reporters, ``At some point reality is going to come crashing down on all of us and we're going to have to deal with it.''

Asked whether Democrats would be hampered because Bush's tax cut left too little money for other programs, he said, ``We'll probably have to find offsets for many of the things that we want to do.'' Democrats have expressed opposition to any tax increases, and an aide said Daschle's mention of offsets referred to spending cuts in some administration priorities that would free money for favored Democratic programs.

Democrats have said previously the budget written by the administration and Republicans shortchanges education, Medicare and Social Security overhaul, environmental protection and other areas.

``Obviously on occasion we will see it as our role to stop something that we don't think is appropriate policy,'' Daschle said on ABC's ``Good Morning America.'' Later he said he presides over a ``very, very slim majority _ just as President Bush I hope would recognize that he has a very, very slim majority.''

As a result, he said, ``we've got to work together and find common ground. That's the only way we're going to govern in this split relationship, in this very difficult challenge that we face in governing with a divided government today.''

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