GOP agenda crashes and burns

Could a Republican-controlled Congress pass a bill to protect the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance from court challenges? No problem, especially if proposed during the patriotic season leading up to the Fourth of July, Republican leaders thought. No way, it turned out.

The bill, the first item on the GOP’s election-year “American Values Agenda,” couldn’t get past a House committee. Even worse for the Republicans: They couldn’t blame the flameout on Democrats. One of the GOP’s very own, Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, voted no. Seven other Judiciary Committee Republicans skipped the panel’s meeting entirely.

So it goes this year for House Republicans, their majority in jeopardy for the first time in more than a decade. An unpopular president, deep divisions in their ranks and Democrats determined to regain control add up to a Congress that’s having trouble doing its most basic job: passing legislation.

Republican leaders tried to shrug off the setbacks, while Democrats have pounced on the lack of progress.

With two-thirds of the 2006 legislative calendar spent, Congress has passed and sent President Bush only two pieces of major legislation. One renewed the terrorist-fighting USA Patriot Act while the other extended $70 billion in tax cuts, roughly divided evenly between investors and middle-income families.

Stalled or killed are such top GOP priorities as immigration reform, repealing estate taxes and changing rules on lobbying in response to several ethics scandals.

Still alive on the agenda this year are renewing the Voting Rights Act, pension reform and federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, though President Bush has promised to veto the latter. And don’t yet count dead the bill to protect the Pledge of Allegiance. Leaders can bypass their judiciary committees and bring it to floor votes in both houses.

© 2006 The Associated Press