In a New G.O.P. Era, DeLay Drives Agenda for Congress

For Immediate Release:

January 4, 2003

Contact:Carl Hulse

The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 — Republicans returning on Tuesday to take over Congress have been bestowed with a precious political opportunity — the second chance.

They bring with them not only historic gains in midterm elections but also the hope of proving to voters the benefits of one-party control, power they lost after just a few months in 2001. They say they are convinced they can leave behind the Trent Lott controversy over race and will instead be able to focus on a broad legislative agenda.

In short, they are intent on solidifying their hold on a vastly changed Washington as the dominating Republican Party moves toward the 2004 presidential election.

But one man will stand out among Congressional Republicans as they make their triumphant entrance on Tuesday: Tom DeLay of Texas, the incoming House majority leader, a fierce conservative who as the whip has done as much as anyone to engineer the new Republican hegemony by virtue of his campaign and legislative operations.

Mr. DeLay is already considered a chief architect of Republican policy in Congress, and surrounded by his hand-picked lieutenants, he will become one of the most prominent public faces of the new Republican-controlled Congress. He is expected to maintain a firm grip on the party's agenda.

"He understood from Day 1 what it took to be a majority and keep it," said former Representative Tillie Fowler of Florida.

Even so, Mr. DeLay hopes this time around to soften his tough-as-nails reputation and redefine his nickname, the Hammer.

"The hammer," he said, "is the most important tool a builder has."

Mr. DeLay, described by opponents and allies alike as a ruthless tactician, has been invaluable in restoring to Republicans the full control of the lawmaking machinery that was abruptly snatched away in mid-2001 with the party switch of Senator James M. Jeffords, independent of Vermont. That shift in the balance of Senate power led to one legislative impasse after another. This time, Republicans plan to move forward quickly, before the next presidential election intrudes.

They are readying an agenda of tax cuts, Medicare changes, increased energy production, legal liability limits and welfare revisions that they hope will maintain their ascendancy.

"We have got the skids greased to really get some good public policy enacted," said Representative Sue W. Kelly, Republican of New York.

Mr. DeLay will not be the only lawmaker moving into an enhanced position of authority under Representative J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois and speaker of the House. In fact, of the eight top party leaders in the House and Senate, six will be new in their jobs, with one, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, elevated unexpectedly by virtue of the furor that toppled Mr. Lott from his majority leader's position.

Democrats, stung by the election losses, have been re-energized by the controversy over racially tinged remarks Mr. Lott made at Strom Thurmond's birthday party. Now Democrats intend to try to draw sharper distinctions between themselves and their Republican counterparts and do their best to derail legislation they do not like.

"We can't do the rope-a-dope," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the assistant Democratic leader, who used the boxing analogy to suggest that Democrats were not going to allow Republicans to back them into a corner and then try to dodge conservative proposals on the environment, taxes and health care.

Mr. DeLay, who has demonstrated formidable power in the past, will not easily be denied. While much of the attention in recent weeks has been focused on the Senate and Dr. Frist, Mr. DeLay, given his wide circle of influence among lawmakers and lobbyists, looms large.

Mr. DeLay, a former exterminator who was driven into politics by his anger at environmental restrictions on pest control, has built his House constituency one lawmaker at a time, with intervention on matters as crucial as a threat to their re-election and as mundane as providing pizza and ribs during a late-night vote.

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