WASHINGTON -- Senate majority leader Bill Frist, heading a 55-to-45 Republican majority, might have expected to deliver a pile of legislative gifts this month to the White House, which had hoped to end the year with $40 billion in budget cuts, approval to drill for oil in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, and the full extension of the Patriot Act giving expanded powers to law enforcement.

But Frist, a Tennessee Republican with his eye on the White House, found his party in a pre-Christmas dogfight yesterday, with GOP lawmakers joining united Democrats in a series of embarrassing setbacks for President Bush and the Republican agenda.

The budget-cutting bill went through, but it required Vice President Dick Cheney to cut short an overseas trip to cast the tie-breaking vote. Further, Democrats succeeded in challenging a technical point on the bill that will force the House to vote on it again, delaying its adoption until at least late January.

Dismissing suggestions that it would be unpatriotic to block a defense bill, most of the Democrats -- joined by two Republicans -- staged a filibuster to block $453 billion in defense appropriations because the measure included authorization to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The defense appropriations bill later passed, stripped of the drilling authorization.

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