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Congress to postpone lame-duck session until early December

Uncertainty over presidential election stymies Hill action

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican congressional leaders said Monday they would seek to postpone the lame-duck session of Congress until a winner is declared in the contested presidential election.

Members of Congress returned to Washington on Monday afternoon. The House of Representatives quickly approved a temporary spending bill to keep the government operational until December 5, when it will reconvene to resume negotiations on the fiscal year 2001 federal budget.

The Senate is expected to meet Tuesday morning just long enough to pass a continuing resolution, according to a spokesman for Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, a Republican leader in the Senate.

Democratic congressional aides say President Clinton will likely sign the measure.

"We're going to bump the session now until Dec. 5," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said. "The feeling was there was just too much uncertainty swirling around both Washington and the campaigns to make the session productive."

The decision comes amidst increasing legal wrangling over the presidential election between Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"I think we need to know a little more about what the world we're going to live in looks like," said Rep. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and chief deputy House whip.

"Knowing what is going to happen next year is going to be helpful in coming to a conclusion this year," Blunt said.

The White House agreed to a two week extension before the November 7 election, when it became apparent that the outstanding budget issues would remain unresolved in the midst of a contentious presidential campaign.

The lame-duck session is the sixth post-election session since 1971 -- and the third since 1994. The last came two years ago, when the House returned after the election to vote on articles of impeachment against President Clinton.

Negotiations on the 2001 budget were to be completed by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Republicans, however, have retained their majorities in both chambers of Congress and now may have little incentive to compromise with the outgoing administration over the five remaining spending bills, which President Clinton has either vetoed or threatened to veto.

Outstanding issues include immigration amnesty; a 10-year, $240 billion tax relief bill; and a $350 billion spending bill for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services.

Hastert
House Speaker Dennis Hastert  

The president is seeking amnesty for illegal immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America, among other provisions. He has threatened to veto the GOP-sponsored tax bill because it includes tax breaks for health maintenance organizations.

The president on Monday issued worker safety protections, one of the initiatives that Republicans were trying to block in the budget negotiations.

The regulations are to take effect January 16, 2001 -- just four short days before a new president is inaugurated -- a move that angered some Republicans.

"This pretty well blows up everything" in ongoing negotiations to increase funding for Clinton's education priorities, said House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

"It's like pulling a string on a bad sweater," said DeLay, who has pushed to use the lame-duck session to try to trim federal spending.

But other Republicans are seeking to keep the lame-duck session as short and orderly as possible.

"It's in the best interests of this country that we continue to keep some common sense and sanity in the process here, and we've got to remember that not only is all of America looking and hoping and wondering about the future of this country and our ability to govern, but so is the world," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska.

Hanging in the balance

Resolving outstanding issues, in part, hinges on the outcome of the presidential election. If Bush wins the White House, the GOP is expected to try to stymie Clinton administration priorities.

If Gore emerges the winner in the protracted presidential contest, Democrats hope to assume a stronger bargaining position with their congressional counterparts.

Either way, this post-election congressional session is sure to provide a glimpse of how the 107th Congress will operate with its razor-thin majorities in both chambers.

Although the Senate race in Washington state and a handful of House races remain undecided, Republicans will hold a nine-seat majority in the 435-member House, and there will be either a 50-50 tie in the Senate or a 51-49 Republican majority. That means that the next Congress will either be mired in gridlock or herald a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, spoke to one another last week for the first time since June.

Gephardt
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt  

"I told him we needed to try to work better together and I would try to make that happen," Gephardt said. "And he seemed positive about it."

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said that while members of Congress are "just kind of stunned" by the current political divisions, lawmakers realize "we will have to think innovatively" to keep the nation's legislative agenda on track.

"Attitudes may change," Lott said. "Everybody thinks there's going to be gloom and doom" given the contested presidential election, but "People may actually try harder."

CNN Congressional Correspondent Chris Black and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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