HOUSE KEY VOTES
The Republicans' central challenge to President Clinton's defense program stalled on the first day of the 1996 session when the House sustained Clinton's veto of a bill that would have accelerated the deployment of a nationwide defense against ballistic missiles.
The $265 billion authorization bill (HR1530) covered all defense-related programs for fiscal 1996, including $7 billion more for defense programs than Clinton requested. But in his veto message, Clinton had singled out as particularly objectionable a provision that, he said, would put the country on a collision course with the 1972 treaty limiting the use of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) weapons.
The key provision would have required the deployment by 2003 of an ABM system that could protect all 50 states against attack by a small number of missiles.
The administration said that, to cover the western-most parts of Alaska and Hawaii, missile defenses likely would have to be deployed at several locations, thus violating the 1972 treaty, which permits their deployment at only a single site. For that reason, administration officials warned, the enactment of the disputed provisions might induce Russia to stop Decommissioning thousands of nuclear warheads as required by the START I arms reduction treaty.
Moreover, they said, the bill might induce Russia not to ratify the pending START II treaty, which would require even deeper cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
But Republicans called the Clinton team's argument a red herring intended to cover up the administration's lack of enthusiasm for deploying anti-missile defenses in any case. GOP missile-defense advocates pointed out that Army and Air Force agencies each had drawn up proposals intended to protect all 50 states with a treaty-compliant, single-site defense. As for the two START treaties, they pointed out that those pacts face strong political opposition in Moscow for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the ABM Treaty.
Besides using the omnibus bill to boost defense funding above the amount Clinton requested, Republicans in the Senate and House had loaded it down with various other policy initiatives anathema to the president. But in the prolonged Senate-House conference on the bill, most of the contentious provisions other than the anti-missile deployment requirement had dropped off. Some GOP strategists contended that it would be hard for Democrats to vote against defending the country against rogue states such as North Korea, which might acquire long-range missiles.
Nevertheless, Clinton vetoed the bill, citing the missile defense provision as the major reason. The House sustained the veto Jan. 3 when a motion to override it fell short of the required two-thirds majority. The motion failed on a vote of 240-156: R 206-16; D 34-139 (ND 12-109; SD 22-30). With that number of members voting, 264 "ayes" would have been needed to override the veto.
Although almost no one could see it very clearly in the heady days after Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, the GOP revolution was on a collision course with President Clinton. Though the president's influence was weakened by the loss of the Democratic majority, he still held one of the most powerful weapons in the legislative process: the veto.
Clinton seemed all but irrelevant for much of 1995, as Republicans steamed to one victory after another: a budget resolution that balanced the budget and cut taxes deeply; appropriations bills that scaled back programs Democrats had spent Decades building; and a reconciliation bill that followed through on what the GOP only promised in their budget resolution.
Early on, however, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, and other strategists had looked down the road and seen their problem. They would have to find some way to pressure Clinton into signing their penny-pinching appropriations bills and the big, budget-balancing reconciliation bill that carried the heart of their reformist agenda -- an agenda Clinton largely rejected.
By spring, both Gingrich and Kasich were openly threatening that Republicans would not shrink from closing down the government, if that was what it took. When they tried to pressure Clinton in November by adding conditions to a stopgap measure that would have kept the government open, Clinton vetoed the bill, insisting he would not be blackmailed. That provoked a six-day shutdown that ended when the two sides agreed to terms for budget negotiations.
But the talks went nowhere, and when Clinton refused to produce a balanced-budget proposal acceptable to them, Republicans rejected Clinton's demand for a no-strings stopgap bill to keep the government open. Portions of the government again shut down Dec. 16. This was war, House Republicans vowed. The government would stay shut until Clinton came to terms on a balanced-budget deal.
But Christmas was approaching, and instead of a titanic struggle over the future of the nation, many voters saw a petty squabble over political advantage. News stories focused on federal workers without paychecks and the disruption caused by closed federal agencies. Though House GOP leaders insisted they would continue to play hardball, they were quickly losing support.
On Jan. 2, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., Declared, "Enough is enough." He pushed a government-reopening stopgap bill (HR1643) through the Senate. On Jan. 3, more than 50 House Republicans voted in a closed-door meeting of the entire House GOP to consider a compromise. On Jan. 5, leaders threw in the towel. Facing down members who still wanted to hang tough, Gingrich told members to vote to put federal employees back to work and fund high-profile programs such as Meals on Wheels, child welfare and national parks. "If you don't like the way we're doing it, run for the leadership yourself," Gingrich said.
In the end, only 15 Republicans defied the Speaker as the motion to accept a modified version of the Senate bill passed overwhelmingly, 401-17: R 214-15; D 186-2 (ND 133-0, SD 53-2); I 1-0, Jan. 5, 1996.
The overwhelming margin by which the House adopted the conference report on the sweeping telecommunications bill (S652 -- PL 104-104) belied how hard it had been to balance the high-stakes industry and political interests involved.
Proponents had contended for years that an overhaul was needed to bring U.S. law in line with technological advances, but efforts to achieve one had collapsed in previous Congresses. It took months to hammer out a final version of this complicated measure in the 104th; as 1996 began prospects looked uncertain for the bill, which the Senate passed in June 1995 and the House passed in August.
Once agreement was reached, however, final passage was assured. The House adopted the conference report on the bill Feb. 1 by a 414-16 vote: R 236-0; D 178-15 (ND 123-14, SD 55-1). The Senate cleared the bill, 91-5, the same day.
The law is designed to break down barriers between different types of telecommunications services. It attempts to create one giant telecommunications marketplace, for everything from phone services to movies-on-demand, from what are now segmented industries.
The bill mainly avoided the partisan gridlock that affected most important measures in the 104th Congress. It provided an early lesson to some House Republicans that they could get much of what they wanted if they let President Clinton share the credit. With telecommunications, both the GOP and Clinton got ample bragging rights to the first major bill enacted in the 104th.
The conference report did not go as far in deregulating telecommunications as many House Republicans wanted. They complained bitterly that Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler of South Dakota had given away too much to the White House and his committee's ranking Democrat, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina.
Among the concerns of Republicans were a reduction in the number of broadcast stations a single company could own and the dropping of a section allowing greater foreign ownership of American telecommunications companies.
At the end of 1995, the House Republicans -- led by Commerce Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Jack Fields of Texas -- raised their objections when Vice President Al Gore and the chairmen and ranking members of the two Commerce committees announced they had a deal. The Fields group blocked the agreement; one of its members, Rep. Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, called the bill "dead as Elvis."
Rumors of the telecommunications bill's demise turned out to be exaggerated, however. Gore and Hollings simply bided their time, as they pushed for greater consumer protections and a generally less deregulatory bill. As the issue persisted into the election year, the Republican group realized it could threaten passage of the entire bill by delaying.
Fields roundly praised the measure. "I believe this means American companies will dominate the field of global telecommunications," he said of the bill, which in fact was virtually identical to the one he and other Republicans had derided just a few weeks earlier.
By passing the seven-year farm bill (HR2854) on Feb. 29 by a wide margin, the House swept away the last remaining resistance to the Republican-led drive to move heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural production toward greater reliance on the free market. The Senate had easily passed a similar version of the legislation (S1541) early in the month.
The historic bill was guided through the House by its author, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Often called "Freedom to Farm," the measure aimed to do away with traditional federal farm subsidies, replacing them with a system of fixed, Declining payments that could be phased out altogether after 2002.
Instead of planting specified crops and idling land, farmers would have broad flexibility to plant for growing domestic and foreign markets.
But before the bill could pass, Republican leaders had to overcome powerful efforts to end sugar and peanut price-support programs, staged by a bipartisan coalition of Democrats from non-farm districts and Republican fiscal hawks. If these price supports were terminated, the broad coalition backing the bill might have unraveled, exposing the measure to possible defeat on the floor.
As a result, rural lawmakers focused their attention on blocking amendments to do away with the price supports, rather than the vote on the overall bill.
Leading the charge against the price supports were suburban lawmakers, who contended the programs inflated consumer prices and interfered with the free market. Backing their efforts was a broad coalition of user groups, such as candy and soft drink manufacturers, who wanted to lower the costs of the commodities.
Rural lawmakers fought back, contending that the underlying farm bill already scaled back the price-support programs. Further changes could devastate peanut and sugar growers, they warned. Roberts privately exhorted his colleagues to preserve the programs, lest some rural districts face economic devastation.
The showdown took place Feb. 28, as the House took up an amendment by Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and others to phase out the peanut program by 2002. In a dramatic vote that split along regional rather than party lines, the House defeated the amendment, 209-212.
The close vote appeared to portend trouble for the sugar program, which faced more organized opposition. But the well-heeled sugar lobby scored a big victory that day, as an amendment to phase out sugar price supports, sponsored by Dan Miller, R-Fla., and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., was rejected, 208-217.
By more Decisive margins, lawmakers rejected amendments that would have phased out all subsidy programs and eliminated a key cotton loan program. With such divisive issues out of the way, the House easily passed the overall measure the next day.
The House vote to pass HR2854 was 270-155: R 216-19; D 54-135 (ND 21-112, SD 33-23); I 0-1.
As farm organizations generally rallied behind the bill, lawmakers quickly wrapped up the conference and cleared the measure. President Clinton signed the farm bill into law (PL 104-127) on April 4, despite his concerns that the fixed payments would be insufficient to help farmers if market prices fell.
The sugar and peanut programs again came under assault during consideration of the fiscal 1997 agriculture appropriations bill (HR3603 -- PL 104-180). But again they survived, as rural lawmakers reminded their colleagues that many of the arguments had already been aired during the farm bill debate.
The House vote in favor of amending a terrorism bill effectively stripped the measure of what its supporters saw as its most potent law enforcement tools, such as expanding federal surveillance capabilities and easing restrictions on deporting non-citizens suspected of terrorism.
President Clinton had requested the bill in the wake of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people. GOP leaders, eager to show their toughness against terrorism, used his bill as a platform for their own measure (HR2703), which included get-tough provisions such as limiting appeals by death row prisoners. (House key vote 6)
So when freshman Republican Bob Barr of Georgia garnered enough votes to win adoption of an amendment that removed the committee-approved provisions to fight terrorism, it smacked of an insurgency against his own party.
The vote stood out because Barr formed an odd alliance between a conservative group of Republicans and a predominantly liberal group of Democrats. The Republicans contended that federal agents had overstepped their bounds in a bloody battle with the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, and a standoff with an anti-government group in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. While some conservative Democrats agreed, most of the 67 Democrats who supported Barr were concerned about infringing upon civil liberties in other ways, including giving law enforcement officials enhanced wiretapping authority in terrorism cases.
The House approved the amendment on March 13 by a vote of 246-171: R 178-54; D 67-117 (ND 39-91, SD 28-26); I 1-0.
The next day, the House passed the bill 229-191, sending it to a difficult conference with a broader Senate measure. Some of the provisions that Barr stripped from the bill were put back in at conference, but most of Barr's targets remained dead.
The vote on the Barr amendment showed how the freshman Republicans, when they Decided to exercise their power, could throw a monkey wrench into the plans of even the most senior GOP leaders. Overall, the freshman class voted 72 to 14 in favor of the amendment, with Republicans making up the bulk of the majority with 68 votes.
The amendment was an affront to Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., and other Republicans who spent months hammering out the bill's provisions with Barr and other conservative freshmen.
While the terrorism bill included provisions favored by Clinton, the bill was the work of Hyde and the Judiciary Committee, where the bill originated.
The bill had embarrassed the GOP once before. In December 1995, the leadership pulled the bill from the floor schedule at the last minute when it appeared they could not muster the votes to pass it.
When Barr introduced his amendment, Hyde said it would "eviscerate the bill." During the floor debate, Hyde dueled with Barr, saying the amendment was a "frail representation of what started out as a robust answer to the terrorist menace."
Barr won, however, by appealing to a majority of Republicans and Democrats who were worried about entrusting the government with more power.
Barr's amendment removed such provisions as allowing the administration to designate certain foreign groups as terrorist and then deny their members entry visas and bar them from fundraising in the United States; allowing authorities to use illegally obtained wiretap evidence in terrorism cases; expediting the deportation of aliens linked to terrorism, and lowering the standard of proof to prosecute those who provide the guns used in violent crimes.
Behind the scenes, the amendment had backing from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups upset about making it easier to prosecute people linked to gun crimes. Barr's amendment also appealed to them by exempting black and smokeless powder from a proposed government study of explosives and by altering a proposed study on armor-piercing bullets.
Placing restrictions on death row appeals was a Republican goal that had been kicking around since President Ronald Reagan's administration. Then, in the 104th Congress, a perfect vehicle for achieving that goal appeared: a bill to fight terrorism.
With the memory of the horrific bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, still fresh, a terrorism bill (HR2703) was a fast-moving piece of legislation that had a strong chance of passage in both chambers.
Although many Democrats argued that federal appeals -- known as habeas corpus petitions -- had little to do with terrorism, the provision became the cornerstone of the terrorism bill.
Even a bipartisan amendment from Melvin Watt, D-N.C., and Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho -- opposites of the political spectrum -- could not muster enough votes to ax the habeas corpus section.
The House rejected the Watt-Chenoweth amendment March 14, by a vote of 135-283: R 12-218; D 122-65 (ND 96-35, SD 26-30); I 1-0. Later the same day, members passed the terrorism bill, which GOP leaders advertised as the "The Effective Death Penalty and Public Safety Act of 1996," by a vote of 229-191.
In rejecting the Watt-Chenoweth amendment, the House was agreeing to impose the most severe limitations on the constitutional right to seek federal review of convictions since the Civil War. Habeas corpus is the only legal avenue for state inmates to obtain a federal review of their cases.
Ultimately cleared as S735 -- PL 104-132, the new law set a deadline on when petitions could be filed by state prisoners -- generally one year after exhausting all appeals in state court -- and the law made it extremely difficult for prisoners to file more than one appeal. The limit for death row inmates was even stricter. They were given six months to file an appeal assuming the state had provided a competent lawyer for death row appeals.
Death row inmates have used the appeals process to delay executions, and in some cases, win a new trial.
"Sometimes the government makes mistakes," said Watt in an impassioned floor speech to gain support for his amendment.
"We can't sacrifice our constitutional principles because we're angry at people for bombing," he said.
Individual citizens ought to have the ability to petition the judicial branch to have government mistakes redressed, he said.
But Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., and a majority of Republicans argued that changes were needed to stop prisoners from abusing the appeals system. "We seek closure and finality for the judgment that has been rendered and some compassion for the families of the victims who wait years and years," Hyde said. The fact that it took 14 years to execute mass murderer John Wayne Gacy "is an absurdity; it makes the law a joke."
The House had passed a free-standing bill to limit appeals (HR729 -- H Rept 104-23) on Feb. 8, 1995, by 297-132. The bill, sponsored by Bill McCollum, R-Fla., never made it to the Senate floor.
While some Democrats agreed that changes to the appeals process were needed, most said the changes were too restrictive and could send innocent people to their deaths.
In 1996, Congress Decided to take a stern (critics called it hostile) approach toward immigrants. The new welfare law (HR3734 -- PL 104-193) restricted benefits to legal immigrants. The House version of the immigration bill (HR2202) went further, including a provision aimed at allowing states to deny free public schooling to children of illegal immigrants.
While that language was removed during conference negotiations in the face of a threatened presidential veto and Senate filibuster, its adoption by the House underscored how far House Republicans were willing to go to get tough on illegal immigration.
Approval of the so-called Gallegly amendment on March 20 came after an emotional debate and heavy lobbying by the Republican leadership. The vote was 257-163: R 213-20; D 44-142 (ND 25-104, SD 19-38); I 0-1.
The benefits cuts in the welfare bill, equally controversial, did become law. But they were embedded in the larger bill, and necessary to meet its budgetary target. The education issue, in contrast, was a straight up-or-down vote on something that did not affect the rest of the bill, which sought to increase border controls and otherwise stem illegal immigration.
Proponents argued that the Gallegly amendment would help reduce the flow of illegal immigrant families into the United States. Its author, Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., was just one of many members from the California delegation and among freshman Republicans who enthusiastically supported it. California's GOP Gov. Pete Wilson made it a priority as well.
The amendment did expose fissures on the issue elsewhere in the GOP, however. Its detractors said it was unworkable and would lead to cities full of juveniles unprepared for the life ahead of them.
Both of Texas' Republican senators, Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, opposed it, as did the state's GOP governor, George W. Bush. Had the measure survived the conference, as many as 10 Republican senators would have helped sustain a Democratic filibuster.
As the November presidential election approached, the Gallegly amendment became an overtly political issue. Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole sent his campaign director, Scott Reed, to Capitol Hill to argue that keeping the Gallegly language in the bill was the most effective way to kill it. The Dole camp would have been happy to have the bill die, to deny President Clinton another legislative victory.
A debate broke out among GOP lawmakers as to whether they wanted to pass a bill or have a good election issue. In the end, Republican supporters of the Gallegly language concluded they would rather have a bill than an issue. So it was dropped in conference.
The provisions of the immigration bill were ultimately passed as part of the omnibus appropriations package (HR3610 -- PL 104-208).
In the weeks leading to the House vote on a bill to ban certain late-term abortions, abortion opponents repeatedly described the procedure on the floor and in news conferences in graphic terms aimed at turning the public -- and lawmakers -- against it.
The measure ultimately died, but abortion opponents arguably emerged victorious. The House vote on March 27 to pass the late-term abortion bill (HR1833) was the first time Congress cleared legislation to outlaw a specific procedure.
It represented a shift in the perennial abortion debate. Many previous votes had offered variations on the underlying question of whether women have the right to an abortion. But the vote on HR1833 reframed the question, forcing members to Decide about a specific procedure rather than general abortion rights.
The House vote followed Senate passage of the same measure in 1995, and was the closest that abortion opponents have come to enacting a partial rollback of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court Decision in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to have an abortion. Members voted to ban the so-called partial-birth abortion procedure, 286-129: R 214-15; D 72-113 (ND 47-83, SD 25-30); I 0-1.
The vote was also significant because the margin of support was unusually high -- nine votes over what was needed to override the president's promised veto, which came April 10. The House voted Sept. 19 to override the veto, but the Senate sustained it Sept. 26.
The House override was more symbolic than substan- tive because lawmakers knew the Senate would sustain the veto. The 1995 Senate vote on passage was 54-44, a dozen votes short of the two-thirds required to override a veto. By the time the House voted in September, it was clear that there had not been much movement in senators' positions.
The measure would have made it a federal crime for a physician to perform a type of late-term abortion known in the bill as a "partial-birth" abortion, unless that procedure was needed to save the woman's life. Clinton argued that the bill should have included an exemption to protect the woman's health, as well. As defined by the bill, the partial-birth procedure takes place when a doctor partially "vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing delivery."
If enacted, doctors who performed these late-term abortions would have faced fines and up to two years in prison. The measure exempted the woman from criminal penalties and would have allowed the woman's parents and the prospective father to sue the doctor for damages if the woman was a minor.
Proponents of the ban argued that the procedure was inhumane, amounting to the extermination of "a defenseless little life," as Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., described it. Opponents argued that the procedure was used only in extreme circumstances and that the legislation would "prevent women from getting the medical care they need," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.
In making the partial-birth procedure their highest priority, abortion opponents forced members to Decide whether to protect the practice of a type of abortion much of the public found unacceptable. Although their side could not prevail in the final Senate vote, even clearing a bill to undercut Roe v. Wade was a victory for them.
Republican congressional leaders pushed the government closer to default in 1996 than at any other time in recent history. An increase in the cap on the Treasury's borrowing authority became a weapon in the battle with President Clinton over a balanced-budget agreement.
The trouble with the debt limit started in 1995, when Republicans Decided they would increase it only as part of the deficit-reducing, budget-reconciliation bill (HR2491). GOP leaders said they did not want to increase the debt unless they also guaranteed that the budget would be balanced. But the reconciliation bill was vetoed by Clinton, killing the debt-limit increase as well.
By this time, the government had all but exhausted the amount it could borrow under the existing $4.9 trillion statutory debt ceiling. Nonetheless, the Republicans dug in their heels and refused to raise the limit, forcing Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin to juggle accounts for nearly five months and rely on stopgap measures to pay the government's bills.
Rubin repeatedly warned that a default was imminent, and unless Congress raised the limit, the government would be unable to meet its obligations to foreign and domestic bond holders, Social Security recipients and creditors such as hospitals reimbursed through the Medicare system.
Only after heavy lobbying by Wall Street bankers who feared default and a series of delicate negotiations between Rubin and the House GOP leadership did Congress agree to increase the debt limit. At first there was no consensus on how to craft a long-term debt-limit increase, and on March 7, Congress passed an increase (HR3021) that expired March 29.
Different factions argued about which measures should be added to the debt-limit bill to make it more palatable. Among the suggestions were a version of the welfare system overhaul; spending cuts that would amount to a down payment on balancing the budget; and legislation giving the president the equivalent of a budgetary line-item veto. The line-item veto legislation was agreeable to a majority in both chambers, but the final version had gotten hung up in conference on details.
The urgent need to pass the debt-limit increase, combined with the possibility of attaching the line-item veto to it, mobilized the Senate and House negotiators. Spurred by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., negotiators struck a deal on the line-item veto language.
The final agreement allowed the House to attach the veto to the bill increasing the debt limit to $5.5 trillion, but then detach the veto provisions when the bill moved to the Senate. That would allow the Senate to vote on the veto as a stand-alone piece of legislation.
Attaching the debt-limit increase to the veto in the House gave cover to conservatives who wanted to say they were voting to help balance the budget. On March 28, the debt-limit bill (HR3136) passed 328-91: R 201-30; D 127-60 (ND 82-48, SD 45-12); I 0-1.
Two other "sweetener" provisions contributed to passage of the debt-limit increase: an increase in the Social Security earnings limit long sought by senior citizens and a loosening of the rules that limited the ability of small businesses to go to court to challenge government regulations.
The earnings-limit increase, to be phased in over seven years, will allow workers age 65-69 to earn up to $30,000 a year without losing any of their Social Security benefits. Under the old law, they lost $1 in benefits for every $3 they earned above $11,520.
Overhauling the nation's laws on faulty or dangerous products was a major goal of the House GOP's "Contract With America." Republicans and their business allies say that costly litigation stifles innovation and discourages businesses from developing products.
But when the House cleared a product liability bill (HR956) March 29 after months of fitful negotiations with the Senate, proponents faced a political showdown with President Clinton and lost: They were unable to override his veto.
It had been widely expected that Clinton would veto the legislation, but he had hedged his public comments, suggesting some flexibility. Some of his closest supporters had predicted he could be persuaded to sign a bill.
In fact, Clinton's own veto message suggested that he was hewing to a fine political line, stating his general support for product liability legislation but opposing HR956 as too restrictive. He said that while he could have signed legislation "appropriately limited in scope," HR956 would have gone too far in restricting legal redress for damage caused to consumers by faulty products.
The bill would have rewritten the rules governing product liability lawsuits in state and federal courts and placed limits on damage awards intended to punish negligent behavior.
For large businesses, the awards would have been limited to the greater of $250,000, or two times the total of economic damages, such as lost wages, and non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. Awards for small businesses would be the lesser of the two limits. The Republican leadership charged that the president's real reason for opposing the bill was loyalty to the na- tion's trial lawyers, who are major supporters of the Democrats.
Trial lawyers and other opponents contended that the bill would have barred lawsuits by consumers with legitimate claims against manufacturers.
Though it was clear in advance that the effort would fail, Republicans sought to override the president's veto on May 9 to press their political case. The veto was sustained 258-163: R 225-5; D 33-157 (ND 15-118, SD 18-39); I 0-1.
A two-thirds majority of those present and voting (281 in this case) is required to override a veto.
Republicans then vowed to push the issue in the presidential election race, but product liability hardly came up in the campaign.
Democrats turned two months of political guerrilla warfare into their biggest triumph of the Republican 104th Congress on May 23, when an increase in the federal minimum wage sailed through the House.
But the 266-162 vote on an amendment to raise the mandatory minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour belied a House more divided than that margin would indicate. Support for raising the minimum wage was wide, but among Republicans it was not particularly strong. Opponents, on the other hand, were resolute. The GOP leadership, knowing it did not have the votes to block a wage raise outright, tried for months to avoid bringing the issue to the floor.
It was the defection of about two dozen Republican moderates, many of whom had confronted intense pressure from organized labor in their districts, that forced House leaders to go forward with a minimum wage vote. They also hoped to defuse a potent Democratic campaign issue.
GOP leaders chose a relatively non-controversial vehicle for the wage raise, a bill (HR1227), favored mainly by Republicans, that aimed to clarify that employees can commute to and from work in company cars without being compensated for their driving time. Unions and labor Democrats opposed the commuter bill, but GOP leaders figured correctly that the pro-business measure would not poison the process.
Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., a moderate facing a tough re-election bid, was selected to amend the commuting bill with a provision to raise the hourly minimum wage to $4.75 on July 1 and to $5.15 a year later. Two controversial amendments by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., both designed to insulate some employers from the effects of the wage increase, would follow. Whatever passed that day would be married to a popular package of business tax breaks (HR3448), then sent to the Senate. (Senate key vote 10, p. 3376)
The leadership carefully orchestrated the floor action to ensure that conservatives could vote for the tax cut -- the most significant tax legislation of the 104th Congress -- without having to throw in their lots for a minimum wage increase they found loathsome.
Riggs' amendment was the only pure vote on the minimum wage increase. Although the tax package was separate initially, the final wage vote would be influenced by a Republican desire to see the package through to passage.
Debate over Riggs' wage raise was passionate. Conservative Republicans portrayed the increase as a politically motivated job killer that would hurt the low-wage workers it was ostensibly meant to help. Democrats and moder- ate Republicans said raising the minimum wage for the first time since 1991 was a simple matter of fairness. They pointed out that the buying power of the minimum wage had slipped to nearly a 40-year low in inflation-adjusted dollars. The Riggs amendment was adopted 266-162: R 77-156; D 188-6 (ND 136-0, SD 52-6); I 1-0. (Weekly Report, p. 1461)
Even that comfortable margin displayed an increasing resolve by GOP conservatives to take politically unpopular stands. If getting the wage raise to the floor was a testament to the power of labor unions and popular opinion, resolute Republican opposition reflected the remaining strength of a conservative tide. In 1989, the previous time the House voted to raise the minimum wage, 135 Republicans joined 247 Democrats to pass a two-tiered, 90-cent increase, 382-37. This year, 37 Republicans who voted for a minimum wage increase in 1989 voted against an almost identical measure.
The facade of unity behind which House Republicans had increased President Clinton's defense budget dropped away briefly June 13. The occasion was an amendment to the fiscal 1997 defense appropriations bill (HR3610) that energized GOP deficit hawks who saw the Pentagon budget as a large part of the overall budget problem.
In the early weeks of 1995, House Republicans eager to cut the deficit and those anxious to boost defense spending had reached a rough compromise on how much to add to Clinton's Pentagon funding request. GOP deficit hawks and defense specialists agreed on a budget increase that was lower than the $15 billion to $25 billion rise the defense specialists had been pushing. Under this plan, embodied in slightly modified form in the fiscal 1997 budget resolution (H Con Res 178), Congress would have increased slightly Clinton's projected defense budgets for fiscal 1997-2002, which together would total $1.62 trillion.
The GOP plan would have added several billion dollars annually to Clinton's projected requests for most of that period, then spent less on defense than Clinton planned in the last year.
Proponents of the spending rise insisted that the additional funding was needed because Clinton's budgets were starving the armed services at the same time that the president was burdening the military with new peacekeeping and humanitarian missions around the globe. In particular, they argued, the Pentagon needed to increase its annual appropriation for weapons procurement, which had Declined about 70 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since 1985, the peak year of the Reagan administration defense buildup.
Though they had signed on to the compromise, many Republican deficit cutters agreed with liberal Democrats that defense hard-liners had overstated the need for additional Pentagon spending. But the deficit hawks also warned that if the GOP was lenient with the Defense Department, it would have a harder time cutting other parts of the federal bureaucracy.
The issue came to a head when Republican deficit hawk Christopher Shays of Connecticut cosponsored with liberal Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts an amendment that would have trimmed about $1.9 billion from the $245.2 billion defense funding bill. Had it been adopted, the amendment would have frozen the bill at the amount passed for fiscal 1996, which still would have been $8.7 billion more than Clinton requested for fiscal 1997.
The amendment, which was rejected, won support from several dozen GOP deficit hawks, including Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, R-Ohio.
The vote was 194-219: R 60-161; D 133-58 (ND 113-23; SD 20-35); I 1-0.
For nearly two Decades, lawmakers had run into one impasse after another over proposals to overhaul federal pesticide regulations. Potential compromises foundered in the face of deep divisions over health standards, with pesticide makers and users squaring off against environmentalists and consumer activists.
So it came as something of a shock when the House not only passed a sweeping pesticide bill (HR1627) on July 23, but did so without any dissent.
The vote was 417-0: R 229-0; D 187-0 (ND 132-0, SD 55-0); I 1-0.
"It's amazing to me," said Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who helped write the bill. "All the stars in the heavens were in the right places."
Nor were House members the only elected officials who liked the compromise measure, which established a uniform health standard for pesticide residues in both raw and processed foods. The Senate cleared the bill by voice vote July 24, and President Clinton signed it into law (PL 104-170) on Aug. 3.
Much of the impetus that freed the pesticide legislation from deadlock came from the federal judiciary. Recent court rulings had interpreted pesticide regulations barring potentially cancer-causing agents so strictly that the Environmental Protection Agency had begun to cancel the use of some common agricultural chemicals. Farm-state members warned of crop losses and economic dislocation.
Election-year politics further spurred the bill's sudden progress. After pursuing a deregulatory agenda earlier in the 104th Congress for which they were branded "anti-environment," Republican leaders were hungry for an environmental achievement. And lobbyists on all sides of the issue, tired of waging the same battle year after year, were ready to settle for a compromise.
Movement toward a consensus bill began in the House Agriculture Committee, which marked up less-controversial sections of HR1627 on June 19. But the legislation hit a snag in the Commerce Committee, with Republicans and Democrats divided over how to change the so-called Delaney Clause of the 1958 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which barred processed food from containing even minute amounts of cancer-causing chemicals.
Republicans, spurred by farmers and chemical companies, urged a more flexible approach that would allow processed foods, like raw foods, to contain small amounts of some carcinogens. But Democrats, voicing the concerns of environmentalists and public health advocates, insisted on strict health standards.
Finding a solution fell to the members who had been bitter adversaries as the leaders of the opposing camps on pesticide law: Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr., R-Va., and veteran committee liberal Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif. To the amazement of many, the two emerged with a deal after about five days of closed-door meetings.
Their compromise would allow residues of cancer-causing chemicals in both raw and processed foods -- a major victory for the agriculture industry.
But those residues would have to be in such small amounts as to pose no reasonable risk of harm, meaning that consumption of the food product would cause only about a one-in-a-million risk of cancer. In addition, the compromise contained strict standards to safeguard the health of infants and children.
Despite some grumbling, lobbyists on all sides signed off on the measure. In the eight days following the deal, the legislation swept through one subcommittee markup, two committee markups and the House and Senate floors, without a single dissenting vote.
House approval of the welfare overhaul legislation (HR3734) brought an element of bipartisanship to an issue that had been contentious throughout the 104th Congress. The vote also topped a tumultuous day in which Democrats and Republicans alike waited eagerly to hear whether President Clinton would sign the bill.
It was a foregone conclusion that Republicans could pass practically any welfare bill they liked, as they had in 1995. The question was whether Clinton and a significant num- ber of congressional Democrats would fall into line despite liberal opposition to the measure. They did, and the House adopted the conference report on July 31, 328-101: R 230-2; D 98-98 (ND 62-76, SD 36-22); I 0-1. The Senate cleared the bill the next day. (Weekly Report, p. 2190; Senate key vote 12, p. 3410)
The outlook for the legislation had been murky when the year began. Clinton had twice vetoed GOP welfare plans -- on Dec. 6, 1995, as part of the deficit-reducing budget-reconciliation bill (HR2491), then on Jan. 9, as a free-standing welfare bill (HR 4). He branded them as too harsh, more likely to hurt children than to help welfare recipients get jobs.
The push for revising the legislation began Feb. 6 when the National Governors' Association endorsed recommendations to overhaul welfare and Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor. The centerpiece of the welfare provisions remained unchanged: The federal government would end its 61-year-old guarantee of providing welfare checks to all eligible low-income mothers and children. Federal funding would be sent to states in predetermined lump-sum payments known as block grants, giv- ing states almost complete control over eligibility and benefits.
The major stumbling block was that while Clinton seemed willing to end an individual's entitlement to welfare, he was unalterably opposed to ending the entitlement for Medicaid, which Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., insisted upon. Once Dole left the Senate in June to campaign for president full time, GOP leaders succumbed to pressure from their own ranks and dropped the Medicaid portion of the bill. A growing number of Republicans wanted to give Clinton a clean shot at the welfare bill and were prepared to either share credit with him for having overhauled the system or blast him for defending an unpopular status quo.
For days, Clinton seemed to be leaning toward signing the bill, but did not make a final Decision until after a dramatic meeting with top advisers the morning of July 31.
House Democrats used procedural maneuvers to stall action for a few hours that day, waiting for a signal from Clinton and for details of the conference report that had been filed late the night before. Many Democrats wanted to make sure they were on the same side as the president. Like Clinton, they did not want to be seen as supporting the existing system but had concerns about the bill's potential effect on the poor.
Although Clinton's announcement made the subsequent debate anticlimactic, it also underscored the historic nature of the effort, which would directly affect millions of low-income people.
Many Democrats who opposed the legislation spoke fervently against it. Only two of the party'S34 black members, two of its 12 Hispanic members and nine of its 31 women voted for the conference report.
Democrats who supported the bill, some of whom were swayed by Clinton, typically explained that they were willing to take a chance with a new, untested approach.
Among Republicans, many members said they were motivated by compassion to help the poor. They did not focus on the $54.6 billion in savings through fiscal 2002 that would come mainly from cutting food stamps and aid to legal immigrants. Only two Republicans opposed the measure -- Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Cuban-Americans from South Florida who objected to provisions cutting benefits for legal immigrants.
For months it was a mystery: How would a Republican Congress bent on cutting domestic discretionary spending simultaneously satisfy President Clinton, who wanted more money for his favorite programs, and its own hard-core budget-cutters, who wanted less?
In 1995, the first year they were in charge of the appropriations process, it had taken Republicans almost seven months past the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 1996 to work out their disputes with Clinton and finish all the spending bills. They would not have that luxury for fiscal 1997.
Leaders and most rank-and-file members were desperate to go home to campaign in what was shaping up to be a make-or-break election for the GOP Congress. To get out of Washington by the early October target adjournment date, they would have to finish all 13 appropriations bills (or pass a continuing resolution) by Oct. 1.
That gave the president huge leverage. By vetoing almost any bill he deemed too frugal, he could freeze Republicans in place while they worked to craft another one.
In the end, it was that burning desire to go home that persuaded most Republicans not to make a fight of it. Even many hard-line GOP deficit hawks looked the other way as leaders gave Clinton an additional $6.5 billion he had demanded as the price of his signature. GOP leaders even added money Clinton had not asked for, responding to rank-and-file concerns that GOP candidates were being hurt by accusations that they wanted to gut education and environmental programs.
The leaders insisted the extra spending was paid for by cuts elsewhere, but when the Congressional Budget Office got through scrubbing the numbers later, only about half turned out to have been legitimately offset.
In the final analysis, Republicans could rightly claim that they held appropriations sharply below the levels Democrats would have spent had they continued to control Congress in 1995-96. But the GOP had retreated from the ambitious goal it had set in early 1995, when it fixed a $487.4 billion limit for discretionary spending in fiscal 1997. The final number was about $503 billion.
The final appropriations vote came Sept. 28 on a package that wrapped up six bills embodying the final deal between Clinton and GOP leaders. Republican fiscal hawks had a stark choice: Stand on principle, vote no, kill the deal and hang around Washington hoping for a better one. Or swallow hard, vote yes, go home to campaign and come back to fight another day. Most opted to head home as the measure (HR3610) passed easily, 370-37: R 202-24; D 167-13 (ND 113-11, SD 54-2); I 1-0.
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.