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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Congress faces ambitious fall agenda

September 3, 1999
Web posted at: 5:06 p.m. EDT (2106 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When Congress last met before the August recess, its majority Republicans hastily were passing a $792 billion tax cut bill in hopes of rushing off to their home districts to build grassroots support for the measure.

When the senators and representatives of 106th Congress return to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, they soon may see the results of that effort. The bill is expected to be sent shortly to President Bill Clinton, who is expected to promptly veto the measure -- setting up a potential negotiating process and debate with an uncertain outcome.

White House Chief of Staff John Podesta  

White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said Clinton hopes to begin serious negotiations with the GOP-led Congress on spending and tax issues after the veto is official. "We believe that some tax relief is appropriate," Podesta said. "It ought to be balanced against the other important national needs."

But Republican leaders have held fast to their pledge not to negotiate with the president and there are mixed feelings within the party. Some Republicans would rather force a veto on the bill and use that as a political issue, but others believe voters prefer a concrete accomplishment even if it is more modest.

GOP Rep. Bill Archer of Texas believes Clinton's willingness to compromise shows that parts of the bill are popular.

"This latest exercise is further proof that President Clinton does not want to admit that he is dead set against giving any tax relief to married couples, small business owners, investors and millions of other Americans," said the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

There are many other issues before Congress as it wraps up its hectic end-of-the-year schedule. With only three weeks left until the start of fiscal year 2000 and 11 unfinished appropriations bills, as well as scheduled debates and inevitable negotiations on tax cuts, gun control, Medicare, the patients' bill of rights and campaign finance reform, both the House and Senate can expect a busy fall.

First up for the House on Wednesday is funding for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on appropriations for the Department of the Interior.

Rep. Bill Archer  

Republican leaders are anxious to finish work on all the appropriations bills and avoid a repeat of last year's budget negotiations process, which combined the 13 appropriations measures into one 4,000-page omnibus spending bill approved three weeks late. Current Status of FY2000 Appropriations Bills

While signing one of this year's two finished appropriation measures, the Military Construction Appropriations Act, Clinton warned Congress that provisions in some of the FY 2000 bills already would face his veto pen. "Many of the remaining bills would require deep cuts in essential government programs, including education, law enforcement, science and technology, the environment," Clinton said August 17.

Podesta was more specific. "I think that a $1 billion cut in NASA is clearly unacceptable, and we're going to fight very hard to restore the funding for that bill. We have veto threats against a number of bills that are currently before Congress, and I think what we want to do is try to work hard with Congress over the coming months," he told the National Press Club last Wednesday.

But while appropriations may seem to need the most urgent attention by both houses, other related legislation is likely to play a key role in this fall's budget battle. Among the top issues still facing Congress:

Sen. William Roth  

MEDICARE: According to Podesta, Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth has pledged to hold a markup by the end of the month on a measure to overhaul the Medicare health care system.

Administration officials said Clinton's plan would extend the Medicare's solvency to 2027 and provide universal prescription drug coverage. But it carries an 10-year $118 billion price tag and Republicans complain the drugs coverage is too generous.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: House Speaker Dennis Hastert pledges the controversial issue will be debated the week of September 13 -- perhaps too late in the year for the Senate to act, even if a bill gets through the House.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert  

Under the rules set by the House Rules Committee, the arguably strongest of the campaign finance proposals, offered by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) and Marty Meehan (D-Massachusetts), must survive 10 amendments and three substitute proposals before the House votes on the bill itself.

The bill would ban so-called soft money contributions, increase disclosure requirements and restrict issue ads that seek to influence elections under the guise of educating voters.

A similar measure overcame fierce opposition from the GOP leadership to pass the House last fall. But its companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona), and Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin) failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster mounted by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and others.

Rep. Christopher Shays  

McConnell, who heads fund-raising efforts for Senate GOP candidates, recently expressed his anger over the growing support for the campaign finance reform movement in the business community, calling on executives who oppose campaign finance reform to resign from the Committee for Economic Development -- a 57-year-old nonpartisan public policy group -- to protest the group's support for a ban on soft money.

GUN CONTROL: Just before the recess began, the House and Senate finally appointed their conferees for the joint committee that will resolve differences between the two versions of the juvenile justice crime bill.

The Senate passed several gun control measures as part of its juvenile justice bill. The House split the youth-violence bill into two parts, voting down the portion containing the gun control amendments.

Two more mass shootings, one in Atlanta and the other at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles, as well as polls showing support for specific gun control proposals leave open the possibility that some of the more controversial amendments -- such as the three-business day time limit on background check for gun sold at gun shows -- may be revisited in the conference committee.

Any compromise bill also would have to be approved by the full House and Senate.

Congress has set October 29, as its target for adjourning for the year, but such targets often are missed, particularly in non-election years.


Senate passes GOP tax cut bill by one vote (8-5-99)

Panel sets stage for campaign finance debate (8-3-99)

Fall agenda: Taxes, spending, health - and House control (8-2-99)

Senate approves GOP's version of 'patients' bill of rights' (7-15-99)

Democratic leader sees hope for gun control compromise (6-21-99)

Clinton signs omnibus spending bill (10-21-98)


The U.S. House of Representatives Web site

The U.S. Senate Web site


Friday, September 3, 1999

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