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Copyright 1999 The National Journal, Inc.  
The National Journal

 View Related Topics 

October 2, 1999

SECTION: CONGRESS; Pg. 2808; Vol. 31, No. 40

LENGTH: 1484 words

HEADLINE: Pivotal Events in Congress, September 27-30

BYLINE: Jill Graham and Charlie Mitchell


The Great Wait for Spending Bills

     Appropriations bills, and little else of importance,
occupied the House and Senate floors this week. Lawmakers were
occasionally left waiting for conference committees to crank out
compromise spending bills, and the House even shut down early on
Sept. 29 because of a revolt over abortion language and funding
levels in the Foreign Operations appropriations bill. To buy time
beyond the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, both chambers
easily passed a continuing resolution that keeps the government
open three more weeks. The scorecard looks like this: President
Clinton has signed four of the 13 spending bills, with his
approval this week of the Legislative Branch, Energy and Water
Development, and Treasury-Postal Service measures (the last of
which ushers in a pay raise for himself and Congress). But
Clinton vetoed the District of Columbia bill on Sept. 28, and
efforts on Capitol Hill to send him other bills didn't always go
well. Republicans continue to insist they'll pass the 13 bills
individually, rather than enter risky negotiations with Clinton
on an omnibus spending package, but that may prove impossible. --
David Baumann/National Journal
Is It Only Smoke, or a Real Solution?

     Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Thomas A.
Daschle of South Dakota, this week dusted off an old proposal--a
big tax on cigarettes--as a way to ease the budget squeeze.
Republicans have vowed not to raid the Social Security surplus,
so Democrats say why not consider a raid on the tobacco industry
instead? A Democratic publicity campaign is being devised that
frames the issue for Republicans as a choice between senior
citizens and cigarette makers. The plan has the blessing of White
House officials, who've been plugging President Clinton's
proposed tax of 55 cents per pack, which would draw in about $ 8
billion the first year. Skeptics continue to doubt that
Republicans will take a hit at a GOP-friendly industry. But
backers of the tax note that there were nearly 60 votes in the
Senate last year for the tobacco bill sponsored by Sen. John
McCain, R-Ariz., that would have raised cigarette taxes about
twice as much as the Clinton plan would. --Keith
To Push, or Not to Push, Tax Cuts?

     The issue of what to do about tax cuts nagged at
Republican leaders in the aftermath of President Clinton's veto
of their $ 792 billion proposal, though they seem poised to forge
ahead for some modest tax relief. This week, they trumpeted a
bill to renew business tax breaks that expire at year's end and
to continue relief from the Individual Alternative Minimum Tax.
They also backed tax incentives to make it easier for uninsured
Americans to obtain health insurance. And House Majority Whip Tom
DeLay, R-Texas, talked of sweetening a minimum-wage hike with
relief from estate taxes. Democrats insist that any tax cut
package be offset in the budget and that the surplus be left
untouched until Social Security and Medicare have been shored up.
Those stipulations run counter to the plan by House Ways and
Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, to pay for at
least some of the tax cuts by tapping the ''on-budget'' surplus.
Still, neither party wants to be blamed for a failure to extend
popular tax breaks.     --Stephen Norton/CongressDaily
An Unhealthy House Debate Looms

     Maneuvering intensified over managed care reform this
week in advance of promised House votes on the issue. Despite the
opposition of House GOP leaders, a bipartisan patients rights
proposal sponsored by Reps. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., and John D.
Dingell, D-Mich., appeared to have continued strong support.
Still, Republicans were weighing some procedural shenanigans for
next week's House debate. GOP strategists hinted they would seek
to link the bipartisan measure to separate Republican-backed
legislation to expand access to health care--including medical
savings accounts, which could be a ''poison pill'' for Democrats.
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., endorsed the proposal at his
press conference on Sept. 30. Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-
Calif., was unexpectedly seeking support for a revised version of
managed care legislation crafted by Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
Unlike Boehner, Thomas would permit a limited right to sue health
care plans. Boehner prefers an up-or-down vote on liability
coverage. In July, the Senate approved narrow GOP-backed reforms
favored by health insurers.     --Richard E. Cohen/National
Bank on Gramm to Grab the Reins

     The power struggle that had been brewing just below the
surface of the House-Senate conference committee on financial
services modernization legislation came to a head this week. On
Sept. 29, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Texas,
attempted to wrest some control over the process away from House
Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, who formally heads
the conference meetings. Gramm proposed that he, Leach, and House
Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Va., do some backroom
dealing on the bill before the full conference deliberates. The
conventional wisdom is that Leach would surely get rolled in such
a scenario because Gramm and Bliley are allied against Leach on
key issues. Leach has made clear his preference for keeping the
conference negotiations bipartisan and in the sunshine. Gramm's
view: ''When you're in the majority, you have a responsibility to
lead.''         --Pamela Barnett/CongressDaily
Hazardous Terrain for Superfund Bill

     House Commerce Committee Republicans muscled a bill
through subcommittee on Sept. 29 that would reform the Superfund
hazardous-waste cleanup program, but their efforts could prove a
waste of time. The Republicans beat back Democratic proposals
before approving the legislation with the help of just one
defecting Democrat: conservative Rep. Ralph M. Hall of Texas.
Panel Republicans support overhauling the Superfund program and
exempting small businesses, recyclers, and city governments from
frivolous liability lawsuits. But most committee Democrats
believe the program works and that the GOP bill will slow or halt
cleanup efforts. They support a narrower measure to clean up
abandoned industrial sites known as brownfields. Look for
Commerce ranking member John D. Dingell, D-Mich., to try to bury
the bill during full committee debate in mid-October. Even if a
Superfund bill passes the House, Senate Democrats have stalled
the issue in that chamber and the Environmental Protection Agency
won't support reforms that go beyond the Democratic-supported
bill.   --Brody Mullins/CongressDaily
Picking Fights on the Schoolyard

     Members of the House Education and the Workforce
Committee plan to be model students at an upcoming markup of a
bill reauthorizing the laws governing public elementary- and
secondary-school programs. Sure, Republicans on the panel will
probably push for more local control over funding earmarked for
disadvantaged students. But committee aides said that GOP leaders
decided this week to drop from the bill one highly divisive
issue--private-school vouchers for low-income students. On
another front in the education wars, appropriators clashed this
week over President Clinton's plan to help states reduce class
sizes by hiring tens of thousands of new teachers. The House
appropriations bill covering the Education Department zeros out
money for the Clinton program, while the Senate's measure would
maintain some funding contingent on authorizing legislation.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and Republicans engaged in a
protracted debate over which party has done more for the nation's
students when they considered competing school-reform resolutions
on Sept. 27. --Molly Peterson/National Journal News Service
The Week Ahead
The outlook for legislative activity during the week of Oct. 4:

     After much delay, the House will take up its most
challenging spending bill--the sprawling measure to fund the
Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments.
Action on appropriations conference reports, and on managed care
legislation is also expected.

     The Senate plans to act on appropriations conference
reports and may debate the Federal Aviation Administration
reauthorization bill.
CongressDaily's Final Word

     ''Pest control is great experience for being in politics.
There are a lot of varmints in this town, and we're trying to get
rid of as many as we can.'' --House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-
Texas, a onetime exterminator, in a speech on Sept. 28.

LOAD-DATE: October 04, 1999
House-Senate Committee Action, September 27-30

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