clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Key legislative action in the first 100 days of the 104th Congress and prospects for upcoming months.

FISCAL CONTROLS: Congress has covered impressive ground on budget issues so far this year, but the biggest fights still lie ahead.

The House approved a balanced budget constitutional amendment in February, a major plank in the Republican agenda. In a jarring defeat, the measure fell short of Senate approval by one vote, but Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., has said he will try again, perhaps next year.

Both chambers have approved differing versions of a measure that would let the president veto individual items in spending bills. They will have to work out a compromise. President Clinton has said he favors the idea.

Congress sent Clinton a bill Thursday handing the Pentagon an additional $3.1 billion for its costs of peacekeeping operations. The House and Senate have approved separate bills slashing spending by $16 billion to $17 billion, and bargainers plan to meet next month to work on a compromise.

But still ahead, Republicans will try delivering on their promise to slash spending enough to balance the budget by the year 2002. Both chambers will try producing budgets mapping their plans next month. This summer, they will probably begin work on a giant package of spending cuts delivering on those proposals.

TAXES: Dole promises that the Senate, too, will adopt tax cuts. But he warns it won't simply rubber-stamp the five-year, $189-billion package approved by the House as the "crowning jewel" of the GOP "Contract With America."

The House bill, adopted 246-188 last Wednesday, with the help of 27 Democrats, offers families a $500 credit for every child younger than 18 and up to $145 to two-earner couples to offset the tax code's so-called marriage penalty.

Taxpayers also would get to exclude half of their capital gains from profits on selling securities, real estate and other assets, and a new kind of Individual Retirement Account permitting withdrawals for education, medical expenses and first-time home purchases.

Better-off retirees would see the gradual repeal of the 1993 tax increase on their Social Security benefits. And the amount of outside income they can earn without having their benefits reduced would increase.

Businesses also would get a reduction in capital-gains taxes, more generous depreciation and elimination of the alternative minimum tax, which ensures all profitable companies pay some tax.

Clinton favors a smaller tax cut. He would limit his per-child credit to children younger than 13, put income caps on his new IRAs and focus the rest of his package on encouraging education.

However, he has carefully refrained from threatening a veto and says he wants to work with the Senate to craft legislation more to his liking than the House bill.

CRIME: The Republicans' big anti-crime package passed the House in mid-February with the dispatch that marked a stream of "Contract With America" proposals. It faces a more precarious future in the Senate.

The centerpiece of the six-part package would give $10 billion in anti-crime funds to local governments and substantially alter the shape of the cops-on-the-street program by turning money for that over to the states in block grants. Critics say that ensures that there will not be 100,000 new officers put on the streets, as previously promised.

The GOP package radically reshaped last year's $30 billion anti-crime law, which designated funds for hiring the new police as well as crime prevention programs such as midnight basketball. And Clinton has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

The Republicans also have proposed a measure to repeal last year's ban on assault-style weapons.

LIMITING LAWSUITS: The GOP campaign to limit damage awards in lawsuits, another key part of the contract, faces a tough fight in the Senate.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has put forward a broad proposal similar to the Republican package that swept through the House in early March. The House legislation would restrict the ability of consumers to win multimillion-dollar damage awards against manufacturers, doctors, drug companies and others.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Slade Gorton, R-Wash., have written a narrower bill that focuses on the product injury compensation system. It has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Both measures include a cap on punitive damages in all state and federal civil cases of $250,000, or three times the economic damages, whichever is greater. Economic damages include compensation for lost income and medical expenses.

WELFARE REFORM: After vitriolic debate in committees and on the floor, the House passed a sweeping welfare reform bill on March 24 that would dismantle 45 federal social programs developed over 60 years and send money and the responsibility to care for the poor back to the states.

Republicans said their reforms would do away with layers of federal bureaucracy and let states experiment to find the best ways of caring for those in need. The states would get money in large lump-sum payments, or block grants.

Most Democrats bitterly opposed the bill, which passed 228-205. They said the bill, which would save $66 billion over five years, was all about cutting spending for tax cuts, not caring for the poor.

The Senate is expected to begin focusing on welfare in May, after its spring recess, but no date has been set for floor debate.

TERM LIMITS: The Republican agenda in the House tripped up for the first time on March 29 when that chamber emphatically rejected a constitutional amendment to limit the years members of Congress may serve.

Republicans found solace in having fulfilled their pledge to get a term-limit bill to the House floor for a vote for the first time in history. House Speaker Newt Gingrich blamed Democrats, although several from his own party bolted, and asserted that term limits would be a major issue during the 1996 election campaign.

Such senior Republican members as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois spoke out strongly against the proposal.

INSTITUTIONAL REFORM: The Republican Congress got off to a fast start with early approval in both the House and Senate of legislation requiring the lawmakers to abide by the same labor laws they impose on the private sector and other branches of government.

That so-called "congressional accountability" measure was the first of the bills in the "Contract With America" signed by the president.

The second, and only other contract measure signed into law, was a bill aimed at discouraging Congress from imposing requirements on states and cities without providing funds to pay for them. The measure would make it harder for lawmakers to enforce national standards for the environment, worker safety and other areas.

The House also approved a six-month moratorium on new government regulations. The Senate has not acted.