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GOP HAS BEEN HAVING A GRAND OLD TIME

SHARE GOP HAS BEEN HAVING A GRAND OLD TIME

The new Republican majority has won a stack of key votes and suffered few defeats during Congress' hectic opening seven months. But as senators belatedly joined House members in summer recess, much of what the GOP wants has yet to become law.

Lawmakers will face an enormous workload this autumn - and likely veto battles with President Clinton - over efforts to balance the budget, cut taxes, revamp Medicare, Medicaid and welfare, and rewrite laws overseeing telecommunications, clean water and perhaps lobbying."We're on track," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., before senators left town Friday, a week after the House. Both chambers return after Labor Day.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was upbeat, too, as both leaders touted Congress' accomplishments in a year that has seen the legislative agenda shift well to the right of where it was for 40 years under Democratic control.

So far this year, Clinton has signed three high-profile bills into law, all of which were GOP initiatives. One requires Congress to comply with laws that govern the rest of the country, another limits Congress' ability to impose requirements on state and local governments without providing money, and a third chopped $16 billion in already-approved spending from the budget.

Several others have made it through the House and Senate but have not yet been shaped into compromises that Congress can send to Clinton. Included are bills limiting product liability for manufacturers, easing regulations on telecommunications companies, and giving the president the line-item veto power to eliminate individual items in spending bills. The fate of each is uncertain.

Yet, in spite of their control of both chambers, Republicans have seen other measures rejected. These include the Senate's one-vote defeat of the balanced-budget constitutional amendment and a proposed overhaul of the regulatory process, and the House's rejection of a constitutional amendment limiting members of Congress to 12 years in office. Constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities for approval - margins that Republicans lack in both chambers.

Numerous other bills are still inching through the House and Senate. Because so little has been enacted so far, Democrats claim that, thanks to them, Republicans have little to crow about.

"This is a year when Democrats have made a real effort to try to keep bad legislation from becoming law," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., summing up life on Capitol Hill since members took their oaths of office last Jan. 3. "I believe we've succeeded beyond our expectations."

The House, where procedures give the majority nearly an iron hand, claims a longer list of successes than the Senate. Of the 10 measures House GOP candidates included in their "Contract With America" last fall, all but one - term limits for lawmakers - made it through the chamber. Contract victories included House passage of bills cutting taxes, toughening criminal laws, reshaping welfare, reducing U.S. support for the United Nations, and a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

The House has also approved bills making it harder for the government to impose regulations on business and weakening water pollution controls, and completed 11 of the 13 annual spending measures financing federal agencies.

In the Senate, where debating rules give the minority party greater power to grind progress to an almost imperceptible crawl, things have moved more slowly. Another reason for the slowdown is a split between moderate and conservative Republicans. Senators have adopted a measure boosting funds for anti-terrorism efforts, and only six of the annual spending bills have been approved.

Ahead lies a whirlwind of an autumn.

The chief GOP priority is approving a seven-year package of budget-balancing savings.

Under a blueprint lawmakers have already approved, spending would be cut by $894 billion from projected levels, with much of the savings coming from overhauls of Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and other benefit programs. Medicare, due to contribute about $270 billion in savings, is likely to be the toughest item for Republicans to coalesce around, thanks to the enormity of the cuts and the program's popularity with the seniors it serves.

As if that weren't complicated enough, Republicans also want the measure to include a $245 billion tax cut.