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2 DEADLINES FOCUS CONGRESS ON MAJOR ISSUES

SHARE 2 DEADLINES FOCUS CONGRESS ON MAJOR ISSUES

With twin deadlines looming, the Republican-controlled Congress returns to work this week pledged to pass bills needed to head off a threatened government default and partial shutdown of federal services.

But beyond those commitments lie many more questions than answers.In the House, Speaker Newt Gingrich led senior Republicans on a two-day retreat last week that ended without a decision on whether to attach major welfare and Medicaid legislation to the bill needed to raise the debt limit.

And in the Senate, Majority Leader Bob Dole is in a difficult struggle for the GOP presidential nomination and expected to spend much of his time outside Washington.

"It's hard for us to do much business as long as Bob Dole is engaged in hand to hand combat," says New Hampshire GOP Sen. Judd Gregg. "There isn't a whole lot of delegation of responsibility."

For his part, President Clinton summoned Republicans last week to join him in an "era of genuine bipartisan achievement for our country." He cited balancing the budget, reforming welfare, passing health care and anti-terrorism legislation and other measures - all of them bills on which the two parties have clashed repeatedly.

But in a reflection of the partisan, election-year tensions that exist, another bill on the Senate agenda is a measure that many Democrats would prefer didn't exist. It would provide more money for marathon congressional hearings into the Whitewater affair.

The most pressing measures are needed by March 15 to head off threatened default and a partial shutdown of government services, both of which the Republicans are pledged to avoid.

The other must-pass bill is needed to keep several major agencies in funds beyond March 15, including those providing for health programs and veterans services and the space agency.

Officials said late last week they were hoping to negotiate a measure that granted funding through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.