House Republicans took a big step forward on their “Contract With America” agenda Wednesday, pushing through a bill restricting the federal government’s ability to impose unfunded mandates on the states.
Negotiations to settle minor differences between the House and Senate versions of the measure and final votes in both chambers were the lone remaining obstacles to getting the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act to President Clinton’s desk.
The bill, which would require that Congress pay for many programs it imposes on states and local governments, was approved 360-74 after eight days of often contentious debate on the House floor. There was applause on the floor when the vote was announced.
All 230 Republicans in the House voted for the bill, along with 130 Democrats. Voting against it were 73 Democrats and the chamber’s sole independent, Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
Rep. William Clinger, R-Pa., the manager of the bill, said it would begin historic changes in the way the federal government does business. “This bill will restore state and local governments to their true places as partners in our federal system.”
While supporters of unfunded mandates were hailing its passage, backers of the balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution were arguing for that measure during a third day of debate on the Senate floor.
At the same time, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee became the first panel to approve a proposed Constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress. On a party-line vote of 5-3, the GOP-controlled panel approved a measure to bar senators from serving more than two full terms, and House members from serving more than six. That would allow 12 years of service in each chamber.
And the House Judiciary Committee advanced Republican efforts to rewrite last year’s anti-crime law, approving a measure that would spend $10.5 billion on prison construction, $2.5 billion more than in the 1994 law, but limit funding to states that are cracking down on violent criminals.
Passage of the mandates bill, said Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, “shows that we are on schedule” in the drive to vote on contract items in 100 days. “We clearly are demonstrating our ability to make a big change.”
The Senate version of the unfunded mandates legislation passed last Friday, 86-10, and the two chambers were expected to resolve their differences quickly.
Clinton has indicated his support for the mandates bill.
It would be the second major piece of legislation included in the “Contract With America” to become law. In January, Clinton signed a bill making members of Congress abide by the same employment laws that private employers must obey.