Having bogged down on their efforts to pass a constitutional amendment limiting the number of years lawmakers can serve, House leaders will take a break this week on their “Contract with America.”
Instead, they will tackle a non-contract GOP proposal to slash $17.3 billion from the current federal budget that the Democratic-controlled Congress approved last year.
The proposal would cut funds for such Democratic priorities as aid to women and children, education and housing programs, summer jobs, home-heating aid for the poor and environmental protection.
GOP leaders delayed debate for three weeks on legislation to amend the Constitution to bar House and Senate members from serving more than 12 years. The leaders acted after they discovered they lacked the two-thirds majority necessary for House approval.
They also canceled House sessions for Monday, Friday and next Monday to give members, who have been complaining about the breakneck pace in the chamber, time off with their families.
But the leaders say that even with the delay, they will be finished with the rest of the contract by April 7, well ahead of the April 13 deadline they set for themselves.
On Friday, the 66th day of the contract’s 100-day schedule to bring 11 proposals to House floor votes, the House passed legislation to cap punitive damages in product-liability lawsuits, make it more difficult to sue companies, and require losers in many circumstances to pay the winners’ legal fees.
Here’s the status of the 11 bills covered by the contract:
1) Government spending:
Goals: Reduce spending with a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget and by giving the president authority to veto an item in an appropriations bill without scuttling the entire package.
Status: The amendment failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to pass in the Senate, even though it had sailed through the House in January.
The House has approved the lineitem veto and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved two different versions last week.
Goals: Create longer prison sentences, cut crime-prevention measures from last year’s anti-crime bill, build prisons, allow prosecutors to use some evidence that is usually inadmissible.
Status: Six of the seven bills making up this package have been approved by the House and are pending in the Senate. The remaining bill - which would expand mandatory minimum sentences for using firearms in crimes - is expected to trigger efforts by foes of gun control to nullify last year’s ban on assault weapons.
3) Welfare Reform:
Goals: Ban welfare benefits to minor-age mothers and deny added benefits for children born to mothers already receiving welfare; end benefits after two years.
Status: Three House committees approved separate bills that would cut spending on public assistance programs by at least $50 billion over five years. Floor action is scheduled for March 21.
Goals: Bolster enforcement of child support laws; provide tax incentives for adoption; strengthen parents’ rights in education; strengthen laws on child pornography.
Status: Awaiting committee consideration.
5) Tax Reform:
Goals: Provide tax breaks costing $189 billion over five years.
Status: The House Ways and Means Committee will start writing legislation on Tuesday.
6) National Security:
Goals: Require a president to get congressional approval before sending U.S. troops on U.N. peacekeeping missions; direct the military to deploy a strategic anti-missile defense system.
Status: The House approved legislation aimed at curbing U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions, declaring support for full NATO membership for Eastern European nations, providing for scaled-down missile defenses, and prohibiting placement of U.S. troops under foreign command in U.N. operations.
The legislation is pending in the Senate.
7) Senior Citizens:
Goals: Increase the amount Social Security recipients can earn before losing some of their benefits; repeal the 1993 tax increase on Social Security benefits to upper-income citizens; provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance.
Status: The tax provisions are in a bill that the Ways and Means Committee will draft this week.
8) Capital Gains And Unfunded Mandates:
Goals: Reduce federal taxes on capital gains, or profits on sales of investments; enact tax incentives for small businesses; relieve states and localities of the responsibility for enforcing federal rules and programs without adequate funds.
Status: A joint House-Senate conference committee will continue meeting to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of legislation to limit the so-called unfunded mandates.
The House has approved a regulatory overhaul that would make it more difficult for federal agencies to impose new rules. The legislation is pending in the Senate.
The Ways and Means Committee will start work on capital gains legislation Tuesday.
9) Legal Reform:
Goals: Limit punitive damages in civil lawsuits; reform product liability laws.
Status: The House approved legislation last week to discourage product-liability lawsuits.
10) Term Limits:
Goals: Limit senators to two six-year terms and House members to three or six terms of two years each.
Status: The Senate and House Judiciary committees have approved constitutional amendments that would limit the length of service of future Senate and House members to 12 years. But last week, House GOP leaders postponed a vote for three weeks because they lacked the necessary two-thirds majority for passage.
11) Congressional Reform:
Goals: To bring Congress under the laws of the land.
Status: President Clinton has signed the legislation.