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Political Truce May Expire Soon As Budget Deal Recedes, Congress To Deal With Old Issues

Tue., Sept. 2, 1997

So what does Congress do for encore?

A month after approving a long-sought, balanced-budget deal, Congress returns from recess this week to take up battle on some familiar themes. Republican conservatives will continue their efforts to shrink the federal government, while politicians from all regions will try to get a piece of a huge transportation bill.

For the moment, a political truce prevails as the Republican Congress and Democratic President Clinton bask in the lingering glory of finally agreeing to cut taxes and erase the budget deficit by 2002.

But few expect the harmony to last long. The Senate resumes work today and the House on Wednesday.

The first priority will be the 13 annual spending bills to keep the federal government past the start of the government’s new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. No one expects a replay of two years ago, when disagreements between Congress and the White House triggered two government shutdowns, but there will be conflict.

A small but vocal group of dissident Republican conservatives will try to use the spending bills as vehicles to carry forward their agenda to outlaw abortions, root out government regulations, limit damage awards in civil cases, and further shrink the federal establishment.

Clinton’s effort to restore his lapsed authority to get fast action from Congress on trade agreements also will be controversial.

Clinton is likely to face the stiffest opposition from House Democratic chieftains, led by Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Whip David Bonior of Michigan. Convinced that American workers too often suffer the consequences of liberalized trade, they will demand that any new pacts with developing countries contain labor and environmental protections that require foreign companies to compete more fairly with American firms.

A controversial set of bills to crack down on violent juvenile offenders also is slated for Senate action. The House has already passed the bills, but the Senate’s versions are somewhat different, requiring what bodes to be a contentious conference to reconcile the differences.

A fight also is brewing over a defense bill that proposes to spend more than Clinton wants. One point of disagreement is likely to be the House’s insistence on continuing production of the B-2 Stealth bomber, additional planes the Defense Department does not want.

Then there is the matter of new and tougher clean air standards ssued by the Environmental Protection Agency. Lawmakers from coal-mining and auto-building states, cheered on by conservatives who hate regulations of any kind, have lined up against Clinton and environmentalists to try to overturn the new regulations.

Any legislation they managed to push through Congress would prompt a presidential veto - and, by latest count, there are not enough votes to override a veto. But that will not stop the clamor against EPA when the House and Senate reconvene.

Perhaps the noisiest melee, however, will occur over the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act - popularly known as “Ice Tea.”

At the moment, counting Clinton’s proposal, there are four separate versions of the multi-billion-dollar transportation bill in the mix.

Congress generally wants to devote all the money from the federal gasoline tax to building highways, bridges and other tangible items that voters can see and use.


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