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Lawmakers Have November On Their Minds

By Candy Crowley/CNN


WASHINGTON (Aug. 7) -- Capitol Hill lawmakers have gone home for August and September will just about wrap it up for the 105th Congress. But it's clearly November on their minds.

"They're passing bills they know the president's going to veto," said Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "They're interested in confrontation. They have no interest in trying to really solve the problems this country faces. This is a do-nothing Congress."

Said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, "This is a Bart Simpson Congress: underachievers and proud of it."

Also in this story:

The do-nothing Congress approach helped elect Harry Truman, and all House Democrats want this fall is to regain the majority.

They have some fodder. This year's legislative highlights are a highway bill heavy on the pork and reform of everybody's favorite whipping boy, the IRS.

It isn't heavy lifting and comparatively less than what Congresses have done during the same period in other election cycles.

You can't blame Republicans. Congressional approval is high -- for Congress anyway -- so why rock the boat and alienate voters who seem reasonably content?


From a political standpoint, Republicans are playing defense in the '98 elections. Having been pummeled in 1996 over the Social Security issue, House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- who had been talking a lot about using the budget surplus for a tax cut -- has rearranged his priorities.

"We are committed to setting aside the 700 billion dollars in surplus for tax cuts," Gingrich says. "Having taken care of Social Security, we believe the extra money should go to tax cuts. Period."

And having taken the brunt of the voter wrath for the 1995 government shutdown, Republicans are convinced Democrats would love a second round. Their fears are not entirely unfounded.

"It's the Republicans who are leading us in that direction by dragging their feet on the budget this year," Frost said. "By dragging their feet and bringing up the appropriations bills so late, we may well have a government shutdown. It's not our doing."

Tom DeLay

They've been here and done that, so the GOP is putting out the word if it happens again, the finger should point elsewhere.

"If the president out of desperate politics and wants to pull a political stunt in shutting down the government, he will have to face the American people," said Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Actually, it's in the best tradition of what goes around comes around. Democrats will spend the fall arguing that Republicans aren't competent enough to run Congress. When you think about it, that's exactly what Republicans said in 1994 when voters gave them the majority.

Poll: a do-something Congress

Meanwhile, as Congress heads home for the summer campaign season, a new Pew Research Center survey finds a majority of Americans do not see the 105th Congress as a do-nothing body.

Americans see this Congress as not all that different than others in recent memory, but more divided along partisan lines.

Fifty-one percent of people in the Pew survey said members have been "bickering and opposing one another more than usual."

Asked about Congress' productivity, only 15 percent of those surveyed said it has accomplished less than most, while 18 percent said they think it has accomplished more.

The Pew Research Center telephone survey contacted 1,189 adults between July 29 and Aug. 2. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Other findings of the survey:

  • Fifty-three percent of Americans support the creation of national standards for patients in health maintenance organizations and managed care plans; only 35 percent of those surveyed said such regulation would "get the government too involved in health care."

    A plurality of those surveyed -- 39 percent -- expressed more confidence in congressional Democrats "to do the right thing regarding the regulation of HMOs"; only 29 percent thought that way about congressional Republicans.

  • Many people support President Bill Clinton's call to use the projected federal budget surplus to shore up the Social Security and Medicare programs. Thirty-nine percent favored that option, over increased spending on domestic programs [29 percent], paying off the national debt [19 percent] or providing a tax cut [10 percent].
In Other News

Friday, August 7, 1998

Lawmakers Have November On Their Minds
Appeals Court Lets Leaks Investigation Continue
Business As Usual At The White House
Ickes Role In Fund-Raising Gets 'Considerable Review'

Election '98
Tennessee Governor Wins GOP Nod; Party Outsider Wins Democratic Nomination
Tennessee Primary Results

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