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Congress returns to post-impeachment Washington

February 22, 1999
Web posted at: 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 22) -- Congress gets back to work Monday following a week-long break, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are eager to show they can move beyond the bitter impeachment process to substantial legislation.

congress
 

Legislators return to an ambitious political agenda, topped by the heated issue of what to do with the federal budget surplus. One of the first bills that will be considered would provide for a military pay raise, while another education initiative would provide local government with more flexibility in spending federal funds.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle say they are eager to show they can move beyond the bitter impeachment process and get back to business.

"It's ended," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) said of the impeachment trial. "Now we have a responsibility to go on with agenda of the people."

"I hope we can get back to what I call the kitchen table," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (R-Missouri) told CNN. "Everyday issues that people are really worried about and focused on."

But who will turn the positive vibes into actual accomplishments? The one to watch is new House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who replaces the confrontation of Newt Gingrich with intense conciliation.

Hastert and Lott have signed an open letter to President Bill Clinton indicating they look forward to working with the administration. And congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with the president Tuesday in their first post-impeachment encounter.

Given the lingering animosity between the two sides, the possibility of concrete progress coming out of this meeting is being downplayed. But Washington observers say that, with both sides anxious to put impeachment behind them, there is a short window of opportunity for bipartisan agreement on at least some issues.

Chief among the GOP agenda items and the president's are competing plans to save Social Security.

Clinton wants 62 percent or more of the budget surplus to go toward the Social Security Trust Fund that is predicted to go bankrupt by 2032 if no reforms are made.

Hastert said that he agrees with the president's proposal to set aside the surplus funding. "We need to make sure that all those dollars are coming in are set aside and in a trust that will be only used for Social Security," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

But Hastert disagrees with the president's plan that the federal government invest a portion of that amount in the private sector, favoring instead having individual recipients invest a portion into some type of annuity they can get at age 65.

But the speaker stopped short of insisting that the administration accept the Republican Social Security plan.

A dispute between GOP congressional leaders and the White House is also expected over what to do with the remainder of the surplus money.

Republicans are pushing to use the money to fund an across-the-board tax cut, while Clinton wants it to go toward reforming Medicare, which like Social Security is also in financial trouble, and funding other domestic spending programs.

Correspondents Bob Franken and Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

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Bob Franken reports: Congress eager to move beyond impeachment issue (2-22-99) video Windows Media: 28K | 80K



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Monday, February 22, 1999

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