A sputtering finale

Posted: Wednesday, November 01, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

The 106th Congress began in January 1999 in the bitter wake of the House's impeachment of President Clinton and as the Senate held a trial that failed to convict him. Congress has since spent much of its two-year term in partisan maneuvers, rather than legislating. It's fitting that as it sputters toward an end it is engaged in an unproductive game of political brinkmanship with the president.

Just minutes before a midnight deadline, Clinton on Monday vetoed a key $33 billion funding bill for core government functions after congressional Republicans scuttled unrelated workplace safety regulations favored by the White House. GOP leaders called the veto a declaration of war, which is nothing new to either party in this Congress, steeped in highly partisan and often personal enmity and preoccupied with political control of both chambers.

For weeks the government has been operating from one day to the next funded by temporary continuances of last year's budget levels. It may not get a full fiscal-year budget until after the election. Important and popular legislation on issues including gun control, campaign finance reform, a patients' bill of rights and prescription drug benefits for seniors bogged down as soon as one party perceived passage as politically more beneficial for the opposition. In this atmosphere, it is more important for the legislators in the waning days of the session to put the right spin on their failure than to finish the legislative agenda.

What's holding up appropriations for fiscal 2001 is not tightfistedness. Tax revenues are generating huge surpluses. Both the Democratic administration and congressional Republicans have abandoned any pretense of fiscal discipline, and when a budget probably totaling about $640 billion for discretionary spending is finally approved, it will be nearly $100 billion above limits set in 1997. Rather, what's at fault is pure political game-playing. Clinton said openly he had no problem with the spending bill he vetoed. What prompted the action was the House GOP leadership's scuttling of a deal over workplace injury provisions in a separate $100 billion spending bill for education, health, labor and other programs.

It is increasingly likely Congress will have to return after the Nov. 7 election for a rare lame-duck session to finish its work on the budget. Then, with little time and little to lose, legislators are more likely to grant favors in the form of last-minute riders and amendments to special interests.

For these and so many other reasons, the 106th Congress will not be missed.

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