- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2000

The House will return from its two-week recess tomorrow to a legislative schedule diluted by Republican leaders' preoccupation with the China trade bill and the start of work on the first of 13 appropriations measures.

But whatever modest goals the House accomplishes could outpace floor action in the Senate, which is mired in partisan squabbling over its lawmaking procedures.

Bills slated for action in the House this week hold water, water everywhere: a measure concerning the national estuary program, another pertaining to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, a third on the development of alternative water sources and a fourth dealing with water quality restoration projects in Lake Pontchartrain, La.

Said a senior House Republican leadership aide of the low-profile proposals, "They all matter to somebody."

The House also plans to vote on a measure that would overturn a Labor Department advisory opinion making it harder for companies to offer stock options to hourly employees. The Clinton administration now supports the bill after an outcry over the department's ruling.

Republican leadership aides said the light legislative agenda is largely because of leaders' plans to spend more time lobbying individual members on permanent normal trade relations with China.

The Republican leadership is committed to approving the measure in late May; Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas and Rep. Philip M. Crane, Illinois Republican and chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, will be among those trying to win over undecided members.

House Republicans also want to exploit a rift among Democrats on the trade issue. Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Minority Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan, both of whom enjoy the support of big labor, oppose the measure. The Clinton administration supports the trade pact.

"Our goal is to make sure the pressure is put on the Democrats to come through with their votes," said another Republican leadership aide.

House appropriators, meanwhile, will begin work on spending bills for the legislative branch, military construction and Agriculture Department amid reports that Congress plans to cut its own funding about 4 percent.

There is speculation that such a cut could result in layoffs, for example, in the Capitol Police force or the Capitol architect's office. But a senior House Democratic leadership aide said he expects the bulk of any proposed cuts to be restored during the long appropriations process.

"We've been through this before," he said. "I can't imagine [Republicans] want to do much to have the Capitol Police being strapped."

The Senate today will take up reauthorization of the main funding bill for elementary and secondary education, setting up a heated clash between liberals and conservatives over teacher accountability and federal mandates.

Senators also plan to take up a proposal on nuclear waste storage. But the chamber's work has been overshadowed by partisan wrangling over Republicans' control of the agenda. Last week, senators failed for a second time to end debate on a bill to phase out the so-called marriage penalty tax.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota last week criticized Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi for not allowing Democrats to offer amendments of their own choosing to Republican-sponsored bills.

"I think we ought to officially just change the name from the 'Senate' to 'House II' because that really is what's happening here," Mr. Daschle told reporters. "This is the second House of Representatives now, and there's one man on the Rules Committee. I mean, this is a whole new ball game."

Mr. Lott replied, "The Democrats want to empty their 'out basket' and bring up their political agenda. They want to be able to offer non-relevant amendments that are only intended for political statements because they know that they are not going to pass, or that they're not going to go into law."

Lott spokesman John Czwartacki said the American public elected a majority of Republicans to the Senate because "they like our issues."

"[Democrats] are still in deep denial about not being in the majority," Mr. Czwartacki said. "The Republicans have the agenda, not the Democrats."

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