- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2000

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said yesterday that Republicans in Congress will not take on new issues this year, but Sen. Edward M. Kennedy signaled that Democrats are coming with a big, new government blitz.
"Major things will have to wait on the next president and the next Congress," Mr. Lott told reporters yesterday.
With the pressures of the election season looming over Washington, Congress should simply finish up the outstanding business from last year, the Mississippi Republican said. Most prominently, the two chambers of Congress are still trying to work out differences in gun-control and health care bills passed last year.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and a major force in the Democratic caucus, detailed an ambitious liberal agenda yesterday at a speech before the Center for National Policy in Washington.
He called for a new federally regulated health care and pension system, with employers required to offer benefits and existing federal programs substantially expanded.
"It is a 20th-century disgrace that so many Americans found the quality of their health measured by the quantity of their wealth," he said. "We must now erase that disgrace."
While Mr. Kennedy's plan has little chance of becoming law, his speech could signal trouble for Republicans, who hold narrow majorities in both chambers.
Mr. Kennedy and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, managed to bring Senate business to a halt last year. Over the strong objections of Republican leaders, they forced votes on Democratic favorites, including managed care reform, gun regulation and campaign-finance reform.
If Democrats manage to maintain party unity behind Mr. Kennedy's agenda, they could once more stymie the Senate, embarrass Republican leaders, and give Democrats a public forum at the height of the presidential-election season.
However, Mr. Lott says Republicans have already established themselves on issues important to voters, such as tax cuts and education.
"The days when a Democrat can say education is their issue is gone. They had their chance and they failed," Mr. Lott said.
"We're going to combat them on education," he said.
Mr. Lott said he was also hopeful Congress would pass new tax cuts. Republicans failed to push through a $792 billion tax bill last year, and House Republicans say they will introduce as many as three more-limited bills this year.
"The president got away with a veto last year because people didn't know what was in it," Mr. Lott said of the $792 billion tax-cut measure.
This year, Republicans plan to dramatize how elimination of the so-called "marriage penalty" tax and others will directly benefit families.
More sweeping tax cuts will have to await the outcome of the presidential election, he said.
The Republican contenders are sparring over tax-cut plans, with Texas Gov. George W. Bush wanting to cut the tax rate across the board, while his leading challenger doesn't want to cut rates, but would make more people eligible for the lowest bracket.
While Republicans foresee a quiet legislative year, Democrats signaled a major push for sweeping new federal programs.
Mr. Kennedy called for a dramatic increase in the federal role in local education. He called for direct federal spending on teacher salaries and training and on local buildings. He called for the federal government to create "specialized teams" to go in and help troubled local schools.
He proposed vastly expanding the Head Start program to create a "new early-learning infrastructure" and expanding the food-stamp program to buy books for poor children.
"To those that say that education is only a local responsibility, I say you are wrong, dead wrong," Mr. Kennedy said. "It is our national challenge."
Mr. Kennedy's agenda has not been adopted formally by Democratic leaders, but aides say the leadership supports his ideas. Democrats will consider his plans when they return to Washington next week.
But Mr. Lott showed little sympathy for Mr. Kennedy's plan.
"Kennedy will continue to advocate bills or offer amendments that would be more Washington government control, more decisions from Washington and more costs, so there is nothing new," Mr. Lott said.

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