Congress's Fall Colored by Crisis in Soviet Union Democrats Likely to Push for Jobless Benefits, Health Care, and Tax Relief for the Middle Class

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IN a rerun of last year, an event of enormous global significance will have a profound impact on Capitol Hill debate when Congress reopens for business this week.

Last year, it was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. This year, it's the fall of Soviet communism and that country's transformation.

Suddenly, an agenda packed with issues such as banking, crime, highways, civil rights, and abortion has been topped off with a matter already embroiled in debate: how much aid to send the former Soviet Union and where to get the money.

Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wants to take $1 billion out of the Pentagon's $291 billion budget for humanitarian aid. House majority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri proposes a $3 billion long-term program to aid economic restructuring.

A more-cautious Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, suggests $15 million to $20 million for the Soviet republics in the next appropriations bill.

But whatever the dollar amount, a consensus is emerging that the United States has a moral obligation to help prevent possible starvation in a country that has at last cast off its communist shackles, the decades-long goal of US foreign policy.

Some Democrats see the inevitability of a US aid package for the Soviets as a boon to US domestic problems they have had a hard time funding, such as extending jobless benefits.

President Bush signed legislation last month to prolong benefits, but refused to carry it out, saying it would hurt economic recovery. With unemployment holding at 6.8 percent in August, the Democrats have been emboldened to press their case.

"There's no way Bush can do Soviet aid and not do unemployment," says an aide to a senior House Democrat. "The biggest beneficiaries of the (Soviet) coup will be America's long-term unemployed."

The Soviet aid question could lead to more funding for anti-crime legislation and education, adds the aide. "The coup and countercoup will color everything we do this fall," he says. The budget accord

Some congressmen have expressed concern that aid to the Soviets could bust the budget agreement reached last October between Congress and the White House.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warns that with the budget deficit nearing $300 billion, Congress must preserve the budget deal, which imposes caps on spending for defense, foreign, and domestic programs.

But other senators, such as John Danforth (R) of Missouri and Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey, argue that the budget agreement is already out of date and needs revising.

The demise of Soviet communism has decreased the Soviet threat, they contend, and thus the US must now rethink defense spending. …