Gridlock Cracks as the Senate Backs NAFTA, Brady Bill Packwood Affair Still Looms as Lawmakers Head for Recess

Article excerpt

ON Capitol Hill, there's nothing like the prospect of a little `R & R' to spur action.

As legislators labored through the weekend to wrap up business for the year, they came to closure on a variety of issues. Most surprising was the Senate's passage Saturday of the so-called Brady bill, which would impose a nationwide five-day waiting period on the purchase of handguns.

The Brady bill, named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who was critically wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, had seemed to be stalled in its latest attempt at passage by a Republican filibuster. But in the face of public sentiment, which supports the effort to control availability of guns, enough Republicans dropped their objection to end the filibuster.

"We finally decided ... let's get the Brady bill behind us," Senate minority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas told reporters afterwards.

Though critics of the bill argue that it will do little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, it has taken on symbolic importance since it was first introduced in the mid-1980s.

Senator Dole's remark also appeared to reflect a deeper sentiment among members of Congress - a desire to show that they can move beyond the gridlock that characterized the years of Republican White Houses and Democratic Congresses. Perhaps most important, Democratic control of the White House makes it all the harder for Republicans to completely resist the Democratic agenda.

One example is the Senate's passage last Thursday of a bill reviving the independent-counsel law. The bill - which allows investigation of public officials by independent counsels - resurrects the law that expired last December because of Republican objection to counsel Lawrence Walsh's investigation of the Iran-contra affair.

But Republicans decided that strenuous objection to a law designed to keep public officials honest was not good for public relations. After changes were made imposing cost and time limits on the work of future independent counsels, the bill passed by a vote of 76 to 21.

Congress's flurry of weekend activity also included:

* Senate passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was always the House that posed problems for approval of NAFTA, and after the administration won a stronger victory there than expected on Wednesday, the Senate vote seemed anti-climactic.

The treaty, which is set to be implemented Jan. …