Congress Faces Stormy Return from Winter Recess: Battlegrounds Range from School Choice to Partial-Birth Abortion

Article excerpt

When Congress left town last week for its winter recess, it left a pile of leftover bills - from school choice to a ban on partial-birth abortion - that promise to make 1998 even stormier than this year.

Many of the bills were blocked by President Clinton, stalled by a Senate filibuster or bottled up in committee. Republican strategists say not only will the bills be voted on next year, but many also will form the core of the GOP's midterm election campaign agenda.

How Congress handles the bills, and how aggressively the GOP leadership is willing to fight for them in an election year, will affect how strongly the GOP's conservative grassroots base turns out and works for GOP candidates next year, conservative strategists say.

"As I travel around the country I find a lot of disappointment among our constituents about what did not get done by this Congress," said Donald Hodel, president of the Christian Coalition.

Despite a long list of GOP legislation passed this year - from tax cuts to a balanced-budget bill - Mr. Hodel gives the GOP Congress only a passing grade of "C/incomplete."

"As usual, it is a mixed bag," Mr. Hodel said.

"[Republicans] stopped the headlong rush toward federal testing in education, they passed tax reduction for families, a balanced budget plan, adoption reform, and they voted to bar partial-birth abortion," he said.

"But there are disappointments, too," he said of the bills that went nowhere, adding that much more is at stake for the GOP next year over how the party defines and presents its remaining agenda.

"Are they going to continue to let the threat of a veto stop them from passing good legislation? Congress has to show conservatives that they are willing to fight for their principles. The way that's handled may very well define how this Congress is viewed by the voters next November," he said.

Among some of the major proposals awaiting action:

* Education savings accounts. This bill would let families put $2,500 a year into tax-free savings accounts to use for public- or private-school costs for elementary and secondary education. …