CONGRESS RETURNS to Washington this week to face the most
peculiar of prospects: simultaneous war and peace.
The partisan brawl surrounding Speaker Newt Gingrich's ethics
case and mounting investigations of Whitewater and Democrats'
campaign donations a ll portend a session of brutal
character-bashing by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Yet both sides still seem serious about some major
collaborative work, such as balancing the federal budget and
providing new tax breaks for families.
No one is sure these conflicting modes can coexist on Capitol
Hill. But amazingly, some people think they actually might.
"The big surprise may be that (this Congress) will be more
productive than anyone thinks possible now," said Larry Sabato, a
professor of politic al science at the University of Virginia.
"It's almost as if we're going to run on two tracks - a
hyperpartisan, acrimonious track of ethical investigations and a
constructive, issue-oriented track that will produce some real
The House is certain to spend at least the first few weeks deep
in the hyperpartisan track, consumed by the Gingrich case. But
after the House votes on the Georgia Republican's punishment Jan.
21, GOP lawmakers may be looking for ways to put the imbroglio
"The ethics stuff will be over and done with Jan. 21," said
Michele Davis, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey,
R-Texas. "There's certainly an angry band of Democratic party
malcontents who will keep screaming about it. But the rest of us
are going to be getting some work done."
President Bill Clinton also has pledged to look for "common
ground" in his second term, which could help him construct a legacy
of major legislation and not just a scandal-marred record for the
"You could argue that both the speaker and the president will
be so anxious to focus attention on other matters that they will be
willing to work out an agreement" at least on the budget, said
Robert Reischauer, a budget expert at the Brookings Institution, a
Washington think tank.
In tone and substance, the opening of the 105th Congress today
is likely to be very different from two years ago. The 104th
Congress, the first Republican-dominated Congress in 40 years, was
sworn in with a self-confident GOP at the helm, with a legislative
agenda packed with proposals to balance the budget, reform welfare
and achieve other goals mapped out by the party's "Contract With