PROSPECTS for this year's major civil rights proposal in
Congress, never assured, now are more up in the air than ever. The
situation in Congress today "is very much in a state of uncertainty
and flux," says veteran Congress-watcher Norman Ornstein.
What caused the new uncertainty was collapse late last week of
compromise talks between congressional Democrats and business
leaders. Robert Allen, head of the Business Roundtable, pulled out
of the talks, reportedly largely as the result of pressure from the
Had congressional Democrats and the Roundtable been able to agree
on a compromise, the result might have been to propel it through
Congress and possibly even over a presidential veto.
It now is anyone's guess whether Congress will ultimately approve
a bill that President Bush will sign, or that has sufficient votes
to override a veto.
This year's principal bill, put forth in the House of
Representatives by liberal Democrats, would make it easier for
minorities, women, and persons with disabilities to win suits of job
discrimination, by reversing the effects of recent decisions by the
United States Supreme Court.
The measure's two thorniest issues remain the same ones that
caused so much disagreement last year, when a similar measure came
within a gnat's eyelash of victory: It succumbed when Congress
narrowly failed to override a presidential veto.
One is the so-called quota question. The Democratic proposal
requires employers who are sued to justify any employment practices
that have a negative effect on groups of employees or applicants -
for instance, requirements for academic degrees.
The Bush administration, small businesses, and some congressional
Republicans argue that employers thus would be forced to hire quotas
of minorities. Sponsors of the measure deny this. Many political
observers say congressional passage of the Democratic bill as
written would give Republicans a powerful weapon in the 1992
election - the explosive quotas charge.
The second issue is whether persons intentionally discriminated
against should be able to sue for an unlimited amount. Existing law
allows persons victimized by racial discrimination to sue for an
unlimited amount; the new proposal would permit women and members of
minority religions to do likewise.
The Bush administration and business groups oppose the limitless
amount; in its own bill the administration seeks a $150,000 cap. …