Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Political Jockeying, Budget Deficit Fog Congress's Agenda

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Political Jockeying, Budget Deficit Fog Congress's Agenda

Article excerpt

JUST a few weeks after the Los Angeles riots, what has become of the nation's "urban agenda"?

The short answer is that, after an initial burst of bipartisan unity, it has entered the Washington nether world of back-room caucusing, White House-Congress negotiating, and House-Senate conferencing.

Even the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, designed to provide quick money for Los Angeles's riot-torn neighborhoods and Chicago's flood-damaged areas, is moving along at a measured pace at best. The Senate is off this week, but House and Senate conferees will sit down next week to iron out the substantial differences in the bills they passed. But there is likely to be little surprise at the end of the decisionmaking process for both short- and long-term measures, because of two unavoidable and powerful factors, say urban-policy analysts.

"One, it's an election year; and, two, the budget deficit," says Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. "They are driving the process toward doing something symbolic that looks as if one cares and by definition can't cost much money."

"Another way to look at it is, if you put forward an expensive package it will probably go nowhere, because the president won't break the budget agreement," says Ms. Sawhill. Such a maneuver would wind up being a free way for a member of Congress to show concern for urban America, Sawhill says, though she's reluctant to ascribe such an approach to pure political cynicism.

In this campaign season, Democratic lawmakers and President Bush are fighting two competing impulses: to score partisan points by stymying the other's plans, and to enact legislation in a timely manner to show the disillusioned electorate that Washington is capable of action.

Though judgments on timeliness are subjective, Congress does seem capable of some bipartisan agreement, at least on short-term aid. When the Senate passed an emergency spending bill several times as large as what the House had passed a week earlier - $1. …

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