House Speaker Newt Gingrich, once a revolutionary, is an
In the Senate, majority leader Trent Lott is still feeling his
way as that chamber's top Republican.
And at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Clinton
continues almost in campaign mode, dishing up a steady diet of
small social initiatives - a thousand points of "lite," Washington
In short, there's a giant sucking sound here in Washington - the
sound of a vacuum in leadership. Journalists are gamely mining the
campaign-finance story and following the budget negotiations. But
when you get right down to it, there's not a whole lot going on
inside the Beltway that's grabbing the public's attention.
Many in the Republican rank and file are unhappy over Mr.
Gingrich's declaration that tax cuts can wait. And he faces the
nettlesome issue of how to pay his $300,000 fine for ethics
The latest challenge to Senator Lott's authority came as eight
GOP senators signed on to a proposal to raise cigarette taxes to
help pay for health insurance for uninsured children. Lott opposes
the tax hike.
Almost daily, Mr. Clinton deflects the campaign-finance issue,
which has barely dented his comfortable approval rating. No big
plans or initiatives lie on the horizon.
What's more, say observers, all of this is perfectly normal.
"The House has returned to its natural state, with power
centered on the committee chairs," says James Thurber, a political
scientist at The American University in Washington. "Lott isn't
doing badly. He just doesn't have a clear agenda yet."
Aside from not controlling the White House, the Republicans are
also hampered by their slim majorities on Capitol Hill - only nine
seats in the House and 10 in the Senate, not enough to override
As for Clinton, the second term so far is looking like the
beginning of President Bush's term in office. It, too, didn't have
a clear agenda, says Professor Thurber.
When compared with the last Congress, the current group appears
downright lazy. From January to March 1995, the Senate was in
session for 59 days and the House, 55 days. During the same period
this year, the Senate met 37 days and the House for 27. Congress
has become a Tuesday-through-Thursday club once again.
But go back to the 103rd Congress in 1993 - the first Congress
of Clinton's first term - and the comparison isn't so striking. For
that same period, the Senate met 40 days and the House, 35. And
that was a motivated Congress. With President Clinton newly
inaugurated, Democrats controlled the executive and legislative
branches of government for the first time since the Carter
administration, and Clinton was eager to enact his agenda. …