Amid Big Distractions, Spending Bills Await Actions; 17 Legislative Days Remain
Shafroth, Frank, Nation's Cities Weekly
The 105th Congress--transfixed by the special report delivered from the Special Prosecutor about President Clinton last week--has less than 17 legislative days left before its scheduled adjournment. But it has yet to pass and send any of the controversial 13 annual spending bills necessary to keep the federal government operating after October 1.
The combination of the specter of impeachment, the shortness of time to complete action on the hotly disputed annual spending bills, and the commitment of House GOP leaders to enact legislation this session to provide for up to $80 billion in new tax subsidies leaves little room for other priorities and action.
The annual spending bills will determine the fate of the summer jobs program, the local public safety block grant program, the year 2000 census, public housing reform, and disaster mitigation efforts.
The little time left means there will be less time to work out differences and pass NLC-supported bankruptcy or regulatory reform legislation. It means that it will be harder for Congress to pass NLC-opposed efforts on Internet or railroad preemption.
It means this Congress will achieve no progress on adopting a budget or dealing with the looming insolvencies of Social Security and Medicare.
Tax & Budget
With so little time left, House and Senate leaders have dropped efforts to reach agreement on a budget resolution for next year. Instead they are near an agreement to violate last year's Balanced Budget Act and adopt as much as $80 billion in new tax breaks and subsidies over the next five years, mostly focused on the so-called "marriage penalty" and extending expiring tax breaks. Instead of paying for the new federal subsidies with offsetting new revenues or cuts in federal entitlement spending, the leaders are near an agreement to simply borrow the money against what they hope will be a federal budget surplus.
The agreement goes against commitments made by the President and the Senate earlier this year to preserve any surplus unless and until a long-term agreement on social Security solvency is achieved. However, because the agreement is inconsistent with federal budget rules, the tax cuts will require a 60 vote margin in the Senate to pass and go to the President for approval.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (RN.M.) signaled possible Senate agreement, but only if the federal surplus is also used "for possible emergency or additional spending" to meet domestic needs. The agreement would seem to rule out proposals by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) for new tax subsidies and breaks in excess of $1 trillion.
The White House, high tech industry, and some members of the Senate are pressing to move some version of the Internet Tax Freedom Act before this Congress' scheduled adjournment early next month. The Senate, depending upon how Congress moves on the Starr report, has less than 17 legislative days left, during which time it must enact 13 annual appropriations bills, and during which time the GOP clearly intends to pass a tax cut bill. …