Goals met, House GOP takes break

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans completed Phase II of the Republican revolution before leaving yesterday for a month-long recess, having survived sharp philosophical differences to complete work on a vast reordering of federal spending.

Exhausted but ebullient, GOP leaders of the House and Senate said they were confident of delivering to the White House this fall detailed legislation to achieve their top two goals: balancing the budget by 2002 and shrinking Medicare.

"The message the American people sent us last November is as powerful today as it was then: Rein in the federal government, return power to the states, give more power to the people," Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said. "The Republican majority has laid the groundwork to fulfill that mandate."

As a parting gesture, the House managed yesterday to approve a sweeping rewrite of the regulations governing telecommunications to expand competition among cable TV and phone companies. The measure, broader than one already adopted by the Senate, would have profound if uncertain consequences for every consumer in the nation.

The slower-moving Senate was left behind in Washington for another week, toiling away on its version of a House-passed plan to dismantle the welfare system.

President Clinton has threatened to veto nearly all of the 13 separate spending bills approved by the House, as well as the telecommunications overhaul and the Republican redesign of welfare.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia called the giant spending measure for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, approved in the wee hours yesterday morning, "the most difficult bill we'll face."

The strategies that he and others used to unite Republican moderates and conservatives, despite an emotional clash over abortion, will serve as a primer, the speaker said, for the difficult decisions on Medicare and tax cuts awaiting in the fall.

"I think that we're learning how to do it," Mr. Gingrich said of his party's mastery of the legislative process after four decades as the minority party.

Democrats, criticizing what they called the tight-fisted tone, pro-business bias and conservative ideological bent of the bills the Republicans have rushed through, nevertheless acknowledged the GOP's efficiency.

"The Republicans began this session promising to make history -- and they certainly have," said Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, the House Democratic whip. "This is the most hardhearted, shortsighted, suck-up-to-the-rich-and-soak-the-middle-class Congress in history."

In fact, the breathtaking scope and pace of the action over the past few weeks -- particularly in the House -- made the first 100 days of the House Republicans' "Contract with America" seem like a mere warm-up exercise.

Tempers were often short, though, in the final days as stress and lack of sleep took their toll. The House repeatedly erupted into name-calling brawls.

"This is a glorious day for fascists," Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, had shouted during Thursday night's debate.

Rep. Robert S. Walker of Pennsylvania, who was presiding over the House, broke his gavel trying to quiet Mr. Miller before proclaiming that the Californian had "embarrassed" himself by violating House protocol.

"When I get angry, this is regular order," Mr. Miller shot back.

Even so, this summer session of debate over the details of federal spending is merely a prelude to the fierce clash of values between Congress and the veto-minded Clinton White House expected this fall.

Added to the mix this fall will be the two most explosive issues of the year: a reduction of the Medicare program intended to save $270 billion over the next seven years and a $245 billion package of tax cuts for families and businesses.

During the second 100 days or so of the 104th Congress, the Republicans have:

* Approved the deepest cuts ever in social programs to meet a target of $22 billion for this year's down payment on a balanced budget.

* Reordered spending priorities from what Republicans call "giveaways" to individuals, such as heating and cooling assistance to the elderly poor, to the more tangible investments such as military weapons.

* Moved to disarm many of the regulatory agencies -- including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- that they say have prevented U.S. businesses from reaching their full potential to provide jobs and boost the economy.

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