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Senate Democrats block vote on repeal of gasoline tax rise Maneuver by Dole leads to stalemate, confusion

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats blocked a vote on repealing the 4.3-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax yesterday after Majority Leader Bob Dole sought to link the rollback to an unrelated GOP priority that is vehemently opposed by labor unions.

The stalemate, entangled in legislative details that baffled even leading senators and their aides, also prevented a vote on raising the minimum wage that was backed by Democrats.

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The impasse plunged Senate leaders into private negotiations aimed at untangling matters. It was unclear last night when the dispute would be resolved and the various issues brought up for debate -- and votes.

The gas tax repeal began to unravel in midafternoon as Dole asked for unanimous consent to bring up the issue.

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At that point, Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, won an agreement from Dole also to allow a vote on raising the minimum hourly wage from $4.25 to $5.15, a step the majority leader has prevented for weeks. Both items were widely expected to pass if they came to a vote.

Matters ground to a halt, however, when Dole introduced a third vTC element into the equation. The Republican presidential candidate proposed linking the two issues with another, unrelated piece of legislation: the "Teamwork for Employees and Managers Act," a GOP-promoted bill that would expand the ability of employers to create "employee involvement programs."

Democrats say the measure would undermine unions and other worker protection programs because it would give management authority to chose employees to represent workers in certain situations without union approval.

The measure was approved by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee on a strictly party-line vote in mid-April.

Dole's proposal apparently would have combined all three issues into one bill, according to Senate aides who were reduced to studying a transcript of Dole's remarks to determine precisely what had happened.

Thus, if the three-pronged measure had passed, President Clinton would have been forced to agree to -- or veto -- all three elements. To make up for the estimated $6 billion a year in lost revenue from a gas tax repeal, Senate Republicans proposed cutting the budget of the Department of Energy's travel office and applying the income from the sale of broadcast frequencies.

After Democrats blocked action on the gas-tax repeal, Dole snapped, "I thought the priority was passing the minimum wage." The teamwork act is "just one small, one little amendment," he said.

But Daschle said Democrats strongly object to the so-called TEAM Act because it "gives companies license to set up rump organizations to negotiate with themselves."

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Pub Date: 5/08/96


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