Congress: Why come back? Little zip, little resolve: Two years after the Gingrich Revolution, GOP leadership falters.


AS THE 105TH Congress reassembles this week after its spring break, some of its members and a lot of its constituents may wonder why. Why has it done so little? Why are its prospects so dim? Why even come back to an agenda that is practically non-existent and a work schedule limited to one and half days a week?

Just two years ago, after the First Hundred Days of the Gingrich Revolution, members of the House were ebullient -- and exhausted. They had logged 296 hours of legislative time their first two months. This year's total: 58 hours. Two years ago, they had passed much of the GOP "Contract with America" and were raring to downsize the welfare state. This year, ethically challenged Speaker Newt Gingrich asks why "the winning team feels defeated" and why "people walk around with long jaws."

While Mr. Gingrich buttressed his position with his trip to China, some of his troops suspect he has lost control. The speaker still can celebrate the forced conversion of President Clinton to balanced-budget orthodoxy. But with the spring break over and the administration decidedly unhelpful, it is still unclear whether the Republicans will come up with a fiscal 1998 budget proposal of their own or merely try to rewrite Mr. Clinton's blueprint. Either way, deficit reduction is getting backloaded into the next century.

Over on the Senate side, the question is whether there is sufficient resolve for ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention by an April 29 deadline. Despite Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's wooing of Sen. Jesse Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vows continued opposition.

As for substantive legislation, a scandal-weakened president and faltering GOP leadership may not come up with much. A House bill banning so-called "partial birth abortions" and another permitting comp time for overtime may not survive Clinton vetoes. The president's sweet talk on education is starting to get the scrutiny it deserves. Staff-level budget negotiations over the recess got nowhere. This Congress could wind up lackluster at best.

If so, many citizens won't fret. In the crazy chemistry of a working democracy, a do-nothing Congress may reflect the wishes of citizens whose greater fear is that it may do something.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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