Despite budget bickering, 101st Congress racked up an impressive record

October 28, 1990|By Washington Bureau of The SunKnight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Despite a long and bitter battle over the budget that sometimes made it a laughingstock to the nation's voters, the 101st Congress finished this weekend with an impressive record of legislative achievements.

Besides the budget bill -- the largest deficit-reduction package in history -- Congress approved major legislation to clean up the nation's air, provide child care assistance to low- and middle-income families, reform immigration laws and increase spending on a host of social programs.

"We focused attention back on working families and middle Americans," said House Deputy Whip David Bonior, D-Mich.

And even Democrats were quick to credit President Bush as a major reason why Congress was able to come to grips with issues that had long languished in legislative limbo -- in sharp contrast to their years under Mr. Bush's predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Reagan generally opposed new regulations on business, social programs -- and taxes, and he used his considerable political muscle to block Democratic initiatives.

Mr. Bush has been far more willing to expand the reach of the federal government -- he initiated the clean air bill -- and to compromise with the Democratic congressional majority. Ultimately, that saw him even abandon his "no new taxes" pledge.

That, in turn, produced the budget accord itself.

In round-the-clock work during its final days, Congress put the final touches on the last of 13 major spending bills that will keep the government going for the remainder of this fiscal year -- including sharp cuts in defense spending and major increases in social programs that withered under Mr. Reagan.

"We have dealt with the accumulated problems of a decade," said Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, recalling that the argument over spending and taxes dates back to the beginning of theReagan administration in 1981.

Another decade-long stalemate was broken by passage of a new clean air bill that will reduce toxic emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes and diminish the corrosive effects of acid rain. With Mr. Bush's help, legislators finally overcame the opposition of powerful regional and industrial interests that had kept previous bills bottled up in committee.

Other long-standing issues that Congress addressed and resolved included:

* A rewrite and expansion of federal housing policy to create home-ownership opportunities for the poor, restore the solvency the FHA mortgage-insurance fund, and add to the number of new and rehabilitated low-income housing units. It will cost $57.4 billion over two years.

* A $2.5 billion, three-year child-care grant program to help low- and moderate-income families pay for day-care costs and require states to establish standards for day care centers. Middle-income families already get tax breaks for day-care expenses. It also increased tax credits to low-income working families by $18.2 billion over five years.

* A bill providing more protection against oil spills from tankers and offshore drilling platforms and pipelines.

* A new farm policy bill that is intended to wean farmers away from federal subsidies by dramatically cutting crop support payments and loans and to make them more dependent on the marketplace.

* An increase in the minimum wage to $4.25 from $3.35 an hour.

Other major legislation enacted included:

* A bill providing protections against job and other forms of discrimination for disabled people and expanding handicapped people's right of access to restaurants, transportation systems and workplaces.

* Legislation expanding immigration into this country by 700,000 persons a year, with a new emphasis on admitting skilled workers, professionals and managers.

* A bill requiring nutrition labeling on processed foods that will make it dramatically easier for consumers to determine the nutritional, fat and sodium content of the foods they buy.

* A bill creating a new national service corps of community volunteers to help the hungry and homeless, assist in local environmental programs and provide teachers' aides in economically distressed school districts.

* Legislation empowering local airport authorities to impose a $3 head tax on passengers to raise money for airport expansion and improvements.

But there were also major issues that Congress failed to %J resolve,sometimes because of Mr. Bush.

A civil rights bill reversing Supreme Court decisions that weakened pre-existing protections against sex and racial bias in the workplace passed both houses. But despite a fierce lobbying effort by civil rights and women's groups, Bush vetoed it -- and an override attempt in the Senate fell one vote shy.

Bush also vetoed a family leave bill that would have required employers to grant up to six months of unpaid leave to workers with new children or other major emergencies.

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