Congress into the Sunset

October 04, 1992

In its latter days, the Democratic-controlled 102nd Congres is a little schizophrenic. Rushing toward adjournment, it is at once passing some legislation of real substance (an energy bill, ratification of the strategic arms reduction treaty), forcing President Bush to veto some politically embarrassing bills (family leave, normal trading relations with China) and passing a raft of appropriations bills shorn of controversy to deny the president ammunition for his "gridlock Congress" charge.

This is hardly an inspiring finish to a Congress that started out well with a statesmanlike debate on the gulf war and then became enmeshed in a lingering recession, internal scandals and partisan feuds of unusual intensity.

If this Congress is to make any kind of a record as it prepares to go home, it will be in passage of the first thoroughgoing revision of energy policy in two decades. This bill may provide a comeback for commercial nuclear power as memories of the Three Mile Island disaster fade and spur oil-import savings through everything from better light bulbs to ethanol. Though the environmental lobby is not pleased, this is a measure Mr. Bush probably will -- and should -- sign.

In contrast, an education bill ensnarled in disputes over Mr. Bush's efforts to provide choice in the selection of schools -- a threat to public education -- is being killed, and should be. It is an example of the unproductive political/ideological wars that have given incumbency a bad name.

Whether the next Congress, with a near-record number of new members in the House, can cure its institutional ills remains to be seen. The Senate voted to cut the $2.3 billion congressional budget by 15 percent over three years. Don't count on it. This was a campaign gesture. Sen. Barbara Mikulski. D-Md., who is up for re-election, voted for the bill; Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., who does not face the voters until 1994, did not.

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