Long list of issues faces Congress

September 07, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Congress returns from vacation today to confront the heaviest variety of complex legislative issues it has faced in many years, while hoping to improve its standing with the public by seeking solutions to the nation's toughest problems.

None of this fall's issues may prove to be as challenging as President Clinton's budget bill, which barely passed in both houses last month. But the vote on the North American Free Trade Agreement may be as close, and the health care overhaul may be even more complicated, even though both may well attract a level of bipartisan cooperation all but unseen in the 103rd Congress.

The range of the agenda awes many lawmakers. Even without health and trade, Congress would have a heavy fall schedule with commitments to act on these issues:

* Additional spending cuts will be needed, because leaders in August fell $4 billion short of their goal of $500 billion in deficit reduction.

* Crime and handgun control will be back. A Republican filibuster killed the legislation in the Senate last year after the House passed it by a 205-203 vote in 1991.

* Campaign finance will generate intense debate, with neither party wanting to give the other any possible advantage, and incumbents generally seeing the current system as satisfactory because it elected them.

* Procedural changes within Congress itself will be sought, but, like legislation on lobbying and campaign spending, this seems to many legislators like pandering to noisy reformers.

* Immigration will be addressed, but while there is widespread agreement on the need to tighten up on phony asylum claims, the agreement begins to unravel with the tugs of civil liberties claims.

The priority list does not stop there. The savings and loan cleanup still needs money. The extension on unemployment benefits is about to expire. Republicans fear that education legislation is aimed at too much national control. And abortion is almost certain to cause some sharp legislative battles.

The issues will test the Clinton administration's ability to build coalitions and muster grass-roots support.

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