Time's running out for Clinton's bills in Congress

September 11, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Several of President Clinton's main legislative proposals, which attracted relatively little attention while the spotlight was on his plan for universal health insurance, seem now to be in danger of dying in the five or six weeks remaining in the 103rd Congress.

Republicans in the Senate are trying to block a bill that would permit a global free-trade agreement to go into effect. House and Senate negotiators are miles apart on a measure to rewrite campaign finance rules.

Other important bills in trouble are those that would expand competition in the telecommunications industry, impose higher fees for mining on federal land, permit banks to open out-of-state branches, and extend the Superfund law that requires polluters to clean up toxic wastes.

The lawmakers reconvene tomorrow after their summer recess and will probably adjourn no later than the third week in October. That is a short time to address the many matters still on the agenda. Measures such as welfare reform that are not already far along in the pipeline stand no chance of enactment.

But administration officials say they expect the snags to be worked out on some of these measures, such as the trade and Superfund bills. Approval of these bills, they say, would give Mr. Clinton and Democrats in Congress a political boost going into the November elections, even if little can be salvaged from the president's health proposal.

But Republicans, aiming for a big victory at the polls Nov. 8, seem determined to block bills that could improve the Democrats' prospects.

Here is the outlook for some of the main legislation this fall:

* TRADE -- Last December, after years of negotiations, the United States and more than 100 other countries concluded one of the broadest trade agreements in history. It would cut tariffs around the world by a third and expand the free-trade rules of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to cover new industries ranging from farming to accounting.

The bill that would allow U.S. participation in the trade agreement seemed headed for clear sailing. Then last month, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the Republican minority leader, said approval of the legislation should be delayed until next year because of questions about its cost and its effect on U.S. labor and environmental laws.

Such a delay would be a serious international embarrassment Mr. Clinton, since all the countries that have signed the pact have agreed informally that it should go into effect on Jan. 1. Unless Mr. Dole changes his mind, the measure stands little chance of passage this year.

* COMMUNICATIONS -- The Clinton administration and most lawmakers would like to allow cable television and telephone companies to enter each other's markets and make it easier for the regional Bell companies to compete in the long-distance telephone business. The House has passed such a bill. But the legislation has run into trouble over details in the Senate and has no better than an even chance of becoming law.

* BANKING -- A bill that would permit banks to open branches across state lines has cleared a Senate-House conference committee but has run into an unusual procedural snag in the Senate. Still, the prevailing view is that a compromise will be reached and that the bill will become law before the end of the year.

* CAMPAIGN FINANCE -- Last year, the Senate and House passed separate bills that would set voluntary spending ceilings for congressional candidates, provide incentives for compliance and limit contributions from interest groups.

But for almost a year now, negotiators from the Senate and House have been unable to resolve their differences, and the impasse seems unbreakable for now.

* LOBBYING -- The prospects are much better for legislation now before a House-Senate conference committee that would tighten the laws on registration and disclosure by lobbyists and restrict the gifts and other favors lawmakers could accept.

* SUPERFUND -- The Superfund law, which requires polluters to pay to clean up toxic waste, expires at the end of this month. Almost everyone agrees that it must be extended and improved to avoid the protracted litigation that has tied the program in knots. Since enough money has been appropriated already to last through much of next year, Congress may well put the matter off until 1995.

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