GOP launches new era in Congress

January 05, 1995|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans launched their new era yesterday, adopting a House rule that will make it harder to raise federal income tax rates.

The 279-152 vote, mainly along party lines, came after sharp debate in a long day that quickly brought partisan bickering as the GOP began acting on the campaign pledges that helped bring it to power.A key plank in the GOP "Contract with America," the proposal to require a three-fifths vote, instead of a simple majority, to raise income tax rates was backed by the 73-member Republican freshman class. "People work hard for their money," said Rep. Randy Tate, a new Republican from Washington. "It ought to be hard for Congress to take it away from them."

But Democrats warned that the rule change is unconstitutional and is potentially dangerous because it doesn't lessen the pressure on Congress to spend money.

"This makes it easier to run up the bills than it is to pay for them," said Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., a veteran Democrat from Indiana and member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

The House worked into the early morning today to complete its first-day agenda, most of the items winning approval by overwhelming bipartisan margins. Those included votes to cut committee staffs by one-third, to conduct a Republican-led audit of House financial records kept by Democrats for decades, and to limit the term of the speaker to eight years and those of committee chairmen to six years.

The final measure acted upon was legislation to make Congress obey anti-discrimination and other laws it imposes on private businesses. It cleared on a vote of 429-0, almost 14 hours after the House convened.

"Democracy's hard. It's frustrating," said newly elected House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia in a wide-ranging opening address in which he vowed to stick to his party's campaign promises, while promising to listen to all members.

Greeted by chants of "Newt, Newt, Newt, Newt" from jubilant GOP lawmakers, the speaker added: "We were hired to do a job. We have to start today to do it."

Hundreds of visitors who jammed the Capitol for swearing-in ceremonies were treated to an unusually lively opening day on which Republicans in both chambers formally laid out their legislative agendas for the 104th Congress.

Though House Republicans have committed themselves to an ambitious 10-point blueprint that requires them to vote on contentious measures in the next 100 days, Mr. Gingrich said the party has two "giant challenges": balancing the federal budget by the year 2002 and replacing the current "welfare state with an opportunity society."

Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who reclaimed the post of majority leader he last held in the mid-1980s, described his mandate as "reining in" the federal government by curtailing its size, cost and its impact on private citizens through burdensome regulation.

"America has reconnected us with their hopes for a nation made more free by demanding a government that is more limited," Mr. Dole said at a ceremonial Senate opening session that he conceded was much less emotionally charged than that on the House side.

After 34 senators, including 10 freshmen, were sworn-in by Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Dole called a brief recess so his colleagues could watch the doings in the House, where Republicans formally ended 40 years of Democratic control.

While Republicans were ramming through their opening-day agenda in the House, the Democratic minority complained that GOP promises of a more open process were "phony." As Democratic leaders did in the past, the Republican leadership conducted yesterday's debate under rules that prohibited amendments.

"As I look at this reform package, I have to say it's reform lite," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat. "And the Republicans are choking off debate."

House members spent hours in procedural wrangling before planning to take up several high-profile rule changes, including one that would require the House and Senate to abide by the same laws that apply to private industry.

The measure, "The Congressional Accountability Act," passed the House late last night, 249-178.

Democrats made an issue of tighter ethics provisions that would ban gifts of travel and meals from lobbyists, measures which the GOP killed with a filibuster last year.

House Democrats also protested that they were not allowed to offer a change in the rules that would restrict the amount of book royalties lawmakers can receive, a clear shot at the $4.5 million advance Mr. Gingrich turned down under pressure from Democrats and some of his GOP colleagues last week.

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