• U.S.

End of A Mean Season

2 minute read

THE “PEOPLE’S BUSINESS,” AS the work of the U.S. Congress is often called, began on a note of high drama back in January 1991, when members of the 102nd class of representatives debated the wisdom of going to war in the Persian Gulf. How quickly they fell. From the sordid hearings concerning the sexual proclivities of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to bounced checks at the House Bank and mismanagement at the House Post Office, this Congress thereafter rarely contrived to escape the mire of its own making. And when on occasion it did, its effectiveness was usually blunted by political posturing. No wonder a record 72 incumbents have announced plans to retire.

Before limping out of Washington last week, Congress did manage to approve a bill that would create 50 new enterprise zones and offer $28 billion in tax breaks, such as expanded benefits for individual retirement accounts and a repeal of the luxury taxes on expensive boats, furs and jewelry. Even though the measure incorporated a number of elements of his own economic program, George Bush, mindful of the promise he made last summer not to raise taxes “ever, ever,” vowed to veto the legislation because it included some tax increases.

The single assertion of independence by these lawmakers occurred at the end of the session, when they managed the first and only override of a presidential veto, out of 35 during Bush’s term. The 74-25 vote in the Senate and a 308-114 vote in the House came on a bill to reregulate the cable television industry.

Successful as they were on the cable bill, this Congress failed to address the nation’s most pressing problems. The only exception was a wide-ranging energy bill that would require greater efficiency in everything from shower heads to heating plants. No health-care proposal reached the floor in either the House or the Senate for debate. A major crime bill, containing a waiting period for handgun purchases, was stalled by a small group of Republicans. And the only programs designed to address the nation’s economic slump were votes taken to extend unemployment benefits to the 9.6 million Americans who are out of work. At week’s end it was difficult to say who was most eager for the lawmakers to adjourn: Bush or the public. Or maybe even the members themselves.

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