The end of this session of Congress brought a flurry of legislation, with the Republican majority scrambling to avoid a "do-nothing" label, and both parties' members anxious for "something to run on" in November. Kwame Holman reports.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: I have seen legislative team work, hard work like I have never seen before, and it has produced results.
KWAME HOLMAN: Even before this busy legislative day began, Republicans already were taking credit for the most productive week of the 104th Congress.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: We've seen Congress go from gridlock to Olympic gold. (applause) And ladies and gentlemen, I'd just like--the ladies' soccer team last night, when they got their gold medal, this is our Olympic gold medal team, right over here in front of us this morning. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Most congressional Republicans will be heading home this weekend to campaign for reelection, and for a while, it appeared they'd be doing so with little to show for their year and a half in the majority. But a burst of legislative activity this week changed all that. On Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly passed a welfare reform bill and yesterday, the Senate did the same. Today, both the House and Senate approved new protections for drinking water by a wide margin. The House also has pushed through a minimum wage increase, health insurance reform, and new anti-terrorism measures all in the last 24 hours.
SPOKESMAN: I hope we can get this bill up, pass it briefly, and send it on to the President.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate, which does not function under the same disciplined rules of debate, still is expected to approve easily all of those measures before it adjourns tomorrow, which is why congressional Republicans were feeling particularly accomplished today.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: There were a couple of difficult stretches in this Congress, and Trent didn't notice ‘em, but a few of you may have noticed an occasional bump in the road. But I think this week truly vindicated a great deal of what we are trying to do. We kept the faith, we kept working, we ignored the critics, we did the serious, hard, difficult work in a free society of listening to everybody and working our way to find a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate and then a majority in the conference between the House and the Senate, and it is precisely as hard as the Founding Fathers intended in order to preserve freedom by distributing power so that no dictator could force it to work. And we find, as volunteers, we can barely figure it out most days, and that is exactly the way it was designed. And the result is a year and a half into this Congress we can be very proud.
KWAME HOLMAN: Five major pieces of legislation this week, and it appears each will be heading to the White House after earning veto-proof majorities, but most of the bills would not have passed so overwhelmingly without first having been modified to satisfy the concerns of a large number of Democrats, the most important one being the President, himself. This morning, President Clinton invited to the White House congressional leaders from his party to congratulate them for their efforts in changing many of the Republican initiatives.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think the American people have a lot to be proud of, and I think the progressive mainstream achievements of this caucus are things that they can go home and be proud of in August. And I have to say that this has been on balance a very good week for the American people.
KWAME HOLMAN: And later at the Capitol, congressional Democrats held their own rally.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Minority Leader: You see standing with me today the reason why Democrats have been so united during the 104th Congress. We've been able to look back and to the best of our knowledge, this is the most united Democrats have been in almost 50 years. I want to publicly thank each and every one of the members of the House and Senate leadership for the extraordinary job that they've done in unifying the Democratic caucuses in both the House and the Senate. That would not have been possible were it not for the tremendous work that we were able to do with the White House in accomplishing our agenda this year.
KWAME HOLMAN: But while members were patting themselves on the back, no one was signaling an end to partisanship.
REP. DAVID BONIOR. Minority Whip: Republican leaders walked up to the podium today to praise this Congress. But the truth is that they had been running away from the issues most important to working families for the past two years. They have done nothing, nothing to help parents send their kids to school. They've done nothing to make college more affordable. They've done nothing to protect pensions. They've done nothing to increase cops on the beat. They've done nothing to keep our environment clean. They've done nothing to make sure women are paid the same as men. They've done nothing to make child care more affordable. It's only because of the total collapse of the Republican agenda that they turned to two Democratic issues and finally worked with us to pass health care portability and to raise the minimum wage. And I'm glad that they did. And I'm glad they finally gave into the public pressure and worked with us to do something for American families. I just wish they hadn't spent 18 months trying to block them. Now to hear the Republican leaders call this Congress a success is like a baseball player who's batted 100 declaring a season a success because they got a few hits in the last game of the season.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: The only problem we've had is a lot of our good work has been subject to vacillation by the President and in far too many instances against the best interest of the American people, vetoed from the President, but we're not giving up. This is a continuing effort. We're going to continue to work for what is right for the women and men and children of America. And it will continue right on through the fall. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: The partisanship was just as fierce during the legislative debate.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) California: Mr. Speaker, today is a good day, not a great day but a good day for the American worker. It is a day that the Republican leadership has finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, in support to raise the minimum wage.
REP. BILL GOODLING, (R) Pennsylvania: Isn't it amazing? I hope the American people have been listening to this discussion. We've heard from the other side today that yesterday we had welfare reform that was a bipartisan effort because 98 Democrats supported it. But the last speaker didn't support it, and then on this side, we had 93 who supported minimum wage. But that's a Democrat program. Isn't that amazing?
REP. CHARLES TAYLOR, (R) North Carolina: The chair believes that displaying the pig in front of the honored ranking member of the Commerce Committee is a breach of decorum of the House and would ask that it be removed.
REP. JOHN DINGELL, (D) Michigan: You mean this little pig, Mr. Speaker, is a breach of the decorum of the House?
REP. BUD SHUSTER, (R) Pennsylvania: Mr. Speaker, I have, I have no objection if the gentleman wants to be identified with a pig in front of him. That's perfectly all right with me.
REP. JOHN DINGELL: Uh, I'm happy to comply with the wishes of the chair. I just want to know what it is that, that the chair is finding inconsistent with the rules of the House. I would observe that this pig would probably be more suitably displayed on the Republican Committee table, but, but if the chair desires that this pig be removed, I will, of course, remove it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Partisanship aside, Republicans now get to go home probably having shed the label of presiding over a do "nothing" Congress. Democrats go home knowing Republicans couldn't have done it without them.
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