|MAKING THE CONTRACT|
March 26, 1996
KWAME HOLMAN: In a rare floor appearance, Speaker Newt Gingrich, himself, opened this morning's session of the House. He came to praise the Republican majority's legislative progress thus far, including work on House Republicans' Contract With America.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: I think this Congress can be proud of its commitment to reform and the serious practical common sense work we are engaged in to give the American people a better government at lower cost, with better services.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans say in this election year, it's critical for them to pass legislation they've promised, and with little legislative action in the first three months of this year, the pace suddenly has picked up dramatically. But House Majority Leader Dick Armey says that's nothing unusual.
REP. DICK ARMEY, Majority Leader: I would consider pretty regular, quite frankly, what you see happening in every Congress. The first session of Congress creates an awful lot of work, but then all of a sudden you find yourself with a backlog of things that are able to be brought to the floor. It's the most regular thing in the world. We've done it every, every year I've seen, as you move from the first session to the second session, and so I see nothing particularly unpredictable or extraordinary about it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Just yesterday lone the House completed action on three items from the Contract With America, the Presidential line-item veto, an increase in the earnings limit for Social Security recipients, and a bill to reduce federal regulations on small businesses. The Senate has passed all three and the President has indicated he will sign them into law.
SPOKESMAN: HR956, an act to establish legal standards and procedures for product liability litigation for other purposes.
KWAME HOLMAN: And today, the House passed another contract item, a product liability bill that would limit damages people could collect in lawsuits against manufacturers. As they have been throughout this Congress, Democrats were contemptuous of the bill and the Republican contract.
REP. JOHN DINGELL, (D) Michigan: They will get what they really want, not a law but a campaign issue. We've reached the bottom of the barrel when for pure partisan gains, Republicans won't let Democrats who agree with them work with them or participate in the legislative process. And once again, we've seen, as has happened so many times in this Republican Congress, the constituents who need real action are getting just promises and press conferences and not real action. They will be the losers.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic leaders echo that sentiment. David Bonior of Michigan is House Minority Whip.
REP. DAVID BONIOR, (D) Michigan: Well, they have moved some things today, but the problem is most of the things that they have moved over this past couple of weeks will have hurt the American families that have helped the American family. They could have done something on the minimum wage, you know. So there's a lot of harm being done to families and seniors and workers in this country by this Congress. They may be moving a few things this week, but they're moving the wrong things.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate too is part of the high-gear legislating. It passed the product liability bill last week, so it now goes to President Clinton, who has said he will veto it. The scorecard on the remainder of Contract With America legislation is a mixed bag. Three items having Congress comply with federal work place laws restricting unfunded federal mandates on the states and increasing defense spending have been signed into law by President Clinton. But the contract also called for reform of the federal welfare system and a tax cut for middle income families. Both those items went down as part of the Republican budget bill vetoed by President Clinton last year. But Republicans plan to bring them up again this year.
REP. DICK ARMEY: Since, in fact, so many of the really big issues of, of entitlement spending reform, welfare reform, tax reduction for the American people get wrapped up into the budget cycle, I'm sure it's going to be a very exciting summer.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House and Senate have completed work on anti-crime measures, another contract item. differences between the bills are being worked out in a House-Senate Conference. The contract also contained two constitutional amendments, one to require a federal balanced budget--it passed the House but failed in the Senate--and an amendment to limit congressional terms. That was rejected in the House and will be taken up by the Senate next month.
REP. DICK ARMEY: I think the contract's right on schedule, and I am still confident that by the time we finish this Congress we will have passed at least 80 percent of the contract items to the President and at least 50 percent of those items will have been signed into law by the President.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: They're not going to come close to getting 80 percent of the contract done because, you know, the American people don't want them to get 80 percent of the contract done. They don't like the contract. 70 percent of the American people now that have looked at what is going on here in this Congress says they don't approve of what they're doing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Such differences have provided the backdrop for partisan battles throughout this Congress, and they continued today. Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on funding and policy issues for major parts of the federal government for the rest of the year.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, Chairman, Appropriations Committee: We have to come back in a few days after the recess and complete our business. In fact, I really don't think that it'll take very long, assuming that the leadership is able to work with the White House and that we get the cooperation from all parties, Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, that we've had over the last few days.
KWAME HOLMAN: So for the 12th time since September, they agreed to disagree and passed a temporary funding bill for those parts of the government. It's scheduled to run out April 24th, less than a week after Congress returns from its Spring break.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Late this afternoon, the President signed the Social Security earnings increase. It was included in a bill that increases the ceiling on the national debt.