APRIL 19, 1996
Kwame Holman reports on the past seven days in Congress. One of the busiest legislative weeks in recent months saw a reversal of fortune for the majority Republicans and Senate majority leader Senator Bob Dole.
KWAME HOLMAN: Only rarely does the House or Senate vote on anything of importance on a Monday, particularly following a two-week recess. Monday generally is considered a travel day to allow members to return to Washington, giving them the full weekend to spend at home with family and constituents. But this past Monday was April 15th, tax day, and the House Republican leadership scheduled a vote not on just any piece of legislation but on an amendment to the Constitution requiring any future tax increase to be approved by a legislative super majority--2/3 of the House and Senate. An overwhelming number of Republicans supported the idea.
REP. JOHN SHADEGG, (R) Arizona: If we make it harder, somewhat harder, as this constitutional amendment would do, to exact additional tax dollars from the people of this nation, then this Congress and the federal government will spend the money which it has more judicially.
KWAME HOLMAN: Most Democrats, however, voted against the bill.
REP. PAT SCHROEDER, (D) Colorado: You know, Mr. Speaker, I find this debate fascinating, like it's really easy to get a majority to lift taxes here, like people just love to run out and vote to lift taxes. Well, that is absolutely ridiculous! That is the hardest vote ever.
KWAME HOLMAN: Most members voted in favor of requiring super majority approval to raise taxes, but amending the Constitution requires a 2/3 majority, and the vote on Monday fell 37 votes short. The Senate, meanwhile, scheduled no votes on Monday but hoped to get off to a fast start on Tuesday with action on an immigration reform bill. Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson has spent much of his Senate career focused on immigration reform.
SEN. ALAN SIMPSON, (R) Wyoming: This issue is such a marvelous issue, it's filled simply with emotion, fear, guilt, and racism, and it's a political loser. It's never pushed me up a peg in political life, but somebody has to do this particular work.
KWAME HOLMAN: But just as Simpson rolled out the immigration bill, the wheels fell off.
SPOKESMAN: Mr. President.
SPOKESMAN: Objection is heard. The Senator from North Dakota.
KWAME HOLMAN: First, North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan tried to attach to the immigration bill an unrelated but nevertheless allowable amendment. It promised the Senate would protect the Social Security trust fund if Congress ever passes a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Simpson was frustrated.
SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: We are doing an immigration bill. We are not doing Social Security. We are not doing balanced budgets this morning. I'm fully aware that those are the subjects that would liked to be addressed by the Senator from North Dakota.
KWAME HOLMAN: Simpson and Dorgan went back and forth for several minutes, seeking permission to speak with Arizona's John Kyle in the chair trying to keep the peace.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN, (D) North Dakota: I'm trying to understand whether the right of recognition on the floor of the Senate has changed because I've read the rule book about the right of recognition.
SEN. JOHN KYLE: The Senator from Wyoming had the floor, did not lose the floor.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: But, Mr. President, Mr. President, in parliamentary inquiry, that is not the way the Senate operates.
KWAME HOLMAN: Then it was the turn of Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy. He tried to attach to the immigration bill an amendment to increase the minimum wage.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) Massachusetts: We have been unable to get consideration of that measure now for over a year, and all we wanted, we have seen 56 members of the Senate, bipartisan again, who have indicated that they wanted to address that issue. We're still denied an opportunity to consider a bill on its own merits.
KWAME HOLMAN: At that point, Majority Leader Bob Dole came to the floor. He saw the immigration bill being loaded down with extraneous legislation, so Dole pulled it from consideration.
SEN. BOB DOLE, Majority Leader: And if we're going to be frustrated by efforts on the other side to hold the bill hostage, that's up to them. They can make it happen. Then they can explain that to the voters in November.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Dole was stung again yesterday during consideration of a health care bill sponsored by Senators Kassebaum and Kennedy. The bill would make it easier for workers to carry their health insurance from one job to another. Dole tried to add a medical savings account provision to the bill that would allow families to save $4,000 a year tax free to pay medical bills. But the amendment was defeated on a 52/46 vote. Dole held out hope he might succeed later, when the Senate bill and the House version are merged.
SEN. BOB DOLE: And I would say with reference to the last vote, I think it was a close vote. And as one of the conferees on the tax side, I think there will still be opportunities in conference.
KWAME HOLMAN: Final action on the Senate bill was put off until next week. Both Houses of Congress, however, moved quickly this week to pass new anti-terrorism legislation. Members wanted to complete action on the bill and send it to the President by today, the one year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
REP. DEBORAH PRYCE, (R) Ohio: Mr. Speaker, the devastating terrorist attack that took place in Oklahoma City nearly one year ago today serves as a poignant and powerful reminder that the threat to domestic terrorism is a very real and present danger in our society.
KWAME HOLMAN: The legislation makes it more difficult for groups associated with terrorism to operate and raise money in the United States. Another provision makes it harder for state prison inmates to appeal their convictions in federal court. The measure also would limit appeals by Death Row inmates, which is expected to accelerate the rate of execution. The bill passed both Houses by wide margins, but there were those opponents who objected to linking the various issues in the bill.
REP. JOSEPH KENNEDY, (D) Massachusetts: I am a strong supporter of the death penalty in this country, but why is it necessary to link the death penalty and the constitutional guarantees of habeas corpus to a terrorism bill. This is just a political deal. It's a political deal to get votes on the right to get them to link up and vote for a bill that should stand on its own hind legs. It should stand on its own fore legs.
REP. HENRY HYDE, (R) Illinois: If someone gets convicted of bombing a building and killing people, people who are the victims of that and survivors would like to be sure that the appeals can't go on and on and on and on as they do now. And so bringing to closure and bringing the sentence that is imposed into reality does have something to do with bombing buildings, and that has something to do with terrorism.
KWAME HOLMAN: As for raising the minimum wage, it appears supporters will get that chance, especially since a group of House Republican moderates came out this week and endorsed the idea.
REP. NANCY JOHNSON, (R) Connecticut: This is simply fairness, and this will provide a level of economic strength that the nation depends upon.
KWAME HOLMAN: And in an interview with Jim Lehrer on Wednesday, Majority Leader Dole said a vote can be expected in the Senate as well.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Majority Leader: We're looking at maybe some way we can formulate an increase in the minimum wage plus some other features of an amendment that the Democrats might not be so crazy about.
KWAME HOLMAN: Those features might include some small business tax cuts to help them offset the wage hike. That could set the stage for more political fireworks next week.