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Lawmakers Have Their Work Cut Out For Them

If Republican members of Congress are to run for re-election in November on a strong  record of accomplishment, they will need to carry the frenetic pace set in the weeks before Congress' two-week April recess into the 40 or so legislative days remaining this year.

House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey, R-Texas, acknowledged as much in a letter to GOP colleagues just before the recess: "When we left town for the February recess, Til be the first to admit that we were in somewhat of a muddle. March was a kk 'transition month a staging ground for our climb back into the game," he continued.

The GOP will begin the climb on rather high ground after a March in which Congress passed several measures included in the Contract With America, the agenda that House Republicans drew up in 1994 and promised they would send to President Clinton before the 1996  elections. Contract measures signed by Clinton in March and April include:



• Legislation empowering the president to veto specific spending line items and limited tax breaks—those that lose revenue and benefit fewer than 100 individuals or companies—in appropriations bills. The new law goes into effect Jan. 1 and runs through Dec. 31, 2004. A regulatory-relief bill that allows small businesses to take federal agencies to court if the agencies fail to consider small-business concerns in drawing up regulations. Small firms also gain the potential to recover some costs involved in such actions.
• An increase in the amount of income retirees may earn before they begin losing Social Security benefits. The earnings limit had been $11,520, after which people over 65 lost $1 in benefits for every $3 earned. The limit will rise to $12,500 this tax year and increase by $1,000 a year until 2000, when it will reach $17,000. In 2001 it will rise to $25,000, and in 2002 it will increase to $30,000. Congress also passed and Clinton reluctantly signed a new^ farm bill, which was not part of the Contract With America but was high on House and Senate  lawmakers' list of things to do before the spring planting season began.

• The law not only ends decades-old federal controls on crop-planting decisions but also is expected to reduce federal spending on farm programs by about $10 billion by the year 2000. The most important business-backed measure passed by Congress in March—but one that Clinton has said he would veto—was bipartisan legislation to replace the current crazy quilt of state product-liability laws with a uniform federal statute. Such legislation, wrhich was also included in the Contract With America, has been a top business priority for more than 15 years.

• According to the House majority leader's office, representatives hoping to run on their accomplishments still need to advance at least some tax-related measures—most likely to include a proposed constitutional amendment requiiing a two-thirds vote of Congress to raise taxes, or a bill giving taxpayers newT lights in dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. Armey also suggests that lawmakers must pass at least one environmental bill and a measure to reduce the size of the federal government. The Senate's plate is even fuller. Items scheduled for votes soon would limit congressional terms and protect the lights of citizens if government actions significantly diminish the value of their property.

• Other bills set for Senate votes before Memorial Day include a measure that would further restrict illegal immigration. Even though Congress and the White House have yet to agree on a final fiscal 1996 budget plan and spending bills for many parts of the government, they will have to begin working on the budget outline and spending bills for fiscal 1997.

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