General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine


Legislative Update/E. E. Anderson

The 105th Congress

© American Bar Association. All rights reserved. E. E. Anderson, a retired general in the U.S. Marine Corps, is the director of the Solo and Small Firms Division of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.

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Some columnists have written that President Clinton has not enacted a major initiative since the spring of 1993, when he narrowly won a sharp increase in income tax rates. In that year, under a Democratic-controlled Congress, his economic stimulus program was turned down, and then his initiative for the federal government to take over the entire health care industry failed to pass.

Following those losses, President Clinton appears to have given up on his significant reform ideas. He has, however, gone along with Republican proposals that were politically acceptable to him. Yet the president, while barnstorming for campaign contributions, labels the present Congress the "Do-Nothing GOP Congress."

While not as productive as many Republicans had anticipated, the 105th Congress, during its first session, reached an agreement with the president to balance the budget by 2002. The Republicans, however, were unable to muster the super-majorities needed to pass constitutional amendments requiring a balanced budget and impose term limits or to override President Clinton’s veto of the bill banning later-term abortions.

With the start of the second session of the 105th Congress, there did not appear to be any urgency in moving forward a strong legislative agenda. The Republicans in the House and Senate squabbled over tax cuts, prevented the adoption of a joint budget resolution, and set the stage for the long delays in passage of appropriations bills. By delaying their actions until the close of the fiscal year on September 30, they provided more leverage for the president, as they did in 1995, when the president vetoed stopgap funding bills, and the Republicans were blamed for the Christmas shutdown of the federal government.

To avoid another government shutdown, five successive continuing resolutions were passed to keep the government running through midnight on October 20. Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and other senior administration officials were closeted with Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), working on deals to resolve the budget impasse.

Agreement on a gigantic bill, the Omnibus Fiscal 1999 Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4328)—containing eight appropriation bills, a $9 billion tax bill, and $20 billion in off-budget emergency funding—was finally reached on October 16. This bill is 16 inches tall, weighs 40 pounds, and includes handwritten marginal notes, e-mail printouts, and some unnumbered and misnumbered pages.

Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) called the bill a gargantuan "monstrosity." He went on to say, "[It] is the creation without a mother or father—rather more like a Frankenstein creature," and that "no member understands completely what is in the legislation." Echoing Republican sentiments, Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-IN) commented: "It does not provide tax relief for the American people; [and] it uses one-third of next year’s surplus for next year’s spending."

On October 20, the House passed the bill by a vote of 333-95, over the objections of many fiscal conservatives. Significantly, more Democrats voted for its passage than Republicans. The Senate passed the measure on October 21, by a vote of 65-29, and the president signed it into law as P.L. 105-277 the same day. While both sides are declaring victory, it appears that the Democrats hold the edge, and it has been said that any remaining vestiges of a Republican revolution to produce leaner budgets and more open law-making have been squashed by the weight of this massive bill.

Census Sampling

In 1792, George Washington used the first presidential veto in history when he disagreed with the way Congress decided to apportion itself based on the 1790 census. Ever since that 1790 census, the accuracy of other censuses has been questioned. Concerned about alleged problems with the 1990 census, which purportedly missed an estimated 8.4 million people and double-counted another 4.4 million, the Census Bureau proposed the use of a sampling plan for the 2000 census to produce better accuracy.

Such a plan would count 90 percent of the population and project the remaining 10 percent. The Bureau estimates that by implementing this plan, the cost for the 2000 census would be $4 billion. Interestingly, the cost for the 1990 census was $2.6 billion, yet it was less accurate than the 1980 census that cost $1.1 billion.

Republicans reject the new census plan; Democrats support it. The battle between the Republicans and Democrats over this issue is caused by two powerful forces—money and politics. With respect to money, census results determine how billions of dollars in annual federal spending are distributed through many grant programs, such as Medicaid, health insurance for the poor and disabled, educational assistance to poor children, job training, and even some grants from the new highway transportation law (P.L. 105-178).

From the political perspective, census results form the basis for redrawing boundary lines for congressional districts, as well as for state legislative districts. Some Republicans warn that sampling could make vulnerable 24 of their House seats, in a body where they have a razor-thin majority. Democrats contend that those who fail to be counted are minorities, people in the inner cities, and those in the rural areas. Those people usually vote for the Democratic party. Republicans recognize this and express their concern that a Democratic administration would use the census to benefit their party and its candidates.

With no compromise seemingly possible, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would stop funding of the Census Bureau on March 31, 1999, unless the dispute is resolved over how the 2000 census will be conducted. In response, President Clinton said that he would veto not just the Census Bureau’s planned funding, but the entire fiscal appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce, State, and Justice that contains the funding for the Census Bureau.

In June, House Republicans, led by Speaker Gingrich, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, contending that sampling is illegal because the Constitution requires an "actual enumeration" every ten years. According to the lawyer representing the Republicans, "the word ‘enumerate,’ in every dictionary at the time, said to count one-by-one or reckon singularly."

Another similar lawsuit was filed by a legal aid organization in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. In deciding these lawsuits, both federal district courts declared that sampling is illegal. The Clinton administration appealed the decisions, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear the issue in U.S. Commerce Department v. House of Representatives, on its calendar for this term.

With both sides being intransigent on the sampling matter, a compromise on Census Bureau funding was reached on October 15 and is included in P.L. 105-277. The compromise contains funding for the Departments of Commerce, State, and Justice until June 15, 1999. At that time, funding stops unless a new agreement is reached. The compromise also provides the Census Bureau with $75 million in additional monies, but the monies must be used only for facilitating a census by the traditional "enumeration" method, and not a count by sampling. Although pleasing to neither party, this compromise will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to rule on the constitutionality of statistical sampling in the conduct of the census, and give both parties sufficient time to resolve their differences.

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The $17.9 billion in IMF funding is also contained in the Omnibus Fiscal 1999 Appropriations bill. The request for this funding was debated in the House for months, pitting Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) against Appropriations Committee Chair Robert L. Livingston (R-LA). Armey has long contended that the program only encourages countries to believe that they will be bailed out after making poor economic decisions. Livingston has supported funding of all of President Clinton’s IMF requests. There is more to this disagreement than just Armey’s opposition to IMF funding and Livingston’s support. Livingston has stated that he will vie for the Speaker’s chair if Gingrich steps down to run for president after the 1998 elections.

American business leaders and farm groups came out in favor of IMF funding, contending that IMF loans to foreign governments are vital to reviving American farm and other exports to foreign economies damaged by the global financial crisis. Finally, on October 15, it was agreed that the $17.9 billion requested would be provided to the IMF. To make the agreement more palatable to Armey and other House Republicans, reform provisions were added, including:

• IMF loan recipients must liberalize their trade restrictions and eliminate government-directed lending on noncommercial terms.

• IMF must provide public disclosure of full written summaries of Executive Board meetings and letters of intent, within three months after they are executed.

• A temporary bipartisan advisory commission will meet with the Treasury Secretary, and conduct hearings and examine matters relating to the future role of international financial institutions.

• The Federal Reserve Chair is required to push for these reforms. Both the Chair and the Treasury Secretary must notify Congress when the major shareholders of the IMF have agreed, and will act, to implement the reforms outlined in the bill.

While the reforms the Republicans extracted from the administration are not as stringent as demanded earlier, they do put the IMF on notice that its policies will be scrutinized to a much greater degree in the future. The Treasury Department has indicated that it expects no problems in getting the other major contributors to endorse these reforms. Once the United States commits its $17.9 billion, other nations are expected to make their contributions and the IMF will have $90 billion in "useable resources" to lend to financially strapped countries.

The IMF Managing Director, Michel Camdessus, commented: "From what I have seen, these are constructive suggestions that will help us pursue reforms that we have already started." In remarks delivered on October 15, Majority Leader Armey agreed: "I never thought that I’d have a day when I would have a hand in these reforms. But the IMF will no longer be able to engage in transactions as they’ve done that have been harmful, harmful to the people in the nations, while too attentive to the high rollers in international finance." CL

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