Senate GOP prepares to unveil agenda

Senate GOP prepares to unveil agenda

Senate Republicans met Wednesday, not to discuss impeachment, but to work on the legislative agenda for the 106th Congress that they plan to announce early next week.

Senators said they will propose five bills centering around education, retirement and Social Security, tax cuts, national security, and anti-crime and anti-drug efforts.

During the session, the Republicans also discussed budget rule changes proposed last week by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. Senate GOP Conference Chairman Connie Mack of Florida portrayed the meeting as Republican senators doing the legislative work of the "people", echoing phrases President Clinton has used as the impeachment trial consumes Capitol Hill.

"We are using the time more productively in January and February than we probably have ever before," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Throughout the trial, Senate leaders plan to conduct regular business in the mornings and hear the impeachment case during the afternoon.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., outlined budget rule changes that Republicans hope will facilitate debate over the budget resolution, reconciliation and appropriations bills.

Domenici also introduced a plan to replace the annual budget and appropriations cycles with a two-year budget and appropriations process.

The proposal would define emergency spending as "necessary, sudden, urgent, unforeseen and not permanent," and would require 60 votes to overcome a ruling of the chair that a provision does not meet the emergency criteria.

Republicans also aim to pave the way for tax cuts by not applying pay-go rules when there is an on-budget surplus, and by allowing tax cuts to be paid for by cuts in discretionary spending, which is not allowed under current rules.

The GOP senators also discussed enacting an automatic continuing resolution if an appropriations bill is not passed on time. In that case, funding for the program would revert to the previous year's spending level or the president's budget request, whichever amount is lower.

In addition, Republicans will make a priority of strictly enforcing the existing rule against legislating on an appropriations bill. On the budget resolution and reconciliation bills, they want to reduce debate time and place limits on the number and type of amendments.

Meanwhile, Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, R-Del., circulated a letter Wednesday urging colleagues to support legislation he plans to introduce next week that would create new personal retirement accounts using some of the projected budget surplus while Congress considers Social Security reform.

Roth is planning hearings during the impeachment trial on issues such as Social Security overhaul, presidential fast track trade negotiating authority and the nation's economic outlook.

While individual Senators expressed reservations about specific proposals, a GOP leadership aide said there is "general sentiment to move ahead."

Said the aide: "We know what we've got now is not working too well." He added that "we have systematic hangovers" from past Congresses when Republicans "always end up deep in the hole when battling this administration."

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said the plans "are a good initial start" that will have to be vetted further.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, also said there is solid support for many of the changes, but that he opposes requiring 60 votes to overcome a point of order against "emergency spending."

"I want to make sure we're not limiting our ability to respond to emergencies," Stevens said, citing examples of emergency spending amendments that passed with a bare majority.

But Stevens conceded most of his Republican colleagues disagree with him and favor the 60-vote threshold.

Stevens said Republicans spent part of the day trying to find a way to limit policy riders on appropriations bills "unless they are absolutely necessary."

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