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Cheney takes transition effort to Capitol Hill

GOP vice presidential nominee Richard Cheney traveled to Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with a variety of House members and senators, as it appeared more likely he will become the nation's next Vice President.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., speaking to reporters after meeting with Cheney this afternoon, said he is anxious to move forward on next year's agenda.

"It may not be a long agenda, but it's a very important agenda," he said.

Lott added that he was developing a list of issues to offer the Bush transition team and that the first thing Congress can do to facilitate the new agenda is to finish work on the old one and leave town.

"We need to be home with our constituents and family," he said.

Lott said key issues next year would be developing an energy policy, shoring up defense capabilities, and passing items that have broad, bipartisan agreement such as education reform, managed care reform and a patients' bill of rights.

Besides meeting with Lott and a group of Senate GOP moderates, Cheney also talked with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who is expected to be the next Senate Finance Committee chairman if Republicans organize the Senate. They discussed the broad outlines of a tax agenda if GOP nominee George W. Bush becomes President. Grassley said there is "a lot of bipartisan consensus" around at least two tax cuts Bush proposed during the campaign: repealing the so-called marriage penalty and the estate tax.

But Grassley also said, "There is an indication that we could be in the beginning of the Clinton recession," and said an economic downturn might call for a combination of tax cuts that would include "some sort of rate cut that could be a stimulant on the economy." He predicted that Democrats "may be open to some sort of a rate cut."

House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox of California hit the same themes after his meeting with Cheney, saying, "There are two or three items that are shelf-ready and have the support of two thirds of the members of Congress." Those are the repeal of the telephone excise tax, estate tax and so-called marriage penalty.

Grassley said he suggested the meeting because he did not want to wait until the State of the Union address to find out "where they're coming from." He also mentioned prescription drugs and entitlement reform.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Bush "needs to get his tax bill through," and mentioned the marriage penalty and estate tax reductions, as well as rate cuts, but said Republicans may need to compromise with Democrats on one of their priorities--prescription drugs.

On what he called a "special organizational challenge" of getting the budget to Capitol Hill on time, Cox said the delay in getting the transition under way has meant that Bush aides have had no access since the election to Office of Management and Budget information that would have been helpful in formulating a budget.

Just the same, the new President's budget will be due in early February and Cox said, "We in Congress have an interest in keeping that on track." Noting precedents, he said it was possible that the budget could be a bit late and suggested it might be worth looking at changing the law to anticipate delays that can happen--particularly in election years.