Be Prepared for a Heated Washington Summer

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In case you missed them, the nation’s politicians returned from their Memorial Day break on Monday -- and face an agenda that will quickly turn as hot as Washington’s weather. Republicans and Democrats in the House are likely to lock horns early over which of the Senate’s recently approved gun control measures should survive, though the biggest punches are expected to fly later over the parties’ competing budget priorities.

"There could be a major confrontation by early July," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "The administration is gearing up to come out swinging over what it considers to be irresponsible Republican budget priorities." The GOP has sketched out plans for increases in the military that would necessitate large cuts in domestic programs; at the same time the party is opposing new tobacco taxes and user fees on harbors that could help fund some of those domestic programs. Though not all wings of the GOP are on board, the Republican strategy appears to be to set up the tracks so as to raise the possibility of a rail wreck at the end -- forcing President Clinton to raise existing budget caps and have him take the blame for jumping off the domestic austerity train. But the Republican plan is risky. "Historically, Clinton has repeatedly managed to gain the upper hand in budget battles with Congress," says Branegan. In addition, new House Speaker Dennis Hastert has yet to show that he can keep his feisty GOP majority in line for the battle.