Finally, A Do-Something Congress

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WASHINGTON: The last time an incumbent Democrat sat in the White House and Republicans ruled Capitol Hill, Harry Truman won narrow re-election by ravaging a "Do-Nothing Congress" from the porch of his campaign train. That historical lesson may be on the minds of Congressional Republicans this year: After more than a year and a half most remembered for interminable budget disputes and seemingly endless ethics investigations, Congress in the last week has embarked on an impressive flurry of activity. The Senate today passed a major overhaul of welfare by a 78-21 vote, following Thursday's action in the House. The welfare reforms end a sixty year federal guarantee of financial aid to the needy and transfer much authority to the 50 states. The reforms are expected to save almost $10 billion a year for the next six years, much of that by placing time limits on welfare benefits and food stamps. Opposition to the bill, led by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, focused on several studies that found a million children will fall into poverty as a result. President Clinton plans to sign the legislation.

Even as the Senate was slashing the social safety net, the House swept through a cluster of popular health care reforms. The Kennedy-Kassebaum bill, which passed by a 421-2 margin and is headed for a similar reception in the Senate today, ensures portability of coverage from job to job, prohibits denial of insurance because of existing medical conditions and increases the health care deduction for the self-employed. Taken with a 90-cent minimum wage increase, passed by week's end, the health care and welfare reforms ensure that this Congress will leave its mark. "We've seen Congress go from gridlock to Olympic gold," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told a group of cheering Republicans. Maybe. "Congress is like the sprint cyclists at the Olympics," says TIME's Michael Duffy. "It starts really slowly, and suddenly speeds up for no apparent reason and then just as suddenly, the race is over. Congress hasn't done anything for eighteen months! It has been incredibly unproductive, and is defensive about it, which is why Lott is making such self-congratulatory remarks." -->