GOP Tide Halts at Door of the Senate

House Republicans show distaste, but GOP colleagues in the Senate say their chamber wasn't built for speed

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THOMAS REED and Joseph Cannon, two of the most powerful speakers in the history of the House of Representatives, never figured out how to influence the Senate.

Now Newt Gingrich faces that challenge, too.

Unfortunately for Mr. Gingrich and his predecessors, the framers of the Constitution never intended for them to have such leverage. As the defeat of the balanced-budget amendment shows, no matter how decisively the House moves, the Senate works at its own deliberative pace. And no matter how powerful Mr. Gingrich has made his Speakership, Senate majority leader Bob Dole is only as strong as the coalitions he can build.

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If the balanced-budget amendment is any indication, the 104th Congress may well be a golden age of the bicameral system.

''Senate majority leaders don't carry as much clout as Speakers do,'' says Barbara Sinclair, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside. ''In the House, the Speaker has power of procedure. There is so much less control in the Senate. Anybody can screw things up.''

The House continues to pass the planks of its agenda with broad bipartisan support. But those bills, and therefore the success of the Republican ''revolution,'' face uncertain prospects in the Senate. Consider:

* Crime. The House sent over a package of six bills to build more prisons, limit death-penalty appeals, and ease deportation of illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes. The centerpiece of the package is a $10.5 billion block grant to the states that replaces funding from the 1994 crime bill for more police officers.

The House chose to defy a veto threat on the block grant issue. But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, may leave the block grant out and wrap other provisions into one bill to avoid the veto.

*Regulatory reform. The House completed on Friday a package of bills that make it harder for government to impose costly rules on the private sector. Federal agencies would be required to conduct cost-benefit analyses and risk assessments before implementing a regulation. Another bill, meant to clip the reach of such environmental laws as the Endangered Species Act, require government to compensate a landowner if a federal action decreases property values.

Chafee cites Senate rules

Sen. John Chafee (R) of Rhode Island, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, strongly opposes the House legislation. Though House rules allowed the leadership to push regulatory reforms through quickly, ''you can't do that in the Senate, thank goodness,'' he says.

*The line-item veto. The measure designed to give the president more power to cut ''pork'' without rejecting the entire budget crafted by Congress is in trouble in the Senate. Two versions, one by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona and another by Sen. Pete Domenici (R) of New Mexico, threaten to sink each other. Mr. McCain's is the stronger bill, but Dole backs Mr. Domenici's. If McCain's dies, he has vowed to oppose the other.

The demise of the balanced-budget amendment has raised the stakes in the battle over deficit reduction. Both parties blame each other for the amendment's defeat, and both challenge the other's sincerity to cut government spending.

The squabbling between the two parties, however, may soon become squabbling among Republicans in the two chambers.

''The first 100 days is a battle over the budget,'' says James Thurber, political scientist at American University in Washington. ''Newt Gingrich has centralized power more than any Speaker since Cannon in 1910,'' and therefore has the discipline in the House to enact tax cuts. ''The Senate will say no to tax cuts. A gang of nine moderates will slow things up.''

The House Contract With America calls for roughly $200 billion in tax cuts between now and 2002, the year the balanced-budget amendment was projected to be ratified by the states. Gingrich has vowed to put the budget on a ''glide path'' toward balance even without the amendment.

But that task -- cutting roughly $1.2 trillion over seven years -- will be harder without the constitutionally imposed discipline. The proposed tax cuts inflate that figure, and economists say the regulatory reforms passed in the House would add billions in government spending on cost-benefit analyses and property compensation.

House majority leader Richard Armey (R) of Texas says House Republicans will find spending cuts to pay for the tax cuts. Last week, the House passed a bill cutting $17 billion in previously appropriated funds. Another $3 billion will come from cuts in nonmilitary defense spending.

But several key Senate Republicans, including Mr. Hatch and Sen. Robert Packwood (R) of Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, don't want tax cuts beyond a reducton in capital gains. And several others, including Sens. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, and Mr. Domenici have already proposed reforming the tax code instead of making tax cuts.

Presidential hopes

Factor into this divide between House and Senate Republicans the presidential aspirations of Mr. Dole, and Peter Navarro, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, sees a Shakespearean dilemma between the chambers.

''Dole will wind up being Hamlet,'' he says, brooding over each isas to whether ''to be the presidential candidate or to be the guy in the Senate who does what's best for the American people.''

Dole will be forced to balance his leadership position, he says, against the special interests he needs to support his candidacy. Nowhere will this be as evident, Mr. Navarro says, as in the debate over legal reform. When the House sends over its bill limiting civil lawsuits known as torts, Dole will be vulnerable to trial lawyers exchanging their support for his opposition to the bill.

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