Liberal Democrats rush to set legislative priorities on the Hill
Washington — Liberal Democrats are trying to be as quick off the mark as possible with their proposals for dealing with domestic social issues, now that both houses of Congress are controlled by their party. Hearings, beginning today, by the Senate Commitee on Labor and Human Resources are part of that effort.
With the presidential and congressional campaigns for 1988 already in view, members are aware of the political need to develop an image of having feasible solutions to some of the nation's most challenging domestic problems: unemployment, homelessness, educational inadequacies, the environment, and affordable health care.
The swiftness of this year's action on domestic and other fronts contrasts with the usual pace of the first few weeks of a congressional session. Generally they are devoted almost solely to institutional housekeeping: electing committee chairmen, hiring staff, and reauthorizing special committees.
Three of the four days of Senate committee hearings, chaired by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, focus on developing national goals: Today's meeting revolves around health goals, tomorrow's employment, and Wednesday's education. Thursday's session concerns the disease AIDS, and what the appropriate federal response should be.
Other actions to set forth agendas in domestic issues are under way in both houses.
Today the full Senate is set to debate the $20 billion clean-water bill that the House overwhelmingly approved last Thursday; it is the same measure that President Reagan killed by pocket veto late last year. Though the proposal has overwhelming support in both houses of Congress, some Democratic sources admitted frankly that it was acted upon this early in the session for political reasons.
Rep. Edward Roybal (D) of California, chairman of the House Select Committee on Aging, is seeking cosponsors for his proposal, already introduced, to improve dramatically the health insurance provided Americans.
His approach would seek to choose, from among several options, ways to provide insurance to the estimated 31 million Americans now uninsured, and offer assistance to people confronted by expensive, long-term medical care.
Mr. Roybal would attempt to impose a ceiling on the nation's health care expenses at 12 percent of the gross national product.
Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D) of Washington, the House majority leader, has introduced a bill on homelessness that is expected to gain quick House passage. It would provide $500 million this fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1; most of the money would be for emergency shelters for the homeless this winter.
Rep. Mickey Leland (D) of Texas, chairman of the House Select Committee on Hunger, has reintroduced a much broader proposal similar to the one he backed last year. It would provide $4 billion for a broad attack on the homeless problem. The most expensive area would be housing: emergency shelters for the homeless, special shelters for the mentally ill, shelter and support for parents and children.
The Leland measure would also offer food assistance and physical and mental care to the homeless and would require that education be provided to all homeless children. In an effort to prevent some causes of homelessness, modifications would be made in federal laws governing foster care and the core welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
Last fall less-expensive elements of a similar Leland proposal became law after they were appended to a drug bill destined for certain congressional approval. Similar efforts may be made to add some provisions of this year's measure to a bill already on the fast-track, such as the Foley measure.