What to Expect From Congress

THE next couple of weeks could see the approval in Washington of such key pieces of legislation as a long-awaited energy bill, aid to Russia, and expanded urban enterprise zones. Or they could see more of the same gridlock that has beset the nation for much of the last four years.

Political calculations are being made about what legislative outcome serves whose interests. Congressional leaders and President Bush want to show voters that they can rise above partisan bickering, so they'll probably move ahead in major areas like energy.

Urban aid is another priority, but the legislation has run afoul of the taxation debate between Republicans and Democrats. Capital-gains cuts and higher levies on upper-income Americans have been mixed in with needed programs like enterprise zones. Philosophical differences should yield to the need to start the process of revitalizing cities.

In the midst of an election campaign, of course, everyone will proclaim the public's interest, but no one will take their eyes off Nov. 3. Democrats will try to force yet another presidential veto on measures judged popular, like the just-passed family leave bill. While overall congressional spending is within budgetary guidelines, the president may issue politically motivated vetoes on specific appropriations bills that exceed his spending request.

The public, meanwhile, has made known its disgust with government that seems unable to carry out fundamental tasks. California's budget tremors - during which both the governor's and the legislature's approval ratings plummeted - should have rattled across the Potomac. To growing numbers of voters, the federal budget deficit represents Washington's failure to make hard decisions.

Americans sense that the country's problems demand an end to governmental stalemate. Whichever man they choose in November, they'll want a president capable of working with a Congress that - regardless of partisan makeup - is sure to include a record number of new faces.

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