The Gulf-War, Banking-Scandal, Anita-Hill Congress Says Sayonara

THE 102nd Congress is lurching into the sunset after a session marked by modest legislative progress, lots of bad jokes about bounced checks, and bitter presidential election-year partisanship.

It got pretty ugly this week. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) of New York filibustered the Senate into knots over factory jobs in his home state. In the House, Rep. William Dannemeyer (R) of California forced a snap adjournment, causing Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin to tell him he had "no redeeming social value."

The always-entertaining Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas sighed that the close of the session proved that "not-so-good things must come to an end, too."

Pointing to the first override of a presidential veto, the congressional Democratic leadership said things were getting better at the finish. "That may be a designation of it, the Congress from hell, but when it ended, it was a Congress on the way to heaven," said Speaker of the House Thomas Foley (D) of Washington.

Still, President Bush and his veto pen were the dominant influence on this Congress's legislative agenda. The string of vetoes was broken only in the session's waning days, when legislation reimposing regulation on cable TV systems was backed by the necessary two-thirds majorities in both House and Senate.

Democrats complained that among items killed by Bush were family leave legislation, the "motor voter" bill intended to make it easier to register to vote, a campaign finance reform bill, and restrictions on trade with China.

George Washington University political science professor Christopher Deering compares Bush and Congress to two tired heavyweights who have been slugging it out and just heard the bell.

Mr. Deering says of the 102nd Congress that "they had some legislative accomplishments but we're going to remember it for a 35-to-1 veto record and a reality of legislative stalemate."

Among the efforts of the Congress that both Republicans and Democrats point to with pride is the passage of legislation expanding civil rights for the disabled. Another major piece of legislation that came to fruition was a surface-transportation bill to upgrade the nation's bridges and rail systems.

But for most Americans the 102nd Congress will be better remembered for three other events. The first, the Gulf-war debate, occurred in the opening days of the Congress and helped bring the country together for the fight ahead.

The second, the hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, managed to besmirch the Senate's reputation while leaving many women angry over the treatment of Anita Hill and conservatives furious about the treatment of Judge Thomas.

And history will note the House bank scandal. Revelations of lax standards in the office that many members used to cash their paychecks touched a nerve across the country. The scandal contributed greatly to the record number of members who won't be coming back. At last count, 84 representatives were retiring or had been defeated in primaries, along with seven senators.

Capitol Hill has been a whirl of nostalgia this week as members bid their colleagues goodbye. In the waning hours of the House session on Tuesday, a number of representatives lined up to praise departing members on the floor. But Representative Dannemeyer, who is himself leaving the House after losing a Senate bid, demanded a vote on adjournment.

Such a vote takes precedence over other business, and in essence it killed the opportunity for public send-offs. That's why Representative Obey called Dannemeyer names in the House chamber.

As they head for home states, Democrats for the first time in years think that the next Congress might have a Democratic president to work with. Legislation would presumably be much easier to get through.

Some conservative analysts think that's not necessarily so. "If you have a relatively moderate gain by Republicans, up to 190 in the House, and conservative Democrats elected, it would stop some of the things the Clinton administration would want to push through," says Matthew Miller of the Heritage Foundation.

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