Motor Voter Legislation Veers Off Course in Senate

REPUBLICANS in the Senate may be in a minority, but they are not without leverage - as this week's vote on the Motor Voter Registration Act showed.

The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives had passed legislation that would require states to offer voter-registration cards where residents apply for a driver's license, unemployment benefits, or welfare. House Republicans had strenuously objected, because they're well aware that people who receive unemployment benefits or welfare are not likely to vote for their party. But while the House Republicans couldn't do anything to stop the bill, their Senate counterparts did.

Senate Republicans launched a filibuster, which the Democrats could not break. So on Wednesday the Democrats agreed on a compromise proposal that would permit, but not require, states to register voters at social welfare agencies. The bill passed the Senate, but must now head to a Senate-House conference committee. "We got essentially what we wanted," said Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming. Showdown at the jobs corral

A showdown appeared to be looming yesterday on President Clinton's proposed $16.2 billion economic stimulus program. As the House prepared to vote on the measure and a $500 billion deficit-reduction proposal, conservative Democrats tried to convince their colleagues to reduce the size of the jobs program. "I am fully supportive of the president's purposes, but $17 billion should not be added to the deficit," said Rep. Charles Stenholm (D) of Texas, leader of the conservative Democrats.

With House Republicans solidly arrayed against the jobs program, the votes of conservative Democrats may be key to passage. With that in mind, the Democratic leadership turned up the heat on the wayward members in a last-minute scramble for votes. "Rank-and-file Democrats want to give this president a victory," said Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia. He predicted eventual passage of the stimulus plan. Caught out of bounds

Ten major political donors were fined Wednesday by the Federal Elections Commission for violating a Watergate-era law capping contributions to federal candidates and campaign committees at $25,000 a year. The list of those fined a total of $64,000 reads like a Who's Who of American business.

Among the names on the all-star list is Dwayne Andreas, chairman of Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, an agricultural giant which has interests in ethanol fuel and trade with Russia. Also on the list were corporate takeover specialists Harold Simmons, Henry Kravis, and Ronald Perelman. The bulk of their donations came in 1988 as Congress considered taking steps to limit hostile business takeovers. Those steps were never taken. The largest violator was New York developer Donald Trump, who exceeded the c ontribution limit by $47,050.

The elections commission launched its review days after an April 1990 Los Angeles Times story, based on a computer analysis of agency records, showed wealthy political donors ignoring the $25,000 annual limit. Most of the fines doled out by the commission were fairly modest, ranging from $800 to nearly $20,000. Leak alert

What do Clinton administration officials do when they want to float a trial balloon or give notice of a pending decision? They leak the story to a handful of news outlets, among them The New York Times. For instance:

* There has been talk for months that William Sessions, the Federal Bureau of Investigation director who has been charged with ethics violations, may be forced out of his job. Now it looks as if his days really could be numbered: Administration officials leaked information to The New York Times suggesting that the president is ready to fire the embattled director.

* The administration has said that it would issue a ruling today on whether to allow Oregon's scheme to ration health care to poor people. What will the decision be? The Times reported yesterday that, according to anonymous officials, the president would give the plan a green light.

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