In Final Rush, Congress Hits Guns Logjam

CONGRESS has gridlocked anew over handgun control but sent President Clinton a bill extending jobless benefits for 1 million Americans as lawmakers neared the end of a year they hope answered the voters' calls for change.

Laboring into the wee hours on the morning of Nov. 23, the House of Representatives approved, 238 to 187, a compromise version of the Brady bill, which would force a wait of five business days for handgun purchases. But the compromise ran aground in the Senate, blocked by angry Republicans.

President Clinton urged Congress to resolve its differences on the measure quickly, telling a news conference: ``I would love it if the Congress could give the Brady bill to the American people for Thanksgiving.''

Unwilling to let go of Brady, Senate Democrats were scheduled to return to the measure later Nov. 23. Democrats were hoping that a public weary of mayhem on the streets would force the GOP to relent on the measure.

In other action:

* The House voted, 235 to 191, to give final approval to a bill providing the last $18 billion installment on the gigantic savings-and-loan bailout.

* The House voted, 255 to 175, for a Democratic vision of how to change campaign-finance laws, imposing voluntary spending caps but omitting Republican demands that political-action-committee contributions be banned. Final action on the measure between House-Senate negotiators will come next year.

* The House voted, 320 to 105, to give final approval to a $1.1 billion measure providing up to 13 extra weeks of jobless benefits to people who have used up the standard six months of coverage. Eligible would be people exhausting regular coverage between Oct. 2 and Feb. 5.

* The Senate ethics committee filed suit to enforce its subpoena for Sen. Bob Packwood's diaries from 1989 through July. The panel is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by the Oregon Republican.

As the end of a busy year approached, most lawmakers were ready to turn to other accomplishments to stake their claims as agents of change.

For Democrats, it was the party-line passage in August of Clinton's deficit-reduction bill.

For Republicans, it was the overwhelming support they gave just last week for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which would pry open markets by gradually dropping tariffs among the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

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