Opposition Mounts As GOP Contract Nears Halfway Mark

MONDAY. Day 41 of the House Republicans' 100-day Sherman-like march toward their ''Contract With America.'' But now, after several quick victories, the opposition on Capitol Hill and in the White House is stiffening.

The 10-point Contract, chockablock with promises on crime, welfare, spending, defense, and other high-priority issues, was supposed to be wrapped up by mid-April.

After passing the balanced- budget amendment and line-item veto, Newt Gingrich & Co. now are rushing through legislation to tighten down on violent criminals and welfare recipients. And they are trying to make it harder for lawmakers to impose costly regulations on businesses.

Yet as parts of the Contract shift to the Senate, the outlook becomes murky.

''The House is a steam vent for what the country is thinking,'' says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. ''If you want to explore the American superego, go the Senate, where nagging second thoughts are entertained.

''While House procedures have changed radically,'' he adds, ''Senate rules remain untouched. The glacial procedures of the Senate have their place. True conservatives will take heart in the Framers' intended design of the Senate.''

Even so, the capital can feel power changing hands. Conservative notions about government and society are taking form in law.

REGARDING welfare, House Republicans seek an end to a 60-year-old concept that government should assist those citizens stuck in perpetual poverty. Regarding crime, they are reinterpreting and proposing to restrict the rights of suspected criminals.

At a glance, it sometimes seems that the Constitution itself is under fire. Supermajorities, at GOP insistence, now are needed in the House to raise taxes. The proposed balanced-budget amendment leaves a door open for courts to intervene in budgeting. The GOP's proposed line-item veto would transfer some spending authority from Congress to the White House.

The Fourth Amendment, which protects against ''unreasonable searches and seizures,'' sometimes seems under attack.

But scholars note that the simplest constitutional principles of the bicameral system are prevailing. Each chamber may write its own rules, and though the House is ramming legislation through, the Senate is moving at its intended, unhurried pace.

This week will see substantial progress toward completion of key planks in the Contract on the House side.

Welfare reform. Today the House will pass out of committee a bill to tighten the rules for receiving government poverty assistance. Both parties urge reforms that would require recipients to work, but there are key differences.

Republicans would replace the current welfare system, created in the 1930s under the Social Security Act, with block grants totaling about $15.3 billion a year for states to design their own programs.

The GOP plan ends welfare as an entitlement and would deny assistance to unmarried, teenage mothers and most legal aliens. Recipients would have to work after two years in order to maintain benefits.

Democrats charge the GOP plan does not put enough emphasis on jobs.

Clampdown on violent crime. The House last week passed five of six measures intended to overhaul the $30 billion crime bill that the White House pushed through Congress last fall.

The measures passed so far would require those convicted of federal crimes to pay restitution to their victims; allow courts to accept some evidence that was collected without a search warrant; limit the ability for death-row inmates to appeal their sentences on constitutional grounds; increase federal funds to build new prisons from $8 billion to $10.5 billion; and deport illegal aliens convicted of crimes immediately after they serve their sentences.

This week the House will debate what could be the most contentious of the six measures: replacing funds for police hiring and drug courts with $10 billion in block grants to local governments.

One of the proposals passed last week would repeal the so-called exclusionary rule on evidence obtained without a search warrant. The rule, which is often attached to but is not part of the Fourth Amendment, was a court-rendered protection against self-incrimination.

Regulatory reform. Legislation is moving swiftly through the House to change the premise on which environmental regulations are based. The proposals would require that regulations be based on economic, not health, considerations. Opponents, including the Clinton administration, argue that the Republican legislation endangers continuing implementation of such laws as the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Senate, for its part, will continue to debate the balanced-budget amendment and the nomination of Henry Foster to be surgeon general. Also, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D) of New York plan to introduce legislation to limit, but not repeal, baseball's exemption from antitrust laws.

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