And a Reform Congress

The 105th Congress won't march in to revolutionary anthems. While the Republicans maintain their majorities, though by a slimmer margin in the House, they've doubtless learned a few things from this election.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and others in the GOP leadership are promising more delegation of power to the states, more trimming of federal programs, and, of course, a close look into legal and ethical charges against the Clinton administration. But they know many of their colleagues had to run away from association with the fiery rhetoric and government shutdowns of the 104th Congress. We won't see a replay of the Contract With America.

What we should see is a period of bipartisan compromise and cooperation on the largest issues facing the country. Entitlement reform has to top the agenda. Medicare was used more as a bludgeon than a rallying point for partnership during the campaign. But if common sense and duty hold sway, it has to fill the latter role. The Medicare trust fund is teetering; the makings of a bipartisan plan to save it were surfacing last year before electoral politics submerged them. Both Congress and White House know they have a responsibility to act - and that their actions have to lead toward resolving the even bigger task of assuring that Social Security makes it past the baby-boom retirement bubble.

Other "musts" on the 105th's agenda: Major environmental legislation still awaits reauthorization, led by the Clean Water Act and Superfund toxic waste cleanups. The Republican zeal for reducing environmental regulation has been tempered by the voters. And such measures should move promptly this time around. An urgent item that may not move so quickly is reform of the campaign-finance system. The '96 election spotlighted its seaminess. The questions regarding Democratic fund-raising from overseas donors should get a hard look. But this can't be allowed to slide toward partisan sniping. The parties have to join forces for reform to happen. The public will be watching.

That same public clearly opted for balanced, countervailing power in deciding whom to return to office. The next Congress won't be ramming through great caravans of groundbreaking law. Neither will it be a "do nothing" Congress. It should target a few major pieces of legislation, refine work already done, such as welfare reform, and practice, not just talk about, ethics.

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