Busy Week Highlights GOP Priorities on Hill

While Congressional negotiators wrangle over the details of a heralded balanced-budget deal, Republican leaders are looking for new goals around which their party can unite.

Speaker Newt Gingrich, the GOP's theoretician-in-chief, proposes the drug war, education, and reducing teenage pregnancy rates as the party's next long-term goals. But in the near term, Congress will focus on the budget, and several bills moving ahead this week highlight current GOP priorities.

Congressional leaders hope to pass a budget resolution by the Memorial Day recess. If it passes, then the appropriations and tax committees need to write the legislation that implements the deal brokered between President Clinton and the GOP leadership. That could take most of the summer.

"Will there be some bumps along the road? Sure," says Senate majority leader Trent Lott. "We're keeping our cool. The administration should keep theirs."

Meanwhile, Senator Lott is pushing a list of projects he wants to finish by the holiday.

The Senate this week takes up a "comp-time/flex-time" bill that would allow employers to grant time off instead of overtime or allow workers to make up time they have missed due to family obligations. It will also take up a "partial-birth" abortion bill identical to one Clinton vetoed last year.

Less controversial is renewal of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, revised after painstaking negotiations. The compromise bill, expected to pass both houses, retains guarantees of free public education for disabled children; clarifies rules for disciplining such children; expands parental rights to participate in meetings regarding the placement of their disabled children; and provides local schools more funding flexibility.

The House this week will also take up a priority bill to deregulate public housing by instituting block grants to states, allowing more-flexible rental rates, and giving local housing authorities more authority to screen and evict tenants. The administration wants more funding than the bill provides.

Speaker Gingrich, meanwhile, is pushing a three-pronged agenda for the next four years.

He proposes life sentences for first-offense drug-smugglers and advocates reducing drug use by working with faith-based programs and methadone clinics. He wants a review of all federal education programs and calls for school vouchers. Gingrich also wants the federal government to encourage private programs that work to prevent unmarried teenage girls from having babies.

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